When it comes to statistics, there aren’t many good measurables in the Arena Football League. The only way to get accurate data for games that 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 or below are bet against type squads.
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. I personally don’t use yardage numbers as part of my handicap.
Useful quarterback 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.
But the single most important AFL stat is the No. 1 stat for the NFL and college football as well: turnover margin. The best teams will win the turnover battle week after week, while the weaker teams will turn the ball over repeatedly. For a prime example, look no further than the best two teams of the first half: the Jacksonville Sharks and the Arizona Rattlers.
Through the first ten games of the season, Jacksonville is 9-1 and Arizona is 8-2; the two best records in the league. Both teams are exactly +16 in turnovers through those ten 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 of the spectrum are the New Orleans VooDoo and the Tampa Bay Storm; a combined 6-14 SU. 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 for the season. Each of those teams has been a major disappointment and all at least two games under .500. That grouping includes last year’s Arena Bowl champs (Spokane) and the previous champs (Philadelphia).
At the halfway point, those turnover margins have been the top predictor of pointspread success. Jacksonville has covered at an 8-0-2 ATS clip (10-0 ATS if you shopped around). Arizona hasn’t been quite as good ATS, but they’ve been moneymakers as well.
No surprise that Arizona and Jacksonville have the two best quarterbacks 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 has already been bet out of them through the first half of the season.
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 still good 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 quarterbacks who have not developed a reputation just yet, but who have shown me enormous promise and potential. Serious college football fans should remember both guys. 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 home underdogs.
Daniel Raudabaugh starred at Miami-Ohio; 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.