Need a football fix? Arena League offers winning opportunities

Much to the relief of everyone not named Arnold Schwarzenegger—is there anyone more eager to flee the planet right now?—so-called prophet Harold Camping just missed with his prediction that the apocalypse would hit May 21. (I’m especially thankful; if Camping had nailed it, I’d be in eternal possession of the “Worst Prognosticating of the Week” award for my Preakness Stakes picks.)

Now that it looks like we’re safe for the time being, we can turn our attention to the planet’s next-biggest crisis: the NFL labor situation. We’re now less than two months away from the scheduled start of training camps, and it’s looking more and more likely that I’ll be handicapping Halloween pumpkin-carving contests before I will Week 1 NFL games.

“I am extremely concerned about the viability of the 2011 NFL season,” says longtime Las Vegas-based professional handicapper Ted Sevransky, who works for both and “The owners want to break the players’ union, that’s their priority, and it’s just a matter of when the players cave. And the impression I’m getting is the players aren’t going to cave early. I think we’ll see some season, but if I were making a betting line, the season not starting on time is a strong favorite, at least 2-to-1, maybe bigger.”

So what’s a pro football junkie to do while millionaires argue with billionaires over who gets a bigger slice of the golden goose? One option is to punt and move on to another league.

That would be the Arena Football League, which recently passed the midpoint of its 18-game season that runs through July 23, followed by the playoffs. Although the AFL’s rules and caliber of players are drastically different than the NFL, there are two key elements that crossover: It’s still football, and you can bet on the games at most Las Vegas sports books.

Unfortunately, my Arena Football knowledge is limited to the fact that the final scores usually resemble college basketball games. But that’s where Sevransky comes in. He’s been successfully betting the AFL since 2003 (he says he hits at about a 60 percent clip), employing the principles he uses to handicap college football and the NFL. Namely, it’s all about studying personnel, staying ahead of the curve when it comes to key injuries and getting out in front of the oddsmakers early in the season.

“Being able to identify very early who the worst teams are, that to me is a [useful betting] strategy across sports,” Sevransky says. “Early in the season, you can make the most money by finding the really bad teams and betting against them again and again.”

Some additional AFL betting tips from Sevransky:

LOOK TO UNDERDOGS … TO A POINT: “Because of the clock rules in the final minute of each half and the kickoff rules; and the fact you can’t take a knee, there are no punts and it’s easier to recover onside kicks, a lot of things give the lesser team an opportunity to compete because there’s more action in the final minute. That being said, the talent differential between the best and worst teams in Arena Football is much greater than the talent differential between the best and worst teams in the NFL.”

ARMED AND DANGEROUS: “Quarterback play is a lot more important in Arena than it is in the NFL. In the NFL, you can win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. In the AFL, even if you have the best defense in the league, it’s not a defense you can rely on. They’re still going to score seven touchdowns in 10 possessions. So when you find good quarterbacks, you want to be betting on them.”

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: “The point-spread team of the year so far has been Jacksonville (7-0-1 against the spread). … But we try to project forward rather than looking back—[identify] teams that are better now than they were a month ago, and they’ll be better still a month from now. Teams like San Jose, Utah, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh all have the potential to make money for their supporters over the second half of the campaign.”

Given all that, let’s bust out the bankroll (which sits at $7,486) and ride Sevransky’s two best AFL bets this week (note that point spreads were unknown as of press time):

$220 (to win $200): Philadelphia (minus the points) vs. New Orleans. Says Sevransky: “New Orleans is as bad as it gets in this league. And Philly is coming off kind of a shoddy effort and a weird second half of a game they were in position to win but didn’t, so I think we’re going to get good effort out of the Soul.”

$110 (to win $100): Pittsburgh (plus the points) at Dallas. Says Sevransky: “Pittsburgh is an expansion squad, but they’re a good expansion squad, and they’ve been undervalued by the marketplace. They went through three QBs because of injuries, but now they’ve got the original guy back (Bernard Morris). I think he’s going to give Dallas some problems.”

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