Alliance of American Football Preview: Who Wins the Inaugural Championship?
Now that the Patriots have been crowned the NFL’s champions, the Alliance of American Football league gets underway with the hard hitting, bone crunching action that football fans starve for during the NFL’s offseason.
Founded by some of football’s most revered personalities, the AAF aims to create an interactive, immersive, and enjoyable experience between the fans and the game of football. The AAF consists of eight teams located in eight different states, and features former college football stars, NFL players, and big time coaches.
About the AAF
In March 2018, the Alliance of American Football was co-founded by TV big wig Charlie Ebersol, son of the highly respected former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. The other co-founder is Hall Of Fame executive Bill Polian who’s highly respected in the NFL, NCAAF, and broadcasting circles.
His name alone, lends a tremendous amount of credibility to this league. Former NFL players like Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu will have advisory roles with the league, which further solidifies the AAF’s commitment to a well-run and respected league.
Fully Immersive Sports Betting
Unlike the NFL, the AAF is all about sports betting. In fact, we’re witnessing a groundbreaking approach to the marriage of football and sports betting. Since legalized sports betting is expanding throughout the country, the AAF recognized the unique opportunity that they have in creating a football experience for the fans unlike anything else in the country.
The foundation for this marriage is an AAF app that will allow fans to watch the games and bet on them at the same time. This means that the technology will feature an impressive live football betting platform for users to bet on teams, players, and prop bets.
Another way that the league is approaching a maximum sports betting experience is by placing state of the art technology on players to gather more data in order to provide the best football betting odds possible. The technology being created by the AAF is enough to transform the game of football in America. However, the AAF isn’t just stopping there. They’re adding an on-field approach that not only tries maximize entertainment value, but also maximize the sports betting opportunities.
Because of the league’s groundbreaking approach, there was no shortage of investors. Yet, instead of trying to play the field for potential sportsbooks operators, the AAF signed an exclusive partnership with MGM to handle the sports betting side of the business.
Even if the games aren’t as exciting to NFL fans, they will still be exciting opportunities for sports bettors.
AAF Championship Odds
The Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas has released the following AAF championship odds:
- Arizona Hotshots (+250)
- Salt Lake Stallions (+400)
- San Antonio Commanders (+500)
- Orlando Apollos (+500)
- Atlanta Legends (+500)
- San Diego Fleet (+1000)
- Memphis Express (+1000)
- Birmingham Iron (+1000)
Based on these odds, it’s clear that the Sportsbook isn’t quite sure about any of these teams as of yet. All anyone has had to base predictions off of has been past accomplishments, coaching staffs, a few practices and a scrimmage.
The majority of these teams are listed with the same odds, as we have three teams at +500 and three teams at +1000. I’ll examine these odds and teams further before making my championship predictions.
The AAF Teams: Notable Players and Coaches
The Alliance of American Football has 8 teams total with 4 in each conference. All eight teams will consist of 52 players on their rosters. The following is a breakdown of the teams and notable players or coaches:
The Eastern Conference Teams
Atlanta Legends: Located in Atlanta, GA, and Will Play at Georgia State Stadium.
The Legends are coached by Kevin Coyle, who doesn’t have head coaching experience on any level. He was originally brought in to become the defensive coordinator for the Legends as they had former NFL coach Brad Childress manning the helm. Unfortunately, Childress decided to step down and Coyle got the promotion. The most recognizable name on Coyle’s staff is former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick who is the team’s offensive coordinator. In a sense, Vick has become the face of the franchise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up the head coach next year.
Some of Atlanta’s most notable players include:
- QB Aaron Murray –starting QB for the Georgia Bulldogs, who set several SEC records during his time. 5th round selection by the KC Chiefs in 2014 NFL Draft.
- QB Matt Simms – had collegiate success at Tennessee before struggling in the NFL. Son of famous NFL QB and TV analyst Phil Simms.
