Though it hasn’t exactly rocked the sports world to its foundation, the Arena Football League has entered a new era this season. With the move to ESPN and ABC, and with ESPN taking an ownership interest in the league, the league will certainly become more prominent in the eyes of sports fans and sports bettors. It’s not going to be an instant process, but the exposure on Sportscenter and on the ESPN Web site means that more people will get turned onto the game. Though people have been slow to discover this league, the bettors that have discovered arena football already are happier, and wealthier, for it. Less betting attention can mean softer lines and more wins.
As with all sports, long-term success in betting on arena football takes work, study and effort. If you love football and need to get some action, though, than you can stand a fighting chance of success relatively quickly. Here’s a crash course in betting on John Elway’s new favorite sport:
Arena football is not college football or the NFL. Though there are the obvious similarities, the game is different from the outdoor varieties in almost every regard, and assuming that it is basically the same is only going to cost you money. The field is obviously smaller, there are fewer players, the scores are much higher and the rules are different. If you assume that you can step right in and win without adapting to what is, essentially, an entirely different sport then you are in trouble.
It’s all about offense. Defense is important, but the team that plays better on offense is going to win almost every game. Because 100 or so points are scored each game, offensive efficiency makes the difference between success and failure to a greater extent than it does in the NFL. If you are going to do just one thing to handicap games, take a look at the offenses of the two teams involved and lean towards the one which is more talented and is playing better.
Injuries are crucial. Squads only carry a 20-man roster and many teams struggle with depth, so an injury to a starter can make a huge difference. Because of the relative lack of betting attention that the sport gets, it’s possible that an injury could have been overlooked in the setting of the line. Doing your research to uncover injured or hurting players can pay off.
Do your homework. Despite the influence of ESPN, the sport still doesn’t get a lot of ink in sports sections or time on sports shows. Information is money in all handicapping, and it is especially valuable if you have information that others don’t have. Spending some time surfing the Internet to find local news on teams that could make a difference on the outcome of a game is well worth it.
Time your bets well. It is not uncommon to see a line swing by four or more points after it is set, and totals will often swing by as many as 10 points. It’s important to keep track of how lines are moving to extract maximum value. If the lines are moving away from you then you want to jump on them early, but if they are moving with you then you might as well wait until as close to game time as you can to get the best possible price. This is obviously true for every sport, but especially so in Arena Football.
The rules have changed. The one thing that most casual fans know about Arena Football is that a lot of players play both sides of the ball, and that substitutions are rare. That’s all about to change thanks to the new Elway Rule’. The rule removes the limits on the number of substitutions a team can make during a game. That means that players can be put in when a situation plays to their strengths, that players can be fresher, and that the game will be attractive to more players. The rule changes the league from how it was in past years, though it isn’t entirely clear yet what the impact will be. That needs to be understood and observed.
Experience matters. The game is very different than other football, and players that haven’t been able to make it in the NFL often turn into superstars in the AFL. It takes a while to get used to the differences and to become competent as a player. As more and more former NFL players make the transition to Arena Football this becomes more relevant. Especially early in the season, a handicapping edge can often be gained by comparing the AFL experience of the players in the key positions of the opposing rosters.
Quarterbacking is a different game. If you’re a big fan of college and pro football then you will recognize many of the players who are tossing passes in the AFL. Some players succeed in one and can’t seem to make it in the other. Adrian McPherson, for example, got booted from Florida State and hasn’t made any impact in the NFL with the Saints, but he is a very accurate and impressive AFL quarterback. Clint Stoerner, the long time Cowboys clipboard-carrier, is an AFL starter. Betting opportunities can be found when a quarterback is making their transition from one game to the other. Shaun King, for example, is playing with Las Vegas after wearing out his welcome with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals. In his first start against Austin, King struggled to adjust and his team lost badly. That would have been a betting opportunity. You can’t assume that a new QB will struggle forever, though King threw 10 touchdowns in his next start and his team won on the road.