by Anthony Reinhard
“Deep Routes” is a weekly series that will look in-depth at AFL stats and present weekly updates to my AFL model. In my second post, I’ll take a look at the playoff picture and show the leaders in targets so far this season.
Baltimore will be headed to the playoffs after AC was knocked off at home by the Soul last week. The Valor are now a near lock to take the final playoff spot, as they will clinch this week with either a win against Baltimore or an Albany win against Columbus. I have Albany as a 15.5pt favorite and Washington as nearly a six point underdog on the road.
With the playoff teams nearly set and only five total games left in the regular season, I thought I’d break down all four possible matchup combinations, from the least likely to the most likely based on my simulation. I’m going to mostly ignore seeding here, as the first round of the playoffs will be a pair of home & home games.
PHI/AC & ALB/BAL (0.6%)
This is Atlantic City’s only chance to crash the playoff party and they’ll need quite a bit of help. The Blackjacks are on a bye this week, but will need Columbus to pull off a big upset over Albany and Baltimore will have to beat Washington. If both Week 12 games work out for AC, they’ll still have a tough Week 13 slate. Obviously they’ll need a win over Baltimore, but before that they will also need Columbus to pull off a second consecutive upset (this time over the Valor) and Philly to earn another win over the Empire in the two Saturday games.
PHI/ALB & BAL/DC (2.9%)
In order to see a matchup of the league’s top two teams in round one, we’ll need the same Week 12 results as our first combination (Columbus & Baltimore both win). Week 13 would require another Soul upset over Albany and then an Atlantic City loss to Baltimore. Baltimore (8-4) would win the three-team tiebreaker over the Soul and Empire, vaulting them to the top seed and forcing the remaining two to play for the fourth and fifth times this season.
ALB/BAL & PHI/DC (31.2%)
There are a couple ways to end up with this set of matchups. The least likely involves the Soul snatching the top seed as Albany loses out and Washington and Baltimore both split their final two games.
The remaining possibilities here have the Empire as top seed and Washington scraping out the second or third seed. For that to happen, Washington must beat Baltimore this week. Washington will then need another win over Columbus or a Baltimore loss in Week 13, coupled with at least one Albany win in Week 12 or 13.
ALB/DC & PHI/BAL (65.3%)
The most likely combination of our four falls in line with the current standings and will hold just as long as Baltimore and Albany both win one of their last two and Washington loses one of their last two. This combination could be locked in as soon as this week with wins by Baltimore and Albany.
We could also see this setup if Albany drops their final two and either Washington wins out or Baltimore loses out. This would push the Soul to the top seed where they would face the Brigade.
One of the most useful fantasy football stats is targets. While the AFL does not aggregate these anywhere officially, they do exist in play-by-play logs. Here is what I found when I went digging:
One of the first things that jumped out to me is how Washington is using their receivers. Perhaps those who have watched more Valor games may already be aware of how much they favor Reggie Gray near the goal line. Gray has been in the league for nine years and has over 10,000 yards receiving, but I’m still a little surprised at how often they send it his way around the end zone at just 5’9/175 lbs. McNeil at 6’3 is a big target and leads the league in proportion of targets inside the 10.
Malachi Jones leads the league in catches, targets, and yards through the air, but has only 12 targets inside the 10 yard line on the season. Part of this is that Albany typically scores before they reach the 10 yard line. The Empire average just 4.2 passes inside the 10 per game, compared to AC who lead the league with 7.4 per game.
Jones is a big part of the Empire scoring early. His average touchdown catch this year is nearly 24 yards and he has already piled up 23 catches of 20+ yards. In Joe Hills’ 2016 season where he averaged 10/126/3.6, he hauled in only 28 such passes over 16 games. Jones skills as a deep threat are making him easily the league’s top wideout.