- RB Denard Robinson – starting QB for the Michigan Wolverines. Played QB, RB, and WR in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- RB Akrum Wadley – solid running back for Iowa Hawkeyes, but didn’t get any NFL playing time in his rookie year.
- LB Khalil Bass – a former standout defensive player in the CFL.
They have plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but can they shut down opposing offenses with an unproven defense?
Birmingham Iron: Located in Birmingham, AL, and Will Play at Legion Field.
The Iron is led by head coach Tim Lewis, a former NFL player drafted 11th overall in the 1983 NFL Draft. Although his career was cut short by a neck injury, he went on to have a successful coaching career in the NFL with stops at 6 different teams. He rose through the ranks to become the defensive coordinator for the Steelers and the Giants.
Lewis’ coaching staff features a lot of experience. Offensive coordinator Steve Logan was a former NFL RB and QB coach, along with being East Carolina’s head coach for a decade. The Iron’s Defensive Coordinator is Rick Minter who’s been a longtime collegiate coach and coordinator. Perhaps, the most surprising of coaches in the entire AAF is the 71 year old Ted Cottrell who was a former longtime defensive coordinator in the NFL with 4 different teams.
Some of the Iron’s most notable players includes:
- QB Blake Simms – a starting QB for Alabama, who played running back for the Crimson Tide. Bounced around the NFL and the CFL.
- RB Trent Richardson – former Doak Walker Award winner and two-time BCS champ for Alabama. Was drafted 3rd overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Browns.
- WR Quinton Patton – a standout wide receiver at Louisiana Tech. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the 49ers.
- P Colton Schmidt – a standout punter for the Buffalo Bills from 2014 to 2018.
Birmingham at +1000 odds was listed at the bottom of Westgate’s odds on favorites to win the title. This team is going to be Trent Richardson or bust. If Richardson can find his collegiate magic by playing near his former school then this team will be competitive. Until Richardson proves it, this team is rightfully picked to be last in the odds and probably the Eastern Conference.
Memphis Express: Located in Memphis, TN, and Will Play at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The Express have some of the most recognizable names in the entire AAF. And, none more successful than HOF linebacker Mike Singletary who is the team’s head coach. Singletary is an iconic figure in the NFL and also was the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers. His OC will be David Lee, a longtime QB coach in the NFL. On the defensive side of the ball are two well-known football names: DC Dennis Thurman who has been a longtime defensive coach and former DC for 2 NFL teams, and 2-time Super Bowl winning linebacker Pepper Johnson who is best known for his time with the New York Giants.
Memphis has the following notable players:
- QB Christian Hackenberg – 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who led PSU back from exile. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft and bounced around the league.
- QB Zach Mettenberger – A two-time captain for LSU, was drafted by the Titans in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. A former NFL starting QB who played for 3 different teams.
- RB Zac Stacy – earned All-SEC honors in college as he set records at Vanderbilt. Drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and almost eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie year.
- OL Dallas Thomas – received All-American honors at Tennessee where he played OG and OT. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft and played 3 years with the Dolphins.
I am surprised that Memphis is listed at +1000 odds considering the talent they have on the coaching staff and on the offensive side of the ball. This team has two solid QB options, one of the best offensive lines and a powerful running game. With Singletary as the head coach, you have to believe the defense will be good too. Memphis offers great betting value and is a contender in my book.
Orlando Apollos: Located in Orlando FL, and Will Play at the Spectrum Stadium.
The Apollos are led by one of the most famous college football coaches of any era – Steve Spurrier. He will be joined by DC Bob Sanders who has a lengthy career as a coach in college and pro football. Former Dallas Cowboys great defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat will coach the d-line.
It appears that the Apollos have more notoriety on their coaching staff than players:
- QB Garret Gilbert – Played for SMU and Texas in college and had to come in as a backup QB in the 2010 BCS title game. Drafted in 6th round of 2014 NFL Draft by the Rams and played for three other teams.
