Welcome to the Week 1 edition of our Alliance of American Football (AAF) Betting Overview. Each week, I’ll strive to provide a sports betting-based breakdown of each of the league’s four games. Given the league is playing its inaugural contests this weekend, this column will naturally evolve over time in terms of depth of information as each team becomes more of a known quantity.
For Week 1, there are no AAF lines set on DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, 888 Sports, or BetStars Sportsbook. Reports indicate that the sportsbooks are likely to offer wagers upon regulatory approval. That could conceivably come in time for Week 2. For the purposes of this Week 1 article, though, we’ll feature AAF lines currently featured on the Nevada version of the playMGM app for the league’s official betting partner, MGM Resorts International.
Please note we’ll be referencing only legal, regulated sportsbook betting odds and totals here at PlayPicks. A “pick” is a wager that, as of the time of this writing, we feel confident recommending. A “lean” is a wager that we favor over the other side. This play could end up on our card with the release of additional information.
Rule differences between AAF and NFL
Before our preview of each game, there are a few AAF rules to keep in mind that differ from what we’re accustomed to seeing in the NFL.
- No kickoffs; each team begins any game-opening/second-half-opening and post-score drive at its own 25-yard line.
- No extra points; teams will be required to attempt a two-point conversion play after each touchdown.
- No onside kicks; teams will have the option of running a “4th-and-12” play from their own 28-yard line in lieu of onside kicks. The play will only be made available if a team is trailing by 17 points or more or if they’re trailing with 5 minutes or fewer left in regulation.
- Teams that are scored upon via a safety also have the option of attempting to gain possession by running this same play from their own 18-yard line.
- 35-second play clocks, as opposed to the 40-second clocks utilized in the NFL.
- All overtime periods played under “Kansas Playoff” rules. Each team begins on the opponent’s 10-yard line and given four chances to score. No field goals are allowed in overtime. If the score remains tied after each team has had a possession, the game ends in a tie.
- Only one foot in bounds is required for a reception.
- No more than five defensive players may rush on any one play. Any players on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage at the snap count towards those five players whether they rush or not.
- Pass rushing from a starting position that is more than two yards outside the widest offensive lineman and more than five yards from the line of scrimmage (defensive pressure box) is prohibited. However, there are exceptions to this rule on play-action or run-pass option plays, or if the ball leaves the tackle box.
- Violations of the aforementioned defensive alignment rules will prompt a 15-yard illegal defense penalty.
- Finally, a “sky judge” situated in a suite above the field acts as the ninth member of the officiating crew and will have access to review each play. The sky judge will have the ability to correct any on-field officiating errors that it deems “egregious.”
Well-known head coaches
One note about attempting to prognosticate the first set of games for a brand-new league: a great deal of tolerance for both risk and the unknown is not only necessary, but it’s also mandatory. With precious few data points available to analyze heading into Week 1, there are still a handful of factors that can at least help bettors make educated guesses as to each team’s style of play/plan of attack.
Much of this stems from the fact that the league’s head coaches are all well-known quantities with extensive college and/or NFL resumes. With names like Steve Spurrier (Orlando Apollos), Mike Singletary (Memphis Express), Mike Riley (San Antonio Commanders), and Mike Martz (San Diego Fleet) patrolling the AAF sidelines, there’s plenty to go on in terms of assessing who might try to win with a more conservative offense and solid defense, and who’ll be prone to air things out.
With those particulars out of the way, let’s delve into a modest breakdown of the four Week 1 matchups.
Week 1 AAF Betting Picks
Atlanta Legends (0-0) at Orlando Apollos (0-0)
playMGM Odds: Apollos -4
Over/Under Total: 50.5
Atlanta Legends: Matt Simms, QB; Aaron Murray, QB; Denard Robinson, RB; Greg Ward, Jr., WR; Younghoe Koo, K
Orlando Apollos: Garrett Gilbert, QB; Akeem Hunt, RB; Charles Johnson, WR; Jalin Marshall, WR
Legends: Lost 37-11 to San Antonio Commanders
Apollos: Won 31-28 against San Diego Fleet
On paper, the Legends are the AAF’s weakest team. Their preseason showing versus the Commanders did nothing to dispel that notion. Already abandoned by their original head coach Brad Childress, Atlanta will be helmed by Kevin Coyle, who’ll have potential limitations as a first-time head coach. Then, Michael Vick was all set to serve as offensive coordinator. However, other professional obligations are limiting his time, thus leaving him in just an advisory role as of this past Thursday.
