Deep Routes: A Weekly Dive Into the Statistics of the AFL

by Anthony Reinhard

Hi everyone! This will be my first weekly post where I’ll share some forecasts from my AFL Elo model and occasionally make a deep dive into some AFL data that I’ve collected.

Model Refresh

Albany was surprisingly upset last week on the road, but retains the top spot in my rankings. Philadelphia jumps to #2 after clinching a playoff spot. The Soul will try to keep their momentum flowing in the only game this week. They are a 4.5pt favorite over Atlantic City.

As far as the playoffs go, Baltimore is the only team that can clinch a playoff berth this week with an AC loss. A loss by the Blackjacks wouldn’t eliminate them, but my model has their odds dropping to around 1 in 400.

A Tale of Two Expansion Offenses

The Destroyers suffered a painful 38 point loss last Friday at Baltimore. This was the largest margin of victory since ArenaBowl XXX champ Philadelphia ran up a 70-21 win, also in Baltimore, during the 2017 season. Columbus scored twice in the second quarter, but was shutout in the second half. This was the first time a team has been held scoreless in a half this season and the 105th time in league history. The last instance came in Week 11 last year when the Valor failed to put up any second half points against the Soul.

It sadly gets worse for Columbus as they posted the 6th worst offensive performance since box scores became available in 2000. The Destroyers scored just 12 points on their 13 offensive possessions.

On the other side of the coin, Atlantic City had an offensive explosion in their win over Washington. They became the 15th team to post a 7.0 or better after scoring 63 offensive points on 9 drives behind new QB Warren Smith. In Week 3 of this year, Albany hung 50 offensive points on the Soul on only 7 possessions, the only team to exceed 7.0. Albany put their name on the list again two weeks ago.

Smith v. Hippeard

Warren Smith has now logged two successful starts as Blackjacks QB. Original starter Randy Hippeard has officially been “questionable” to play in both games since going down in Week 8 against Philadelphia. It seems to be an open question as to whether he will return and resume his duties as starter, but I thought it would be a good idea to compare where the players shake out by the numbers, both this year and last.

Hippeard played better last year and his larger sample size tends to give me more confidence he can deliver above-average production in the long-term. Smith’s solid play as of late should allow him to hold onto the job for the time being though.

Turnaround for the Blackjack Defense

Last week I tweeted that the Blackjacks would be in serious jeopardy if their defense did not pick up the slack after allowing a touchdown on 23 straight drives. My concerns were initially justified, as Washington scored on their first four drives on Saturday night. AC finally recorded a stop when they picked off an end-of-half Hail Mary from Arvell Nelson.

In the second half, a re-energized defense stopped the Valor on four of six drives to preserve a blowout 70-41 win. After the win, a certain Blackjack DB let me know that my doubt was misplaced.

Is the Commish Right?

That tweet from Northington wasn’t the only heat I caught on twitter last week. After expressing my disappointment to the AFL Tonight podcast team for not addressing a Columbus rumor during an interview with Commissioner Boe, I drew a reply a reply from the man himself. I was pleased with his answer, but I had another burning question from his interview.

Link to podcast —> http://www.arenafan.com/podcasts/randall_boe_interview.mp3

The podcast crew astutely inquired as to whether or not Commissioner Boe was concerned with the drop in scoring this season (about 1:20 to 4:05). The commish replied that the league’s focus moving forward was to shorten the real-time length of the game while still providing a high-octane product. Boe went on to assert that while points are down, points per minute of game time are up. I knew that possessions per game were down significantly so I thought I’d look into it.

My findings show that points per minute are actually down modestly this season. As Boe mentioned, he’s seen a substantial drop in game length. I personally am skeptical that making games shorter will drive engagement. I’m not sure that a two hour event is all that much more attractive than a three hour event in general.

Attendance has dropped again for the fourth straight year. The four non-expansion teams however have posted steady attendance numbers as a whole, so attendance is likely not a major concern moving toward next year.

The Race to Host ArenaBowl XXXII

Albany has not only been the best team since the start of the year, they’ve had huge lead in attendance and have clinched home field should they advance to the ArenaBowl. The next two spots have been locked in as well (to PHI and WAS, respectively), while AC has an 88% chance to host Baltimore in the unlikely event that the two meet in the ArenaBowl.

Odds of hosting ArenaBowl XXXIII:
Albany – 71.2%
Philly – 18.7%
DC – 9.8%
AC – 1 in 500
Baltimore – 1 in 3500

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