- OG Tre’ Jackson – earned All-ACC honors and was a consensus All-American at Florida State along the o-line. Was drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Patriots.
- DB – Josh Evans – a former DB for the Gators and a stand out track star. Drafted by the Jaguars in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
- S – Will Hill – BCS National Champion at Florida in 2009. Had some success in the NFL for the Giants and the Ravens.
At +500, oddsmakers view Orlando as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, I don’t see it. The Apollos are rumored to have a good defense, but this offense doesn’t impress me at all. Unless we’re getting the former Heisman Trophy version of Spurrier playing QB, I think the Orlando offense won’t be that successful. In other words, the Apollos are overrated in my book.
The Western Conference
Arizona Hotshots: Located in Tempe, AZ, and Will Play at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Hotshots are led by a former college hot shot head coach in Rick Neuheisel. He teams up with GM Phil Savage who has an extensive background in NFL front offices. Neuheisel is a former head coach for three different college football programs and even served as an offensive coordinator in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens. His staff lacks some of the name recognition that other teams have, but Neuheisel is definitely innovative enough to make this team a competitive one.
Notable players on the Hotshots include:
- QB Trevor Knight – Quarterback for both Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Played in NFL for Cardinals and Falcons.
- WR Josh Juff – Set the record for most receiving yards in a season at Oregon during his day. Went on to be drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Eagles where he played for 3 years.
- DT Will Sutton – Former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for Arizona State. Earned All-Tam honors as well. Drafted in 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Bears.
- DB Dexter McDougle – Also a 3rd round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, this former Jets SB also played for 5 other NFL teams after a solid collegiate career.
- S Rahim Moore – Earned Pac-10 honors as a DB for the UCLA Bruins. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Broncos. Over 200 tackles and 9 interceptions in his NFL career.
Westgate has the Hotshots as the odds on favorites to win the first AAF championship. I have a hard time seeing this. I believe they will make the playoffs, but this isn’t a team loaded with as many former stars as some of the other AAF squads. I do think they have a solid defense with potential to be the best offense in the Western Conference.
Salt Lake Stallions: Located in Salt Lake City, UT, and Will Play at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Salt Lake Stallions coaxed head coach Dennis Erickson out of retirement after a long, successful coaching career. Erickson had head coaching stints at 6 colleges and 2 NFL teams (Seahawks and 49ers). Erickson teams up with GM Randy Mueller who is a former NFL General Manager for the Dolphins and the Saints, along with decades of additional front office roles. These two have built a solid coaching staff that also includes DC Donnie Henderson who’s been a defensive coach and coordinator for college and NFL teams.
The Stallions have the following notable players:
- RB Matt Asiata – Was once the starting running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Has 19 total touchdowns in his NFL career.
- RB Branden Oliver – A standout running back for the Buffalo Bulls in college before heading to the NFL where he played 3 seasons with the Chargers. Injuries derailed a promising career.
- WR Kaelin Clay – Earned conference honors with Utah before being drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Spent 4 years bouncing around and had some notable special teams play.
- DB Will Davis – A 3rd round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Dolphns. Never recovered from an ACL injury.
- P Austin Rehkow – Standout punter and kicker in the Sun Belt Conference from 2014-2016. Played for the Bills and Giants in the NFL.
The Stallions could have the best running game in the AAF with two former NFL starters in Asiata and Oliver. They also have some talent sprinkled in throughout the other skilled positions. Unfortunately, they don’t have any legitimate QB compared to the other teams. In fact, at +400 odds, I believe this team is overrated due to the former NFL players they have at other positions. I don’t even believe the Stallions will make the playoffs, let alone win the championship.
San Antonio Commanders: Located in San Antonio, TX, and Will Play at the Alamodome.
