Deep Routes: The Definitive Guide to Expansion Speculation

“Deep Routes” is a weekly series that will look in-depth at AFL stats and present weekly updates to my AFL model.

By Anthony Reinhard

Personal News

I did not write a post last week as I was on my honeymoon in Jamaica with my wonderful wife Gina. Here we are on July 20th at our wedding:

Arena Bowl XXXII

Philly and Albany will collide in the ArenaBowl Sunday night after convincing playoff wins. I’m giving Albany a 70.1% chance to take home the championship. This makes them an 8.4pt favorite on their home field. With one pick to go, my model has been 28-12 so far this season. My model is 2113-1066 (66.5%) all-time.

Expansion Rankings

I want to spend most of this post on something that I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about since the regular season ended: expansion. Commissioner Boe announced that there would be around two to four expansion teams that would join the league for the 2020 season. With my team out of the running for the ArenaBowl, I got to thinking about what cities might be added to the league next year. I proceeded to gather some data and here is what I came up with!

Let’s start with the basics. You need an arena to have team! So who has an arena? I found a list of arenas in the United States so we’ll begin with that.

Remaining Arenas: 327

Can all of these arenas house an AFL team? The max capacity of an arena is maybe 2,000-4,000 more than what it could hold for an AFL game. The league average attendance in the regular season was about 7,600 and the smallest arena now (Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City) is listed at a max capacity of 13,800, so let’s say we need arenas with a max capacity of at least 10k.

Remaining Arenas: 145

It is also fair to ask what regions of the country are in play. As for next year, I’d be surprised to see an expansion team west of the Mississippi River, so we’ll limit ourselves to arenas in the eastern United States.

Remaining Arenas: 83

Some of the arenas that remain are already occupied by teams in the AFL or other arena leagues. We’ll assume that the AFL will not adopt or supplant any of these existing teams. We’ll also knock out a venue in DC and a venue in Columbus as no team would be added there.

Remaining Arenas: 64        

Let’s assign each of these 64 arenas to a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as defined by the 2010 US Census. There is only one arena on our list that is not located inside or near a metropolitan area so we’ll toss that one. Sorry Tupelo, Mississippi!

Unique Metros Remaining: 49   

So now that we’ve defined the 49 cities that could potentially host a team, how do we compare them? I’m going to pull together a bunch of different factors, standardize them among all 49 cities, weight them as I see appropriate, and then take an average of the weighted standardized factors to form a composite score. The composite score will be a number between 0 and 100 and will allow us to rank all of the potential expansion sites.

History (40%) – Let’s start by gathering some details about cities that have hosted AFL or af2 teams in the past. Attendance is our probably the best available proxy for fan engagement in arena football. It is also probably relevant how many years a metro has hosted a team and how recently that team left.

Location (20%) – Columbus is the only non-East Coast team which leads me to believe that a metro’s vicinity to other existing teams would be a plus. Because I am lazy, I am going to estimate distance by taking using longitude and latitude on a bird’s path.

Venue (15%) – A city that has a larger venue or more options for a suitable arena is probably more likely to land a team.

Proximity to Untapped Markets (15%) – Metros that are located near other high-quality markets that do not currently have teams could be more attractive than metros that don’t expand the league map.

Sports Betting (5%) – The AFL has branded itself as being forward on sports betting and any municipality that is located in a state that has passed or is working to pass legislation related to sports gambling could have an edge.

Metro Population (5%) – Obviously bigger cities are more appealing than smaller ones, but the effect is likely marginal in this case. This all conjecture and I have no inside information about how the AFL has been evaluating new opportunities. There are many ways to slice this. If you’d like to take a stab at it, check out

This all conjecture and I have no inside information about how the AFL has been evaluating new opportunities. There are many ways to slice this. If you’d like to take a stab at it, check out my dataset on google sheets. A summary of the standardized data by category is below.

My method probably overrates New York and Chicago who are stronger than most cities in every category, but may not be markets the AFL wants to wade into. I suspect it underrates Louisville, KY and Scranton, PA who both have great locations and had long records of success in af2. Indianapolis, IN is another that may belong in stronger position after a short AFL run in the early 2000s.

It goes without saying that nothing above should be taken as gospel. I would however be surprised if a team outside my top 30 were named as an expansion location. Ultimately, we won’t know who the new expansion teams are until the league makes an announcement this week.

AFL Playoffs, Round 2 Preview and Predictions

By: David Taylor

Round 1 of the playoffs proved to be two convincing victories for Philadelphia and Albany. There is not a lot of drama this weekend as the two teams will likely be advancing to the Arena Bowl due to the margins of victory in round 1. The only real drama will be who to play in the DraftKings fantasy football league. Expect there to be some resting of key players this weekend. 

Holy blowout, Batman! Albany came out and completely took care of business last weekend. With a 35-point cushion, the Empire will likely be moving on. Look for late game substitutions for the Empire. It will be interesting to see if Albany alters its play calling to run more time off the clock each possession, or if it will be business as usual. 

