VSiN.com senior reporter
When people have been asking me this past week if I’m betting the Alliance of American Football (AAF), which kicks off its inaugural season this Saturday and Sunday, I make flippant comments about how I’ve been going through withdrawals since the Super Bowl and I’m willing to watch any kind of football to get my fix.
However, the truth is that I see the AAF as a great betting opportunity. Think about if you were deciding to start handicapping any other sport or league, you’d be way behind in knowledge and experience, but with the AAF, you’re on a level playing field as no one – not the oddsmakers, other bettors or even the players and coaches themselves – really know what teams are going to be the best.
Sure, the Westgate SuperBook opened its AAF futures last Friday with the Arizona Hotshots as the 5-2 favorite, but there’s nothing to say our guess can’t be as good as theirs. I’ve spent this past week reading everything I could find online about the league and its teams (which admittedly isn’t much and believe me, if you don’t start until Friday morning after reading this, you’ll be caught up in no time). Ninety percent of it is rah-rah about how hungry these players are and how their chance at the NFL slipped through their fingers and how they’re trying to get another shot. You have to sift through a lot of fluff to find actionable info, so believe me when I saw I’m not trying to pass myself off as an AAF expect as it’s still very much a guessing game.
But here’s what I believe is important for potential AAF bettors to know, starting with some rule differences from the NFL:
- There are no kickoffs of any kind as the “receiving team” just starts at its own 25-yard line. They’re mostly doing it to eliminate boring touchbacks but also to lessen injuries, but it takes harder-to-handicap kickoff returns out of the equation. Instead of onside kicks, a team gets to attempt a 4th-and-12 from its own 28-yard line and keeps the ball if it converts, otherwise the other team takes over. This gives a slight edge to teams with more explosive offenses.
- In fact, several rule changes aid the offense (which is nothing new). The play clock is 35 seconds instead of 40 in an attempt to speed up the game and give offenses more plays.
- The league is also de-emphasizing offensive holding, another obvious attempt to help scoring. The NFL can afford a 13-3 Super Bowl, but I don’t think fans will be drawn to this league if there isn’t more scoring.
- Teams must go for 2 after every touchdown. I believe this will make 2 more of a “key number” in betting (as opposed to 3 in the NFL), and 6 and 8 will both be more important than 7.
The team I’m highest on is the San Diego Fleet (already bet them at 10/1 before I saw William Hill post them at 12/1). Some “experts” thought the Fleet was going to be the AAF favorite before Josh Johnson signed with the Redskins late in the NFL season. I’m trusting that coach Mike Martz, the brains behind the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense around the turn of the century, can coach up former Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici or whatever quarterback he chooses (remember that he turned former arena football league player Kurt Warner into a Super Bowl-winning QB after losing Rams starter Trent Green to injury).
The Fleet’s defense is a question mark, but frankly it's that way for every other team. Even if you find a defense with a lot of recognizable names from watching college football (or NFL preseason games) the last few years, there’s no way to know how they’ll perform as a unit. Besides, as I alluded to above (actually, I think I was quite direct), I believe there will be plenty of offense even if the teams start a little rusty.
My advice is to do your own research and come up with your own opinion of the teams and perhaps make your own power ratings and compare to the lines this weekend. There were no Week 1 lines posted at William Hill books in New Jersey as of Thursday afternoon, but the Westgate (not available outside Nevada) posted spreads, money lines and over/unders.
In the nationally televised CBS game at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, the Westgate made San Antonio -5 over San Diego. As you probably suspect, I jumped on the Fleet right away (I made the line San Antonio -2) and it’s now at 4.5. I also like Memphis 3.5 on Sunday as I made that line pick ‘em even with Birmingham’s “home-field advantage,” which I think the Westgate is overestimating with these openers. For instance, in the other two games, Orlando is -5 over Atlanta and Arizona is -3.5 over Salt Lake while I made them Orlando -2 and Arizona -3.
As for Over/Unders, I was hoping to parlay a bunch of Overs this first weekend if they were in the 40s like most NFL games, but the Westgate oddsmakers seemed to be thinking the same way and set all the totals between 51.5 and 54, so I’ll pass.
Team William Hill SuperBook
Arizona Hotshots 7/2 5/2
San Antonio Commanders 4/1 5/1
Atlanta Legends 4/1 5/1
Memphis Express 5/1 10/1
Orlando Apollos 11/2 5/1
Salt Lake Stallions 6/1 4/1
Birmingham Iron 10/1 10/1
San Diego Fleet 12/1 10/1