San Antonio has its commander in former college, CFL and NFL head coach Mike Riley. He most recently served as the head coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 2015 to 2017. He brought in Jim Grobe as the DC. Grobe has decades of head coaching experience in college, including stints with Ohio, Wake Forest and Baylor. Perhaps, the most famous name associated with the Commanders is their GM Daryl “Moose” Johnston, a former fullback for the Dallas Cowboys who won multiple super bowls and has become a successful TV analyst.
The team’s most notable players are:
- QB Logan Woodside – Tore up the MAC conference when playing for Toledo. Won the MAC offensive player of the year in 2017. Was drafted by the Bengals in the 7th round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
- OL Cyril Richardson – A highly decorated offensive lineman for Baylor, Richardson was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He also spent time with the Bears.
- LB Joel Lanning – Former Iowa State QB who converted to middle linebacker in his senior season. He earned All-American and Big 12 honors.
The Commanders are one of three teams listed at +500 odds. They don’t have as many recognizable names at the skilled positions, but they do seem to have a solid defense and strong offensive line. Additionally, they have a former collegiate stud in Woodside at QB. Riley will get the most out of Woodside and this offense. I expect this team to make the playoffs.
San Diego Fleet: Located in San Diego, CA, and Will Play at Sdccu Stadium.
The San Diego Fleet has a familiar name as their head coach in former Rams head coach and OC Mike Martz. The Fleet have also surrounded Martz with some talented coaches in former NFL RB LaMont Jordan and former all-pro DB Eric Allen. Each player will coach their former NFL positions. The team also has the following notable players:
- TE Gavin Escobar – Earned All-MWC honors from 2010-2012. HE was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was supposed to be the successor to Jason Witten. Escobar bounced around the NFL.
- DB Ron Brooks – Selected in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Has had some solid games in his NFL career. Injuries derailed a modestly successful career in the NFL.
- RB Bishop Sankey – Was a top shelf running back for Washington with almost 2,000 rushing yards and 21 total TDs in his senior year. Was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Titans. On the Fleet’s exempt list due to injury.
At +1000 odds, the Fleet are tied with two others teams at the bottom of Westgate’s AAF betting odds. I actually believe this is the worst team in the AAF as they have no QB and their best player is a former tight end. They were going to feature Sankey at running back, but he’s injured and it’s unclear if or when he will return. They should’ve been listed at +1500, and one spot below the Iron as the highest odds for winning the title.
The AAF Schedule
The AAF season is 12 weeks long. There will be 10 weeks in the regular season and 2 weeks for the playoffs. The top 2 teams in each conference will make the playoffs. Each week during the regular season will consist of 4 games. For the most part, there will be two games on Saturdays and two games on Sundays.
Each game will be played before the next one is set to start. The two games on Saturdays will be scheduled with enough time in-between games so that there’s no overlap. The same will take place on Sundays as well.
Each team will have 5 home games and 5 road games. The teams will play 2 games against each conference rival for a total of 6 conference games. They will also play teams from the opposing conference one time each.
The playoffs are scheduled for the weekend of April 20th-21st. The teams with the top records in each conference will host the playoff game. The AAF Championship game will be held on April 2th from the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.
Key AAF Rules Changes to Know
Although there are numerous former NFL players, coaches and front office personnel, this league is aiming to differentiate itself from the National Football League. These differences can be seen in the following rules:
Telecasts: There will be no TV timeouts during the games. The goal is to reduce game time to 150 minutes instead of the standard 180 minutes we see in NFL games. The AAF also aims to reduce commercials by 50 to 60%.
Play Clock: The game play clocks will be reduced from 40 seconds to 35 seconds. Initially, the league was looking at 30 second play clocks.
Kicking: There will be no kickoffs in the AAF. Each team will start with the ball at their own 25 yard line. In the case of an “onside kick” a team will have a 4th and 10 from their own 35 yard line. If they get the first down then it will be a successful onside kick. If they don’t then the ball goes to the other team.
2-Point Conversions: In light of the league not allowing kicks, teams have to go for two point conversions. No kicking is designed to improve overall player safety.