Game Prediction: Albany 44, Baltimore 36

Aggregate Prediction: Albany advances to ArenaBowl 32

Check out last week’s box score, courtesy of AFLdigital.com:

In a game of “Anything you can do, I can do better,” Philadelphia decided to best Albany in the aggregate scoring department, winning by 36 points to Albany’s 35. Last week’s preview proved to be semi-prophetic: Nelson was picked off multiple times (3) by James Romain, and the way Philadelphia defended the Valor QB was the deciding factor in the game. 

Game 2 Prediction: Washington gets a measure of redemption, just not enough. 44-40 Valor.

Aggregate Prediction: Philadelphia is heading to the ArenaBowl.

Here are the staff picks for this week. Please welcome new staffer Zach Keilman!

AFL Playoffs: Round 1 Recap

The road to the Arena Bowl has begun! Photo courtesy of Arenafootball.com

By: David Taylor

After two blow-out playoff games, it appears that the matchup Arena Bowl 32 is set. The Philadelphia Soul and the Albany Empire will more than likely be squaring off. Philadelphia will be looking for its third Arena Bowl championship, while Albany will be looking for its first-ever Arena Bowl championship as the Empire. (Albany previously won a title as the Firebirds in 1999.) Previously in the year, Philadelphia and Albany played three times with Albany winning two out of three. The last time these two teams played, Albany destroyed Philadelphia by a score of 72 to 27. Once the game got out of hand, it was clear that Philadelphia was no longer playing to win, which may explain the lopsided score.

Albany and Philadelphia still have to get through the second round of the aggregate scoring series for the playoffs, but both teams will be heading into next weekend with a +30 point margin. This margin means that Albany and Philadelphia will have to lose by more than 30 points next weekend to not advance to Arena Bowl 32. Albany seems to feel pretty good about its chances since ticket sales for the Arena Bowl have already been announced on the Empire’s social media sites. Arena Bowl 32 will be held at the higher seed, which will be Albany if the Empire can hold onto a 35 point cushion. Albany defeated Baltimore 61 to 26. Philadelphia defeated Washington 69 to 33. Next week, Albany and Philadelphia will look to finish off Baltimore and Washington.  

The Soul surprised a lot of people by putting Darius Reynolds back on offense this week. The Reynolds move proved to be extremely useful as Reynolds scored three touchdowns in his return to the WR position. Defensive back James Romain shined as well, as he intercepted three passes, including the last desperation heave of the game to put an exclamation point on the victory for Philadelphia. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh was equally impressive. The Soul signal-caller finished 17-23 for 284 yards and six touchdowns. Two early passes were dropped as well, meaning Raudabagh could have had even better numbers. He played at an MVP level in this game.


James Romain returns one of his three interceptions.
Photo: arena_football_photos on instagram

Albany dominated Baltimore from basically start to finish. The only exception was a kick off return for a touchdown by Joe Powell at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately for Baltimore, this is one of the few things that went right in the first half. Albany Empire quarterback Tommy Grady was sensational in the game, spreading the ball around everywhere. Grady’s favorite target was Quentin Sims. Sims caught five touchdown passes to lead the Empire to victory. This victory, coupled with a disastrous loss for Washington, likely settled the MVP debate for this season. The other leading contender to Tommy Grady for MVP was Arvell Nelson, quarterback of the Washington Valor. Nelson struggled mightily against the Soul, turning over the ball four times. The Most Valuable Player for the league this year will more than likely be Tommy Grady.

Tommy Grady was spectacular all season. His dominance continued in round one of the playoffs. Photo by: D. Taylor

Albany and Philadelphia are playing their best football of the season right now. If these are the two teams that will participate in Arena Bowl 32, fans are in for a treat. August 11 is coming soon, and a new champion will be crowned!

AFL 2019 Playoffs Preview and Predictions

By: David Taylor

It’s playoff time! The final four teams have punched their postseason tickets and seeding is complete. The first weekend’s games feature Albany vs. Baltimore and Washington vs. Philadelphia. The opening round of the playoffs is key because it is a two part matchup based on aggregate scoring. The series will be a two-game, home and home event. Highest scoring total at the end of the two games moves on to Arena Bowl 32. Here is a preview:

Being only one of two teams to defeat Albany, Baltimore comes into this game with a lot of confidence. The 4th seeded Brigade is looking to stun Albany again this weekend. The Empire is cruising into the playoffs following consecutive blowout wins. The winner of game one has a decided advantage in game two, so expect both teams to pull out all the stops in order to get points on the board. 

Baltimore wins if: the Brigade wins the turnover battle and QB Shayne Boyd gets the ball out on time. An onside kick recovery or kickoff return for a TD would not hurt either. 

Albany wins if: the Empire don’t overthink things. In the two losses this season, oddly timed onside kick attempts that failed got the Empire out of rhythm. Protecting QB Tommy Grady will also be vital to victory. 

