Arena Football league extended their season in 2011

May 24, 2011 3:08 AM

The Arena Football league extended their season for the 2011 campaign.

The old season, like the NFL, was a 16 game campaign with a bye week for each squad sprinkled into the mix. This year in the AFL, each of the 18 teams will play 18 games with two bye weeks over a 20 week regular season that lasts from early March through late July.

The four division winners and two wild cards from each conference make up the eight team playoff field, with Arena Bowl XXIV slated for August 12, 2011 at the home of the highest remaining seed.

After another wild AFL weekend (one game decided on a TD pass with 0.4 seconds on the clock; three more decided by a single score, with the outcome still in doubt through the final minute), a dozen teams have now reached the halfway point with 10 games in the books. The other six teams have played nine each, hitting the midpoint of the season this coming week.

The sportsbooks here in Vegas don’t put a lot of time or energy into booking Arena Football. It’s a niche sport, rarely watched or bet on by casual fans. Even the weekly Friday Night national TV game on the NFL Network doesn’t draw much attention from the betting public.

The league has been around for 25 years, with the exception of the 2009 season when the AFL was "re-organizing." There have been betting lines on these games here in Vegas for more than a decade.

Still, any sportsbook director in town will tell you the action on Arena Football varies between slim and none.

Arena limits are extremely low around town – you’ll be hard pressed to get down more than a nickel ($500) at any book in Vegas. You can be confident a $500 wager will need manager approval and result in a significant line move for subsequent wagers.

So with limited public betting interest and very little sportsbook liability, you can understand why this league continues to remain well under-the-radar when it comes to both public recognition and wagering dollars.

With all that said, the AFL is certainly beatable for any handicapper willing to put the time in. This is a quarterback driven league – the best teams score touchdowns on nearly every possession, hanging 60-plus points week after week. The weaker teams tend to score in the 30’s and 40’s. Besides the national TV game every week, just about every other game is available to watch live (in real time) online at niftytv.com/afl.

The best teams will have a solid offensive line, protecting quarterbacks with accurate arms that avoid turnovers like the plague. And they’ll have a handful of playmaking receivers, capable of turning an errant throw into a quick strike TD.

These are attributes the average fan can measure. If you’re watching the game, you’ll be aware of any hidden "impact injuries."

When a QB, his top receiver or a key lineman gets banged up, it has a major impact with only 24 players on the active roster each week. Injuries are not always accurately reported in this league, so watching the games can turn casual fans into inside information sharps in a hurry!

When it comes to stats, there aren’t many good measurables. The only way to get accurate data for games you aren’t watching is to go through the play-by-play logs at arenafootball.com.

I’m interested in only one stat – touchdowns per possession. Teams with a 0.8 ratio are solid; teams with a 0.5 ratio are bet-against.

Yardage numbers mean very little. Three of the top five teams in total yardage this season are sub .500 squads. The best defense (by yardage numbers) is actually a bottom feeder team with turnover problems, leading to short fields for their opponents.

Useful QB measurables include yards per pass attempt (a measure of downfield accuracy and WR playmaking ability) and TD-INT ratio. Red zone offensive and defensive stats are meaningful as well – this is one league where the better teams will take advantage of their scoring opportunities.

The single most important Arena Football stat is turnover margin. Through the first 10 games, Jacksonville is 9-1 and Arizona 8-2. Both teams are exactly +16 in turnovers through those 10 games, each squad creating 30 turnovers while committing only 14 themselves.

The Orlando Predators, Cleveland Gladiators and Chicago Rush all rank at +5 or better in turnover margin, and those three teams would all be in the playoffs if the postseason started today.

On the other end, the New Orleans VooDoo and the Tampa Bay Storm; a combined 6-14 SU between them. Those are the only two teams that have averaged -1 turnover per game or worse.

The Tulsa Talons, Philadelphia Soul and Spokane Shock are all at -6 or worse. At the halfway point, those turnover margins have been the top predictor of point spread success. Jacksonville is 8-0-2 ATS and if you shopped around it could be 10-0 ATS. Arizona has been a moneymaker as well.

No surprise that Arizona and Jacksonville have the two best QB’s in the league this year; emerging star Nick Davila and aging AFL legend Aaron Garcia. Those two are known commodities, and much of the value is already gone.

Projecting forward to the second half of the campaign, I’m looking for pass efficiency and turnover margin numbers that aren’t quite as good as the elite teams, but well enough to attract my betting interest.

Utah’s Tommy Grady stands out as an emerging QB capable of taking his team to the playoffs (and making us some money in the process). Chicago’s Russ Michna is another proven commodity type of veteran, with multiple playoff wins under his belt. Georgia’s Brett Elliott and San Jose’s Mark Grieb are two more veterans with proven track records.

I’ve also got my eye on a couple of young QB’s – who have not developed a reputation just yet, but who have shown me enormous promise and potential. Bernard Morris, who graduated from Marshall in 2009, is a rookie with the expansion Pittsburgh Power. He spent a month on IR with a sore arm, but since his return from injury, he’s led the Power to back-to-back upset wins as a home underdog.

Daniel Raudabaugh, who starred at Miami-Ohio, is another young QB with a bright future. Raudabaugh doesn’t have Morris’s scrambling acumen out of the pocket, but he’s one of the few quarterbacks in the league with a legitimate running game to work with. Fullback Derrick Ross already has 23 rushing touchdowns and 354 rushing yards for the Dallas Vigilantes, giving their offense more balance than any other team in the AFL.