Challenges: Coaches will have two challenges per game. All replays will be automatic during last the two minutes of the half, the game, and in overtime.
Overtime: Each team gets one possession and it starts at the opponent’s 10 yard line. They also have to go for 2-point conversions just like in regulation. If each team scores and convers the two-point conversion then the game ends in a tie. This is so the AAF can keep the overall game time to under 2 ½ hours.
Contracts: All players get the same 3 year, $250,000 dollar non-guaranteed contract. However, players are eligible for bonuses based on game performance and other fan engaging factors.
Television Coverage for AAF Games
In addition to the league’s app, the following networks are set to broadcast games:
CBS Network: CBS and CBS Sports have agreed to be a primary television partner for the Alliance of American Football. CBS is expected to broadcast the opening day games, championship game and several regular season games. CBS Sports will also broadcast one game a week. CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus made the following comments about their partnership with the AAF:
“We are excited to become the official television partner, adding more football to our robust programming line-up with a great package that includes two primetime games on CBS, as well as a full slate of regular-season spring football on CBS Sports Network. With Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian at the helm we are confident that the product they will deliver will be entertaining, exciting, engaging and something that fans will really enjoy.”
TNT and B/R Live: TNT will air one regular season game and one playoff game per year. B/R Live, a Turner owned company, will stream one game per week beginning February 23rd. AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol commented on the purpose of signing a deal with Turner:
“We wanted two things. We wanted reach, which we have with TNT. And we wanted to look to the future of media, which we got with B/R Live.”
NFL Network: The AAF made a strategic move to sign a deal with the NFL Network, which will air 19 regular season games. This deal will help the league build an audience with football fans that tune into the NFL Network for offseason coverage. In other words, it’s trying to capitalize on the hard core football audience. NFL Network’s Mark Quenze, Senior VP of Programming and Production, commented on the addition of the AAF to the network:
“Having live football games on NFL Network in February, March, and April will be a great addition to our lineup and a nice complement to our coverage of the NFL Combine and NFL Draft.”
AAF Championship Predictions
It doesn’t matter which league we are discussing because professional football is driven by quarterback play. With that in mind, the Atlanta Legends and Memphis Express have the advantage in the Eastern Conference in regards to QB potential. The Legends feature Aaron Murray and Matt Simms while Memphis has both Christian Hackenberg and Zach Mettenberger to lead the offense.
In the Western Conference, Arizona and San Antonio seem to have the best potential at the QB spot. Arizona’s offense will most likely be led by Trevor Knight, while San Antonio has Logan Woodside among others.
I’m curious to see how Atlanta’s offense performs with Michael Vick as the Offensive Coordinator. However, I have to give the edge to Memphis over Atlanta because Memphis’ Mike Singletary has more coaching experience than Atlanta’s Kevin Coyle. Furthermore, Singletary has a better overall staff with David Lee, Pepper Johnson and Dennis Thurman than the Legends. I believe Memphis comes out of the Eastern Conference. Plus, I like the duo of Hackenberg and Mettenberger for Memphis over the duo of Murray and Simms for Atlanta.
In the Western Conference, I believe Arizona edges out San Antonio for the conference title. Both teams are considered high in the AAF betting odds, with the Hotshots being the overall odds on favorite to win the AAF championship. I believe San Antonio has a solid team, but Arizona has the look of a championship contender and will come out of the Western Conference to face Memphis in the AAF title game.
Memphis at +1000 offers great betting value. I believe they will definitely be one of the two teams to make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. From there, I believe they have the talent to matchup with any postseason team and win the entire championship.
Keep in mind, this early prediction is before seeing any on-field action. But, I really like Memphis’ coaching staff and roster. I believe they can play that tough football that Singletary embodies. Furthermore, this could be exactly what Hackenburg needs to resurrect his career. Add a solid running game with Zac Stacy and a potentially fierce defense, I’m picking Memphis to beat Arizona in the championship game and win the first ever AAF championship.