Because of the abrupt end to the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football, I’m sure there are many casual fans out there thinking that no spring football league is safe. However, over the course of the last 32 seasons, the Arena Football League has proven itself to be an entirely different game, one with great staying power.
Sure there have been many franchises in and out of the league in 32 years, but the game itself remains relatively unchanged, and the reason it continues to thrive is its difference from other versions of football. Arena Football is about as fast-paced and engaging as any other sport, and the league management has done one thing particularly right: Embrace the betting aspects of the games, going with a #BetOnUs as one of their slogans for 2019. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, the AFL’s Ron Jaworski was on with the My Guys in the Desert crew on VSiN discussing the league and how its high scoring nature and betting friendly attitude will continue to score well with bettors.
In my opinion however, bettors typically don’t get involved in a sport without at least some background on the teams or a significant amount of data available to them. Very few realize that there has been betting on the AFL since at least 1996, as that is the first year I personally have point spread and box score data for. I have been cataloging the league ever since, and 22 seasons of data can provide quite a lot of system & trend nuggets to utilize.
With the 2019 season ready to get underway this weekend, I figured it would be a good time to pass along some of the best gambling nuggets I have found when sifting through AFL data. Hopefully you can put this stuff to use for the course of the entire season. Note that in Point Spread Weekly, we will continue to publish my Strength Ratings for every game and that will be coupled with the insights of Dave Tuley. Of course, not much beats betting on a game you attend, and Arena Football is an excellent game to watch in person. I encourage you to do so at any of the locales. Incidentally, the AFL has added two teams this week to reach six. Albany, Atlantic City, Baltimore, Columbus, Philadelphia, and defending champion Washington.
LEAGUE-WIDE AFL SYSTEMS
- In lined games since ’96, home teams have gone 1475-1125 SU & 1240-1311-49 ATS (48.7%).
- Home underdogs are 310-579 SU & 433-435-21 ATS (49.9%) of those games. Home dogs were 6-3-1 ATS in 2018.
- In terms of the playoffs, home teams have won games at a 115-55 SU & 79-91 ATS (46.3%) rate, obviously a significant uptick in outright winning percentage but a decline in ability to cover point spreads. Washington’s run to the title last year included two outright double-digit underdog upset wins on the road.
- It may not seem like a big number, but there have been nine outright upsets by teams playing as underdogs of 20 points in the Last 21 seasons, including most recently in May of 2016 when Tampa Bay ( 20) won 63-56 at Arizona. This is a higher percentage of large upsets than college football offers. Furthermore these 20 point underdogs hold a 52-42-1 ATS edge in those games. Last year, there were no 20 point lines but double-digit dogs were 3-8 SU & 6-4-1 ATS
- As they do with many other leagues or sports, blowout losses have a carryover affect for Arena League teams. In fact, since 2000, teams losing by more than 35 points have gone just 37-72 SU & 42-66-1 ATS (38.9%) in the follow up lined contest. Home cooking certainly doesn’t aid the situation, as when playing at home these teams are just 22- 38 SU & 19-40-1 ATS (32.2%).
- Alternatively, teams coming off blowout wins of 36 points are 72-46 SU & 58-54-6 ATS, providing just a slight point spread advantage.
- Fans and bettors alike love sensationalism in sports and the Arena Football League produces some sensationalistic scores. On the low end, bettors are going to want to watch for teams scoring 23 points or less in a game, as teams that have done that have gone just 34-81 SU & 49-63- 3 ATS in the follow up lined contest. Incidentally, three teams did this last season.
- On the opposite end of the scoring meter, look for the 75-point benchmark to be reached on occasion, since these prolific teams follow up their offensive explosion with a record of 126-82 SU & 110-95-3 ATS in the next lined game. This happened just once last year.
- From a situational standpoint, there has been a strong performing trend regarding teams that come off a win as road favorites who are playing as road favorites in a second straight game, as those teams have gone 71-22 SU & 55-37-1 (59.8%) ATS since ’96.
- For those bettors using simulations or other stat models to handicap games, watch for situations when teams might not reach the 40-point mark in a game, as this has been a benchmark for poor performance. Teams that have failed to score 40 points in an AFL game are just 115-860 SU & 155- 807-13 ATS (16.1%).
- The high-water benchmark for scoring seems to be about 64 points, as teams reaching that lofty total have gone 798-121 SU & 749-162-8 ATS (82.2%).
- Speaking of high scoring, many bettors are drawn to Arena Football because of the lofty totals put on games. However, these same people might be disappointed to find out that more games go UNDER totals than go OVER at a 1063/990 ratio, or 51.8%. In 2018, nine of 14 games with totals 97.5 or higher went UNDER the total.
- Last year, an interesting total trend developed in which all 14 games in which one of the teams failed to reach 42 points went UNDER the total. Conversely, when one of the teams scored 56 or more, OVER the total was 17-2.
The Albany Empire are in their second season of Arena Football, after going 8-4 SU & 8-3-1 ATS a year ago. They went on to lose in the playoff “series” to Washington. The Empire are not the first AFL franchise this city has hosted. The Albany Firebirds played from 1990-2000. That team won six division titles, had nine playoff appearances, and won the 1999 Arena Bowl title.
