Defending Champions: Philadelphia Soul
The Arena Football League has undergone a slew of changes over the course of the last several years. From a league that recently was 17 teams large to one that is now just five, it would be easy to forget that a league that has historically been easy pickings for bettors still exists. With just five teams though, the talent pool has been thickened up quite a bit, and there aren't many weak spots on rosters. For the first time in a long time, the majority of players in the AFL are longstanding veterans instead of rookies and second year players.
The AFL has just three teams around that were playing last year, the Philadelphia Soul, Cleveland Gladiators and Tampa Bay Storm. But only the Soul have the same sort of look from a campaign ago. Of course, that makes a ton of sense since Philadelphia won the ArenaBowl, going on the road and winning in Arizona to claim its second championship. Dan Raudabaugh may as well be the odds-on favorite to be the MVP of the league this season, as he's one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in AFL history and is right in the prime of his career.
The Storm, fresh off of their worst season in franchise history, have retooled with a new coach in Ron James and an entirely new roster. Just four players are back from last year's squad, and that's precisely what was needed after a disaster in the last year under Lawrence Samuels. Randy Hippeard, who debuted with the Storm four seasons ago before leaving for Orlando, is back along with Joe Hills, who has the second longest streak in league history of consecutive games with a touchdown reception. Hills can break that record this year if he keeps up his scoring ways.
Cleveland is two years removed from arguably the most magical season in AFL history when it went 17-1 and hosted the ArenaBowl. The Gladiators were thin last year and featured a slew of rookies. Now, the team essentially raided an Orlando Predators roster that was stacked on the defensive side of the ball to bring a whole new look and attitude to Cleveland. The problem the Gladiators have is at the quarterback spot. Shane Boyd is a journeyman backup pivot in this league, but he's being asked to step in as the starter for the time being after last year's starter, Arvell Nelson was cut in training camp.
The other two teams are expansion franchises, both of which are owned by Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards owner, Ted Leonsis. The Washington Valor have been in the making for over a year at this point, while the newest AFL team, the Baltimore Brigade, will be playing just up the road from D.C. at Royal Farms Arena.
For an expansion team, Washington has put together a roster full of vets, including the most accomplished receiver in AFL history, T.T. Toliver and the 2015 MVP of the league, Erik Meyer at quarterback. Baltimore has gone a far younger route, and one only needs to look at its quarterback situation with Shane Carden under center to know that it has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete for the ArenaBowl.
The AFL playoffs will feature four of the five teams this season. The teams with the top two records will host in the opening round, while two weeks later on August 26, the best seed remaining will host ArenaBowl XXX.
Washington Valor vs. Tampa Bay Storm ( Storm -14.5, O/U 88 ), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Cleveland Gladiators vs. Philadelphia Soul ( Soul -11, O/U 118.5 ), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Twitter
This exposure has been great for the league and the AFL has done a great job of marketing itself as one of the few fan friendly leagues.
The games are played indoor on a field that is 85-feet wide and 50-yards long. Players, who are often too small or too slow to make it into the NFL, are required to play on both sides of the ball.
Punting is not allowed.
There are only eight players on each side of the football and it has become a pass happy league. The defensive is at a great disadvantage and often times total scoring reaches triple digits. Players can put up enormous offensive numbers and no lead is ever safe.
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Check For Injuries: Since players play both offense and defense in the Arena Football League, injuries are also a very important factor for oddsmakers and handicappers, maybe even more so than in the NFL.
Arena teams have 19-man active roster and eight players are on the field during play. Besides the kicker and quarterback, each team has one offensive specialist and two defensive specialist. All other players go both ways.
Team Home field advantage: In arena football the home field counts for five points in the point spread, as opposed to the NFL where it counts for three, according to White.
This is both because the games are higher scoring and that the crowds in the AFL are livelier and they are right on top of the action because of the way the fields are configured. All these differences make the AFL tough to handicap for oddsmakers.
Jim Foster is the modern day architect of the Arena Football League. When taking in a soccer All-Star game in February of 1981, he came up with the idea and transposed his thoughts onto a manila folder. He added and subtracted to those ideas over the next five years, and then in 1986 and 87, several test games were played.
It wasn’t until June of 1987 that the first AFL game was played between the Pittsburgh Gladiators and Washington Commandos. The Denver Dynamite and Chicago Bruisers rounded out the first four founding fathers of the AFL.
The league blossomed in the early 2000s with celebrity owners and star NFL players buying ownership stakes in franchises. The AFL landed broadcast partners such as ESPN, CBS and NBC during its heyday.
The San Jose Sabercats are the champions of Arena Football. After a tight first half, San Jose forced turnovers and stifled the Jacksonville Sharks in the second half, claiming the fourth Foster Trophy in their franchise's history by a margin of 68-47 in ArenaBowl XXVIII on ESPN. The win solidified one of the most dominant seasons in Arena Football history.
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