AFL Primer: Overview, Handicapping Tips, Futures

The 2020 Australian Football League (AFL) season officially got underway on March 19, making it a great time for bettors to familiarize themselves with Australian football. Commonly known as “Aussie Rules,” the sport shares some similarities to soccer in that both games predominantly revolve around kicking. But that’s essentially where the parallels end. Here’s what you need to know.

AFL OVERVIEW

The AFL is the premier Aussie Rules competition in the world and comprises 18 teams that typically play a 22-game season across 23 weeks before a four-week playoffs (known as the “finals”) that consists of the top eight teams and culminates with the “Grand Final.” 

Aussie Rules features two teams of 18 that play four 16.5-minute quarters (an adjustment for the new season from the standard 20-minute quarters) plus stoppage time on an oval field that has two sets of posts on either end — a high set of interior posts and a lower set of outer posts. The objective is to kick the ball through the posts; if a team kicks the ball between the interior posts, a goal is awarded that results in six points. If the ball is kicked between the outer set of posts (or the ball is run or touched over the goal line), a “behind” is scored, which results in one point. Games are typically very high scoring, as teams routinely reached triple-digit points before the games were shortened for the 2020 season.

3 HANDICAPPING TIPS

1. Night games go under
Night games in the AFL tend to skew lower scoring. Betting the under blindly in all night games netted a win rate of 60% from 2012-19. In games not played in a dome, that number increases to 62%. The market will inevitably catch up, but to this point it’s yet to properly account for the difference in scoring between daytime and nighttime football. 

2. Carlton covers big numbers at home
If there is one truth in the AFL in recent years, it’s that playing Carlton in heavy-chalk spots pays dividends. The Blues covered over two-thirds of the time when favored by 18-plus points in Melbourne from 2012-19. And heading into the 2020 season, they had covered 26 of their last 32 when favored by more than three goals at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

3. Fade the Bombers
Since 2012, Essendon has represented the worst AFL team to back as favorites, going just 28-47 ATS — a cover rate of 37% — in chalk spots. Coming into the new campaign, the Bombers had covered just 15 of their last 51 when favored by more than two goals.

3 FUTURES TO TARGET

1. Greater Western Sydney Premiership Winner (+650)
Three of the last four premiership winners finished sixth or worse the previous season, an indicator that parity is becoming increasingly prevalent in the AFL. The Giants have made the finals in four straight seasons and despite finishing sixth last year, got hot in September to reach the Grand Final. They have significantly bolstered their roster in 2020 with the acquisition of quality ruckman Sam Jacobs. The Giants already have the most talented midfield in the AFL, led by Stephen Coniglio and Callan Ward, while Jeremy Cameron is the reigning Coleman Medal winner (most goals). Greater Western Sydney’s only weakness is on the mental side.

2. Western Bulldogs Top 4 Finish (+170)
After two years on the outside following their drought-breaking premiership, the Bulldogs returned to the finals last year, finishing seventh with a 12-10 record. They were the only team in the Top 8 to fall within a win of their season win total. They’re the real deal and are on the upswing; their young core made a major leap in 2019 and should continue to improve, while the investment in Alex Keath to bolster a defense that ranked bottom six was a key addition. The Bulldogs only need a slight improvement on defense to go a long way in 2020.

3. Gold Coast Fewest Season Wins (-140)
The juice is telling on this prop, but make no mistake: Gold Coast has been a perennial doormat, finishing 15th or worse in seven of nine seasons and never finishing higher than 12th. They are 19-69 across the last four seasons. The club is just fighting for survival, with another rough campaign in the cards.

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