- Albany ripped off a 6-game ATS winning streak between games 2-7 last season. During that stretch. The Empire allowed just 37.8 PPG
- The Empire were at their best last year in games expected to be competitive, going 5-1 SU & ATS in games with lines in the 6.5 to -6.5 range.
- Albany goes into the 2019 season on a 5-game road winning streak (3-1-1 ATS)
Atlantic City Blackjacks
The Atlantic City Blackjacks begin play this year and Home games are to be played at Boardwalk Hall. The team is operated by Trifecta Sports and Entertainment, and if that sounds familiar, it is the same ownership group as the Albany Empire and Philadelphia Soul. Two-time AFL coach of the year Ron James will lead the Blackjacks in 2019, and former Brigade QB Randy Hippeard takes the controls of the offense.
The Baltimore Brigade are entering their third season of Arena Football action, and play their games at the Royal Farms Arena. The Brigade are the first franchise of the AFL from Baltimore. Here are a few betting trends that have developed over the first 30 games of the Brigade franchise:
- Baltimore has struggled on the road in AFL play, going 4-11 SU & 7-8 ATS.
- The Brigade have been much more competitive at home, going 9-6 SU & ATS in 15 previous games, including 6-2 ATS as a home underdog or pick em’.
- Baltimore has spent much of its existence playing in the large underdog role, but the bigger the line, the more successful the Brigade have been. In fact, they are 6-2 ATS as underdogs of 11.5-points or more.
- Baltimore has also proven to be a reliable wager when coming off a large loss, boasting a 7-2 ATS record in the game following a loss by a TD or more.
- Against Philadelphia, Baltimore has enjoyed nice success, going 5-6 SU & 9-2 ATS in 11 previous head-to-head meetings.
- Against teams other than the Soul, Baltimore is just 7-12 ATS previously.
The reincarnated Columbus Destroyers begin play in the AFL this season after folding up shop following the 2008 season. Originally, in 1999, the franchise was based out of Buffalo, but moved to Columbus for the 2004 season. The team will play its home games at Nationwide Arena, and will be coached by Matt Sauk, who last coached the Portland Thunder in 2014. Not that it has really anything to do with what happens this season, but here are some betting trends that developed while the Destroyers were playing in Columbus from 2004-2008:
- Starting with a loss to San Jose in the 2007 Arena Bowl game, Columbus was just 3-14 SU & 8-8-1 ATS in its final 17 games.
- The Destroyers were just 2-8 SU & 4-4-2 ATS in their final 10 home games, but 9-4 ATS in their final 13 road games.
- Philadelphia was the only current franchise that Columbus had a head-to-head series with, and the Destroyers were 4-6 SU but 7-3 ATS in those 10 contests.
The Philadelphia Soul are the longest current tenured team in the AFL, having competed in each of the last eight seasons under the ownership group led by Ron Jaworski. This is the second go-around for the Soul after a 5-year run from 2004-08. The Soul are two-time Arena Bowl Champions, including the 2017 title. However, they were a heavy favorite last year until an injury to QB Dan Radabaugh derailed their prospects. Here are the betting trends that have developed since 2011 for the Soul franchise:
- Philadelphia has been the best franchise in the AFL over the last 4 seasons, boasting a record of 54-15 SU & 31-34-4 ATS.
- The Soul had a 20-game home winning streak snapped last May by Albany and now actually enter the 2019 season on a relative swoon at home, going 1-7-1 ATS in their L9.
- Philadelphia has performed amazingly in the home underdog role, going 12-1 ATS in L13 as home dogs of 1.5-points or more.
- The Soul have struggled covering point spreads after large wins, going just 21-36-1 ATS following up victories of 15-points or more
- Similarly, the best time to fade Philadelphia recently has been after a big scoring game. Similar to the system I offered up earlier, the Soul are 12-1 SU but just 2-9-2 ATS in their L13 games following up a 63 point outburst.
Owned by the same group that heads the Baltimore Brigade franchise, Washington also began play in the AFL in 2017 and has played 29 games to date, including the shocking Arena Bowl win last time out. Still, the Valor have only won seven of those 29 games, just three victories at home in front of fans at Capital One Arena. They are the first AFL team in Washington D.C. since the Commandos ceased operations in 1990. Take a look at some of the betting trends that have developed for the Valor franchise:
- Washington’s run to the AFL title last summer ended with a 4-game ATS winning streak after it had gone 3-22 SU in its prior 25 games.
- The Valor haven’t treated their fans to a whole lot of scoring, going 4-10-1 UNDER the total at home while averaging just 39.6 PPG offensively.
- Strangely, the Valor have score 5.0 PPG more on the road in their 15 leaning 9-6 OVER the total.
- Washington has only been favored in three prior games, going 1-2 SU & ATS.
- The Valor enter the 2019 season on a run of 3-1 SU & 4-0 ATS as double-digit dogs.
- Washington is on a run of 9-3-1 ATS following a loss of 6-points or more.
- Following the Valor’s only seven games topping the 48-point mark, they went on to go 1-6 U & ATS in the next contest, outscored by an average of over 13 PPG
- Washington has only won one game after allowing less than 50 points in its previous contest, going 1-12 SU & 4-8 ATS.
- The Valor have gone 12-4 UNDER the total in their 12 prior games with posted totals of 96 or more.
Good luck this season with your Arena Football League wagering!