Prediction: Albany wins at home, 44-41. 

Regular season stats and rankings:


“The third time’s the charm.” That is what Philadelphia is hoping for heading into this playoff series. The Soul were beaten twice previously this season by the Valor. In both games, the Soul struggled to find an answer for Arvell Nelson. Nelson is an MVP candidate, but is also prone to interceptions. He leads the league in interceptions thrown, and is first in attempts per interception ratio at 3.6% (among playoff teams). The play of Arvell Nelson will ultimately determine the winner of this playoff series. 

Philadelphia wins if: James Romain (or Dwayne Hollis) intercepts more than one pass. Philadelphia will also need to play mistake free football and get a high accuracy game from QB Dan Raudabaugh. There can be no turnovers on downs. 

Washington wins if: Arvell Nelson avoids mistakes and scores with his legs as well as his arms. This series will be the highest scoring of the two, so Nelson needs to find the end zone on the ground more than once. 

Prediction: Philly wins a thriller, 63-61.

Regular season stats and rankings:


Before we get to the staff picks, Please congratulate Richard Martin on his regular season championship! Richard finished first in our league with a 67% success rate. But the playoffs will decide the overall champion, so stay tuned! 

Here are the Round 1 Playoff Staff Picks:

Deep Routes: Washington’s One Man Army

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.

Model Refresh

That’s a wrap for the 2019 Regular Season! Albany went wire-to-wire as the league’s top team and will be the top seed in the playoffs. Albany will open the playoffs with 9.6 rating, meaning I would expect them to be a 9.6 pt favorite against the average AFL team on a neutral field. This is Albany’s highest mark of the year. The last other team to post a higher rating was the Philadelphia Soul after their 3-0 start last season. Albany still has a long climb to reach the all-time best mark of 17.8, set by the Arizona Rattlers in 2014 on their way to a third consecutive ArenaBowl title.

On the flip side, Columbus was the league’s worst team all season. Their -11.6 is above the original Destroyers low water mark of -13.3 in 2005, but is still the worst finish since Tampa Bay’s -14.2 when they finished 2-14 in the 2016 season. The 2007 Las Vegas Gladiators own the worst rating in AFL history. They came in at -15.8 after finishing 2-14. The team moved to Cleveland the following season.

The way my model is set up now, AC and Columbus will both be rated better than the expansion teams that will be announced at the ArenaBowl, although Columbus may only be a point and a half better. I may create a more robust way to adjust pre-season ratings during the off-season, so that could change.

Playoff Matchups

The playoffs will begin this Saturday in Albany. The Empire will have a 72.4% chance to win the first leg on their home turf against the Brigade. My model is giving Albany a 68.9% chance to win the aggregate score and advance to the Arena Bowl. I have Albany as a 9.6 pt favorite this week and a 5 pt favorite next week.

In the 2/3 matchup Washington will host Philly in what should be a competitive matchup. As of now, my ratings favor both home teams, but I give Philly a bigger edge during the second meeting. My simulation is giving the Soul a 50.4% chance to advance. Washington will be a 1 pt favorite this week and I presently have the Soul as a 3.6 pt favorite next week.

Arvell Nelson’s Back…

It must be sore! Nelson accounted for 73 of his team’s 74 touchdowns in the regular season after throwing for six and running for two more against Columbus last Saturday. Nelsons Rushing/Passing TD share is the highest of any player since the 2000 season. The only Valor offensive TD that he did not account for was a 10-yard touchdown run by Reggie Gray in Week 3.

Tommy Grady has cracked the top 15 three times in his career (2012, 2014, and 2018), but got plenty of help from Mykel Benson’s nine rushing scores this time around. Nelson’s workload alone should make him a strong contender for MVP, but Albany’s offensive performance give Grady a good chance as well.

Albany’s Offense Dominates Again

For the third time in 2019, Albany’s offense was not stopped by the opposing defense. Albany scored on every drive against the Soul in Week 13, except their final possession of the first half where the half came to an end on Philly’s one yard line. Since possessions that are ended by a half do not result in a turnover or score, they are not counted in my Offensive Points Per Drive (Off PPD) metric. That gave Albany an unprecedented third game with an Off PPD of 7+ this season, which has now happened just 16 times since 2000.

Albany’s offense finishes the season with an Off PPD of 5.35, the 11th best since 2000. The Destroyers end the season as the 10th worst offense on record and Atlantic City’s defense checks in at 12th worst. Atlantic City’s 16.7 possessions a game was the slowest pace ever, but as I’ve mentioned before, the league has instituted several rule changes designed to reduce game length which will in turn prevent teams from having more possessions.

The Race to Host ArenaBowl XXXII

Three cites remain as eligible to host the ArenaBowl. Philly will be unable to host, but should they advance and meet Baltimore the game would be in Atlantic City.

Odds of hosting ArenaBowl XXXII:
Albany – 68.9%
AC – 15.7%
DC – 15.4%