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Betting the Arena League

   by Bryan Leonard - 02/09/2006

People ask me about how to handicap Arena League football. The answer is far more simpler than one might think: It's football! While the rules are different from the NFL, the same betting strategies apply. Revenge situations, match-up analysis, home/road breakdowns, coaching, previous meetings, strength versus weaknesses, etc. Betting numbers are similar to the NFL, with oddsmakers making errors in lines each week. And the handicapper who is on the ball can take advantage.

Arena football is not to be confused with the XFL, which was a one-year wonder a few years ago. It's different from the USFL, which was a three-year wonder from 1983-85 before it folded. The USFL was actually a strong concept and could have worked, as it came along with the economic boom of the mid-1980s. It didn't go head to head with the NFL, playing in the spring, as the Arena League does now, and it satisfied a need in public consumption for professional football, which is easily the most popular sport in America. The problem with the USFL is that owners weren't patient and got greedy, fighting over each other to sign some top college stars like Doug Flutie, Hershel Walker, Jim Kelly and Mike Rozier. They spent money before they had taken the time to build an interest and fan base and it folded after three seasons.

The Arena League has been around 20 years and smartly doesn't try to compete with the NFL, but it is professional football. On Friday I had Tampa Bay as a 7-point favorite at Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids has been a poorly coached team the last few years with little talent, especially on defense, sort of like the NFL Saints or the 49ers the last two years. They've also been money-burners, going 4-12 overall in 2005 and 6-10 against the spread, getting outscored by 11 ppg. When they played Tampa Bay Friday, it was a mismatch, as the Tampa Bay storm are a well coached club with excellent talent on both sides of the ball.

Tampa Bay was off a 10-win season and had throttled Grand Rapids in the previous meeting, 70-50. In addition, there were some verbal fireworks going on, where Grand Rapids players made disparaging remarks about Tampa Bay. The Storm coach admitted after the game, “Grand Rapids pushed some buttons early on and got us fired up with some of their quotes and some things they did off the field." The better team didn't need the extra incentive, as far as I was concerned, but it didn't hurt, either, as Tampa Bay, a five-time Arena Bowl champion, won and covered.

Examining the Arena League betting lines, as you can see, is similar to the way to approach NFL match-ups. On Sunday, I had Philadelphia, a 10-point home favorite over a Los Angeles team that has trouble moving the football, averaging 36 ppg. That's not going to cut it in the Arena League, where teams want to average closer to 50 ppg, which is what Philly is averaging. Last season, Philly averaged 56 ppg at home and had beefed up the defense for this season. The Philly Soul won and covered 47-33 on Sunday. Monday night I used Las Vegas for another winner. That puts me at 6-0 in Arena League football selections this season. As long as someone puts up a betting number on a sporting event, a good handicapper can find edges against the spread!

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