And there’s a questionable quarterback situation that sees the unproven Matt Simms get the first crack at the starting job. It all seems to add up to a bleak picture, at least initially. On the brighter side, former Jaguars “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson could certainly surprise if his skills remain sharp. Yet he hasn’t played pro football anywhere in two full seasons. On the defensive side of the ball, look for Coyle to make good use of DE J.T. Jones, who racked up 35.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks during a three-year college tenure at Miami (OH) from 2014-16.
It’s likely a safe bet that the Apollos will throw early and often, given Steve Spurrier’s oversight of the team’s offense. Luckily for the ‘Ol Ball Coach, his squad appears to be reasonably well equipped to carry that through. QB Garrett Gilbert is even fresh off seeing a little NFL action back in Week 17 for the Panthers. He went 2-for-3 for 40 yards in emergency duty against the Saints. Gilbert has been around the NFL since 2014. He spent time with five different teams overall without regular-season action until his aforementioned cameo in the 2018 NFL regular-season finale. And Gilbert will have plenty of experienced hands around him, including former NFL wideouts Charles Johnson and Jalin Marshall. Three-year NFL vet Akeem Hunt is also a nice piece in the backfield to keep defenses honest.
The Final Word
The Apollos offense looked proficient in their one exhibition. Gilbert, Johnson, and Marshall all put in solid showings. The Legends look like they could struggle to build offensive chemistry early if the quarterback position is as shaky as many suspect. Ultimately, with Orlando having some NFL experience at key skill positions and Spurrier undoubtedly willing to stay in attack mode, I look for an Apollos cover of the modest number.
The Pick: Apollos -4
San Diego Fleet (0-0) at San Antonio Commanders (0-0)
playMGM Odds: Commanders -3
Over/Under Total: 51.5
San Diego Fleet: Terrell Watson, RB; Francis Owusu, WR; Gavin Escobar, TE
San Antonio Commanders: Kenneth Farrow, RB; De’Marcus Ayers, WR; Greg Ward, Jr., WR; Nick Rose, K
Fleet: Lost 31-28 to Orlando Apollos
Commanders: Won 37-11 against Atlanta Legends
The Fleet could well end up as a West Coast version of their preseason opponent, the Apollos. San Diego head coach Mike Martz is certainly a kindred spirit to Spurrier in the playcalling sense. That much was evident in their exhibition meeting. The Fleet put the ball up a whopping 53 times.
Mike Bercovici is slated to get the first crack at running Martz’s aerial show despite a rough three-interception showing against Orlando. The Arizona State product did wow with 3,854 yards and a 30:9 TD:INT across 13 games in his senior 2015 season for the Sun Devils. He’ll get a chance to make his case after Josh Johnson, the Fleet’s original selection at QB, was snapped up by the Washington Redskins late last NFL season. The likes of Terrell Watson in the backfield and Francis Owusu, Nelson Spruce, and Gavin Escobar in the pass-catching corps give the young signal-caller something to work with in terms of weapons.
The Commanders have plenty of offensive upside on their end as well. QB Dustin Vaughan put up over 8,000 yards and a 70:19 TD:INT at West Texas A&M. Then, WR DeMarcus Ayers, who washed out for the Steelers after a 98-1,222-6 line in his final college season at Houston, is around to serve as a viable pass-catching option for the former standout Division II field general. Kenneth Farrow, who compiled 192 rushing yards for the Chargers in 2016 and has a 1,000-yard season on his resume while serving as Ayers’ college teammate on the Cougars, could prove to be a valued part of the ground attack.
The Final Word
Both teams appear set to pack some punch on the offensive side of the ball, so this could be a fairly high-scoring game. With both clubs looking fairly evenly matched, the three-point number appears fitting. The Commanders are favored by that margin due to the fact the game unfolds on their home field. As such, I see them living up to that expectation.
