3 things to know before betting 2020 Pro Bowl
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Let's face it: If the Pro Bowl fell on any other week, you probably wouldn't be betting it. But with an agonizing wait until the Super Bowl, it's your only football fix, and it's a lousy weekend in the sports calendar overall.

Don't mistake desperation for despair, though. Over the years, the Pro Bowl has offered sneaky value for bettors who've known where to strike, and the lines for this season's exhibition look to be exploitable.

Here are three key things to consider when betting the NFL's All-Star showcase:

Know your rosters

The first thing to do when betting on the Pro Bowl is avoid falling in love with conventional betting trends. The underdog has covered in 13 of the last 16 years, including 10 outright wins, but rosters change each year and the betting lines are more guesswork than an exact science.

That said, the AFC (-1.5) has won three straight and four of the last five matchups, and its roster looks equipped to take advantage again this year.

The NFC is loaded at the running back position, but the last four Pro Bowls have featured a combined 412 rushing yards between both teams, with no one rushing for 100 yards. The pass-first display strongly favors the AFC, which has a deeper and more star-studded secondary that should excel through 60 minutes of mostly man coverage.

Familiarity can also play a key role, especially with so many shuffling parts due to injury, retirement, and Super Bowl substitutions. This also favors the AFC. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will have his top target in Mark Andrews to throw to early on, and he'll be protected by four regular teammates in linemen Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, and Orlando Brown as well as fullback Patrick Ricard. He could even run the option with teammate Mark Ingram, too, if AFC coach John Harbaugh dials it up.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees could connect with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara for the NFC, but those three are unlikely to see much overlap given the team's depth chart. The AFC, meanwhile, features multiple starters wearing the same logo.

Focus on playmakers

With motivation a major question mark in these exhibitions, it only takes a few big plays to swing the momentum and effectively kill the losing team's chances. That means paying even closer attention to players who can break open the game with a single play.

Is there a player more suited for that than Jackson, especially in a game where tackling is optional? The regular-season MVP front-runner had 867 yards before first contact this year - seven fewer than leader Christian McCaffrey - and averaged 4.9 yards before contact, which was 40% more than runner-up Raheem Mostert (3.5).

Deshaun Watson, the AFC's backup quarterback, didn't have enough rushes to qualify for the leaderboard, but he averaged 4.3 yards before contact and should also be a nightmare for the NFC's defense Sunday. He and Jackson will test a depleted NFC linebacking corps, which lost Bobby Wagner to injury and Luke Kuechly to retirement.

On defense, the AFC's Stephon Gilmore is the quintessential game-changer after scoring as many touchdowns as he allowed in coverage (two) this season. Von Miller and Jamal Adams - the only defenders on either roster to have previously won Pro Bowl MVP - can also make enough plays to single-handedly decide Sunday's outcome.

Don't fall for fireworks

Remember when I said to ignore easy betting trends? Here's an exception: The under has been rolling, and there's no reason to avoid it now.

This game flew over the total earlier this century, as teams averaged 67.2 combined points from 2000-2010. From 2011-13, the Pro Bowl hit just shy of 100 points per contest in three easy overs. Since then, though, six straight have gone under, with last year's matchup falling 25 points short of its 58-point total.

It's no fluke, either. The scoring drain coincides with pivotal rule changes in 2014, which aimed to shorten the game and allow for more diverse coverages on defense. It worked, as the six tilts since have averaged a combined 48.7 points.

Under bettors breathed a sigh of relief when reigning Pro Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs teammates Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce swapped their roster spots for a Super Bowl berth. Yet, the total has still risen from an opening 49.5 to 50.5. It'd be the lowest Pro Bowl total in available data sets, but it's still higher than the final score of the last three editions and four of the six since the rule changes.

It's possible that the AFC's playmakers blow Sunday's total out of the water, but the style of the Pro Bowl favors a lower-scoring game than many bettors might expect.

C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.

3 things to know before betting 2020 Pro Bowl
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