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AFL vs. NFL – The Stat Line

Dave Carlson
Monday April 17, 2000


NOTE: This article was updated in 2006.

If you’re just starting to watch Arena Football, the rule differences can be confusing sometimes: Eight men per side, fifty-yard field, end zone nets, the walls. After you’ve got all the rules changes down though, you’re set right? Well, if you’re just going to be a casual fan and watch only a game or two, then you are probably set. But, what if you want to dig in deeper and start to follow the game statistics? You start looking at the stats in the box score, or decide to check out the league leaders here on ArenaFan. What is good, what is bad? You can’t always tell from just your experience in following the NFL’s numbers. Here’s a primer on what to watch for in checking out Arena Football statistics:

Passing
NFL vs AFL Quarterback statistics are similar in some ways. The raw numbers of some stats (like attempts, completions, yards) in a game or season will be slightly higher in the AFL. The length of the field doesn’t affect these stats too much, but since Arena Football is much more of a passing game than the NFL, they will edge a little higher. Touchdowns on the other hand are about double (which makes sense, since they only have to go about 40 yards to score a touchdown, instead of 70-80 yards). While Kurt Warner’s NFL debut was one of the best ever with 41 touchdowns in 1999, his 79 touchdown passes for the Barnstormers in 1997 doesn't even register in the Top 20 seasons for a QB anymore (although to be fair, he had 79 in a 14 game season). Aaron Garcia’s 104 touchdowns in the 2001 season is still standing as the Arena Football record. A quarterback with fewer than 5 touchdowns per game is probably going to be looking over his shoulder to see if the coach brings out the backup.

What about interceptions? These come at generally the same rate as NFL quarterbacks, but in the AFL, passers especially want to keep the total as low as possible. Since scoring is higher in Arena Football, interceptions (and hence the stopping of a drive) are especially bad, and two or three in a game can spell doom for your team, even if you scored on every other drive.

Finally, every football number-cruncher’s favorite friend: the passer rating. Well, since one of the components (touchdowns) is about double that of an NFL player, the passer rating in the AFL is also expected to be much higher, although the AFL modifies the touchdown ratio portion of the equation to make it not seem so out of place. Still, Kurt Warner’s 1999 NFL passer rating of 109.2 was one of the NFL’s best ever, but it would have only come in 8th (out of 15) in the AFL's 1999 season. Mark Grieb led the league with a rating of 134.15 in 2001, which was an all-time AFL record. In the history of the league, 25 quarterbacks with over 1000 pass attempts have a lifetime rating of over 100.0, so, definitely, the bar is "raised" in the AFL when it comes to passer rating.

Rushing and Receiving

Receivers in the AFL will have slightly higher numbers than their NFL counterparts, mostly because of the increase in passing, and again, just like quarterbacks, your top wide receivers will have about 30-40 touchdowns per season while a great NFL player might get 10-15. A quarterback will generally find their favorite wide receiver an average of two to three times per game in the end zone.

Running back stats on the other hand go the other way. Les Barley held the all-time rushing yards record for almost a decade with 1390. That’s all-time CAREER rushing yards. With the tight quarters and emphasis on passing in Arenaball, a running back has little chance to amass many yards on the ground. 200 yards rushing in a season is considered exceptional in Arena Football. In 2004, Dan Curran led the league with 336 yards rushing. Rushing touchdowns are not as rare as rushing yards , as teams do try to run it in once they get inside the 5 yard line. A good running back will usually get one touchdown per game on average.

Kicking

What about the kickers? You know that the AFL goalposts are narrower and higher than the NFL’s, so, you’d be correct in guessing that the statistical threshold is lower for kickers in the Arena League. This is even true on extra points. While well over half of the NFL kickers made all of their extra points in 1999, no one player has ever done it in the Arena Football league as a starting kicker for a full season. Don Silversti is the kicker who made the most extra points while still being perfect, going 50/50 in 2001. A decent kicker will make about 85-90% of his extra points in the AFL, and an good to great kicker will make over 90%.

Field goal percentages also go down, WAY down vs. the NFL. While a good NFL kicker will make at least 75% of his field goals, anything over 50% is outstanding in Arena Football, and a percentage in the 40’s are the norm. Part of the reason is because teams must often attempt a field goal from inside their own 10-yard line, which is a 45+ yard field goal for the kicker. And of course, unless they are very accurate (or lucky), a 45+ yard kick between tiny goal posts amounts to a punt more than a field goal attempt, which artificially lowers the percentage. Also, kickers have to contend with a low hanging overhead scoreboard in some arenas, which throws off how they might try to kick a long field goal otherwise.

Defense

Before you start waiving around that cardboard "D" and cutout of a picket fence at the games, you should know what is considered good defense. On the team level, the average points scored per team in a game in the AFL is around 50, so, anything under that should be considered a good game, and under 20 is the equivalent to a shutout in the NFL (In fact, only one team has ever been shut out in Arena Football, the San Antonio Force lost 50-0 to the Orlando Predators in a game in 1992).

On an individual level, interceptions come at about the same rate as they do in the NFL, so, 7-8 interceptions in a season is very good for a player. Sacks, on the other hand, are about half what you would see in the NFL. While the NFL sack leaders are always in the double digits, you’ll rarely see a player get above 10 in the AFL in a season (only 8 players have ever had 10 or more in a season). Part of this is because of the rules which limit rushing the quarterback in the indoor game. Only one linebacker can rush the quarterback in the AFL, so, obviously the chances for a sack are greatly diminished.

Congratulations! Now you may go forth and watch Arena Football, knowing that the quarterback with the 90.5 passer rating this year is actually not so hot, the 50 yards rushing by the running back was an outstanding game, and the half-naked guy in the stands with the tattoo of his mother riding a motorcycle on his chest is probably still someone you don’t want to invite over for dinner.


 
Dave Carlson is the Technical Director of Arenafan Online. Dave graduated with a degree in Computer Information Systems, and has been a member of the Arena Football Internet community since 1991. He is currently a professional web programmer, and has a history in programming sports statistics. Dave is married and lives in Indiana.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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