The Pick: Commanders -3
Memphis Express (0-0) at Birmingham Iron (0-0)
playMGM Odds: Iron -2.5
Over/Under Total: 50.0
Memphis Express: Christian Hackenberg, QB; Zach Mettenberger, QB; Zac Stacy, RB; Chris Givens, WR; Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR
Birmingham Iron: Luis Perez, QB; Trent Richardson, RB; Quinton Patton, WR; Nick Novak, K
Express: Lost 29-15 to Salt Lake Stallions
Iron: Lost 36-17 against Arizona Hotshots
The Express appear to have a solid set of offensive skill players at running back and receiver. However, the likes of Zac Stacy and Chris Givens could have a hard time thriving if the play under center is lacking. The latter is a concern given the track record of Christian Hackenberg and Zach Mettenberger. The Express could, therefore, feature one of the more inconsistent offenses in the league early on. That said, Mettenberger at least brings some big-play upside with his willingness to fling it downfield. A deep passing attack would particularly mesh well with Givens, who boasts one of the more accomplished NFL resumes as the AAF begins. The 29-year-old racked up 107 receptions with the Rams and Ravens from 2012-15. Plus, 33 of those catches went for more than 20 yards.
The Iron could have a diamond in the rough in the form of QB Luis Perez, who threw for 8,327 yards and generated a 78:16 TD:INT over his final two college seasons at Texas A&M-Commerce. He appears set to lead the Iron offense for coach Tim Lewis to open the campaign. Trent Richardson and Quinton Patton are two offensive pieces that could help him succeed, with Richardson a one-time first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2012. Former Colts wideout Quan Bray also brings 24 games of NFL experience and could serve as a nice possession option for Perez.
The Final Word
This is another matchup that appears likely to be close given that both squads feature solid complementary pieces. In this case, I’m leaning toward Perez having enough based on his own talent and supporting cast to keep the scoreboard humming for all four quarters and a tight win.
The Pick: Iron -2.5
Salt Lake Stallions (0-0) at Arizona Hotshots (0-0)
playMGM Odds: Hotshots -4
Over/Under Total: 52.0
Salt Lake Stallions: Josh Woodrum, QB; Matt Asiata, RB; Branden Oliver, RB; Kenny Bell, WR
Arizona Hotshots: Terron Ward, RB; Josh Huff, WR; Freddie Martino, WR; Nick Folk, K
Stallions: Lost 29-15 to Memphis Express
Hotshots: Won 36-17 against Birmingham Iron
There are some familiar names in the Salt Lake backfield, lending credence to the notion they could boast one of the better running attacks in the AAF. Matt Asiata is about as accomplished a short-yardage back as there is in the new league. Meanwhile, Branden Oliver displayed plenty of shiftiness and pass-catching ability as a change-of-pace option for the Chargers across 30 games over three seasons. Then, Northern Illinois product Joel Bouagnon boasts 31 rushing touchdowns and a near 1,300-yard campaign on his four-season college resume. He could offer an every-down dimension that dovetails perfectly with the skill set of his other two backfield mates. And not all of the Stallions’ offensive upside rests in the ground attack. QB Josh Woodrum threw for 10,266 yards and 61 TDs over four college seasons at Liberty while adding 424 rushing yards and another 16 scores with his legs.
The Hotshots are the favorites for the AAF title at +300. They open as solid favorites in Week 1 as well. Some intriguing former NFL talent in the form of Terron Ward, Josh Huff, and Freddie Martino figures to be key to their success. It’s uncertain whether John Wolford or former Sooner Trevor Knight will be under center to open the contest, but both have their warts. Wolford threw 41 interceptions over four seasons at Wake Forest. Then, Knight was guilty of 26 over three seasons at Oklahoma and one at Texas A&M earlier this decade. Both Huff and Martino bring an abundance of game-breaking speed. And Ward proved serviceable during his time backing up Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with the Falcons from 2015-17.
The Final Word
This could ultimately make for the most entertaining game of the weekend. That’s especially likely if it’s a Woodrum-Knight duel at quarterback. Both can make plenty happen when plays break down. And the ex-NFL talent on either squad should be capable of making plays on the opposing defense. In the end, I see the Stallions having enough to keep the home team on its heels at minimum and cover the modest number.
The Pick: Stallions +4