As with all meaningless games, no edge can be gained by attempting to handicap the winning side in the Pro Bowl using fundamental statistics. The use of won-lost trends between the AFC and NFC to predict results is also precluded due to the NFL's maintenance of equality between the Conferences. The Pro Bowl rules provide little room for an advantage based on coaching. Finally, the length of time that any player will be on the field, and each player's attitude toward the game is an unknown. As a result, no edge can be gained by attempting to compare the players on each team.
The AFC and NFC have each won 20 times in the 40 games beginning with the 1971 merger between the AFC and NFC. Betting on the winning side in the Pro Bowl is nothing more than a coin toss at vig and is best avoided.
The Pro Bowl total, on the other hand, is one of the few instances in which relevant trends can be used to make predictions. Trends in the total reflect both the effect of the different rules in the Pro Bowl, and the effect of typical player psychology in the Pro Bowl.
For a prediction based on a trend to be reliable, the trend must be both relevant and sufficiently large and extreme to be meaningful
The Pro Bowl began in 1939, at the end of the 1938 season. There were four games played until the game was suspended in 1942 for the duration of World War II.
The Pro Bowl did not begin again until 1951. Thereafter, it was played every year except for the 1970 season when the AFC and NFC merged.
Since 1939, there have been 65 Pro Bowl games. In the 53 games from 1939 through the 1999 season, only one game ended with a total in excess of the 64-point total set for this game. There was also one game that ended with exactly 64 points. If the total had been set at 64 points for every Pro Bowl, up until the 2000 season the record would have been an incredible 51-1 with one push. Up until the year 2000, no one would have ever imagined that a betting line would be set at a huge 64 points.
Then, in the year 2000, the millenium came in more ways than one. Suddenly, the final total was 82 points. Compare that to the final score total of just 33 points in 1999. In 2004, the Pro Bowl total reached a high of 107 points. The lowest score since the 2000 season has been 40 points in 2006. For the 29 years ending in 1999 and starting with the AFC-NFC merger, the low score was 16 points and the highest score was 66 points.
The average score total beginning with the 2000 season is 67 points. The average score for the decade from 1990 to 1999 was just 41 points, and that included two overtime games. The average for the prior 19 years back to 1971 is 35.5 points. The average score total for the entire period of 29 years prior to the 2000 season was 37.5 points.
Many handicappers have jumped on the record since 2000 and declared the recent record to be the relevant trend to be used to predict the 2011 game total.
In researching opinions on this year's Pro Bowl, the consensus seems to be that the game will be high scoring. There is some logical basis beyond the scores since 2000 fthat is being used to support the belief that the game will be high scoring. Defensive players, it is argued, have little reason to risk injury. That logic, however, also applies to the receivers and the offensive line. Thus, there is no real advantage to the over or under that can be found in player attitudes toward not getting hurt. In addition, such player psychology did not suddenly appear in the 2000 season. The desire to avoid injury and simply go out and have fun presumably existed to the same extent from 1990 to 1999 as it did from 2000 to 2010.
If anything, the tendency toward higher scores probably lies in the special rules involved in the Pro Bowl. The only defense allowed is the 4-3. Blitzing is forbidden. The grounding penalty is eliminated. These protective rules aid the offense.
Football score totals, in general, have increased in recent years. The reason appears to be the various protective rules that have come and, in some cases, gone. The "in the grasp" rule aided defenses but is no longer in place. We do, however, forbid pass interference, and permit the QB to ground the ball once he is out of the pocket. Those rules have greatly increased the scoring in the game. They have not, however, increased scoring by the 63% that average Pro Bowl score totals increased between the 1990 and 2000 decades.
The average score total increased from 35.5 points to 41 points in the 1990's, but that score increases closely tracked the score avereages in regular season games. It is only since the 2000 season that the Pro Bowl totals have raced far ahead of the regular season. An average score of 67 points is huge by any standard. It is either an aberration in the mere 11 games involved, or it reflects a major change in the factors affecting the Pro Bowl total.
If the no-blitz rule came in for the first time in 2000, we might be able to conclude that the rule is most likely responsible for the higher scores. I cannot, however, remember when that rule came into effect, and I have been unable to find the information after several hours of research. The various articles and postings on the subject seem to be in disagreement. Some claim the rule came in for the first time in 2009, some claim it was 2008, and some claim that it always existed. The NFL website is silent on the subject.
Other than Pro Bowl games, the only other large data base of games in which there is relatibvely little blitzing is the preseason. Most teams do not blitz in the preseason. Despite that, there is no evidence that scoring is higher in the preseason than might otherwise be expected. In fact, average scores in the preseason are significantly lower than in the regular season. Of course, there are other reasons for preseason games to have low score totals, but if the no-blitz rule caused a 63% increase in scoring in the Pro Bowl, we should find that most preseason games have scores that are significantly higher than games in which one or both teams run blitzes. That has not been the case. There is no evidence that a lack of blitzing alone will cause an immense 63% increase in average scoring.
Until we can confirm some definitive reason for the extreme increase in scoring that began in the year 2000, we cannot rely on it continuing. Eleven games is an extremely small sample. Stranger trends have occurred for no reason at all for longer periods of time. Unless we can find some drastic change that occurred in 2000, we cannot draw any conclusions about the scoring increases. Of course if scores continue top average in the 60's for the next 19 years, the sample will be large enough to warrant a weak conclusion that Pro Bowls will continue to be high scoring, even without isolating a reason that did not exist prior to the year 2000.
This year, there is also the question of the effect of the change in Pro Bowl scheduling from after the Super Bowl to before the Super Bowl. This is only the second year that the Pro Bowl is being held before the Super Bowl. The change in scheduling has eliminated 10 Super Bowl players from the Pro Bowl. That could alter scoring. The score total last year was 74 points, but a single-year record is not indicative of anything from the standpoint of making predictions.
Under the circumstances, the smartest move is to preserve your money for the very predictable Super Bowl next week.
Here is a winning proposition for you. The prop:
Will there be a special team or defensive TD scored?
No is anywhere from -140 to -160. Take NO.
The special kicking and QB protection rules in the Pro Bowl will make things easy on the kickers and on the QB. The QB's will have plenty of time to find a receiver and, if they don't they will be able to ground the ball. Don't expect many interceptions or many kick returns. That lowers the probability of special team and defensive TD's.