- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of the Week 15 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Kansas City (8-5) at Columbus (6-7)
Kansas City continues to fly under the radar with a very consistent offense, a solid defense and the ability to maintain composure in adverse situations. The one thing the Brigade don't do is dazzle you in any particular area. Columbus is coming off a lackluster loss to Georgia in which it was outplayed on offense, defense and special teams. Like Kansas City, the Destroyers are not a flashy team, but they are capable of playing with anybody when they are on their game. The Brigade are ranked No. 2 in pass offense and run offense and No. 3 in scoring defense and pass defense, but they suffered some injuries last week that they must overcome. Both teams play good red zone defense and the key for this game may be the offense that scores with the most consistency in the red zone. It's hard to go against Kansas City QB Raymond Philyaw (70 TD passes and just nine INTs) in that situation.
Orlando (7-6) at New York (5-8)
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses that could affect their playoff status and both need to rebound this week. Orlando's loss was to San Jose on the road and had it not been for a bad offensive fourth quarter, the Predators might have won. However, New York was blown out by an Austin offense that put up 82 uncharacteristic points against the Dragons' usually reliable defense. Not to mention, New York turned the ball over five times. That's unusual for an offense led by Aaron Garcia. The Predators have a great pass rush, led by DE Greg White (14 sacks), and it is critical that they make Garcia uncomfortable in the pocket, which could lead to some forced passes to a receiving corps that doesn't have a lot of depth beyond WR Kevin Swayne. A key matchup to watch will be Orlando WR Javarus Dudley versus New York DB Billy Parker (23 pass breakups). It's hard to know what to expect this week because both teams are unpredictable, but it should be entertaining.
Philadelphia (6-7) at Tampa Bay (6-7)
These are two proud, veteran organizations fighting for their playoff lives and both teams know if they can just get in, anything can happen in the postseason. In reality, the loser of this game may be in real trouble so expect a physical battle between two groups of players who know what's at stake. Philadelphia is a much better team with QB Tony Graziani back in the lineup, but the Soul still lack explosiveness even though they have good depth at wide receiver. They just don't seem to have that special go-to guy who creates big plays. Tampa Bay is getting excellent production from young QB Brett Dietz and has developed an underrated trio of receivers who will test a physical Soul defense that takes a lot of chances, but also gives up some big plays. Neither one of these teams is high-scoring so taking care of the football, eliminating turnovers and converting on third and fourth down is critical.
Grand Rapids (4-9) at Chicago (9-4)
Chicago is not an explosive offense without WR Bobby Sippio and losing him for the last two weeks because of an ankle injury has put a lot of pressure on the Rush defense. When Sippio is not in the lineup, the Chicago is a good, but not elite, AFL team. The Rampage lack great quality depth and playmakers and struggle to put a complete game together, but they do have an offense that can surprise you at times. While the Rampage have inconsistent play from the QB position, what hurts even more is losing their one great playmaker, Timon Marshall. He could beat you as a WR and was even better as a kick returner, but now he is gone, heading to the NFL with the Chicago Bears this week. With Marshall gone, Grand Rapids loses its big-play capabilities. Look for Chicago to use DB Eddie Moten in coverage with some press techniques, as the real mismatch here on paper is the Rampage's 18th-ranked pass offense versus the top-rated Chicago pass defense. This looks like a low-scoring game without Sippio and taking care of the football and avoiding turnovers will be imperative.
Georgia (11-2) at Austin (4-9)
All of a sudden, this game gets more interesting based on the fact that Austin put up 82 points versus a decent New York defense last week and now has the look of a spoiler team. Georgia continues to roll and has already clinched the Southern Division championship. The Force are playing like a complete team with solid production on offense, defense and special teams. The Force are No. 1 in pass offense, No. 2 in run defense and scoring offense and they can spread the field on offense better than any team in the league. QB Chris Greisen is not afraid to throw to any of his wide receivers. Austin is next-to-last in pass defense, which doesn't bode well for the Wranglers versus Georgia's offense. Until last week, this was an Austin team that could not make key plays on either side of the ball at key times. Is the 82-point outburst versus New York legit or a one-week wonder? If Georgia comes in flat, this could be a close game.
New Orleans (4-9) at Dallas (12-1)
The last thing the fading VooDoo need is to play the best team in the league, but that's what they get this week when they travel to Dallas. The Desperados are a veteran team with enough depth that they seem to be able to overcome injuries and find a guy each week that they can plug into the system to generate good production. Without WR Marcus Nash, who is out with an injured hand, the Dallas star right now is Will Pettis, who is playing exceptionally well on both sides of the ball. QB Clint Dolezel continues to play at a high level and his ability to call his own plays makes this offense almost impossible to stop. New Orleans QB Steve Bellisari is starting to look like the real deal since replacing Andy Kelly and he has a trio of receivers that gives him a potentially explosive passing game. The VooDoo have played without suspended DE Henry Taylor the last two weeks and face a Dallas offensive line that has given up only two sacks the entire season. If Dolezel has time to throw, he will pick the VooDoo defense apart with his arm and play calling.
San Jose (10-3) at Utah (7-7)
We know that the Utah offense is explosive and high-scoring, but it was the Blaze's defense that turned in a shockingly good performance Monday night. If that trend continues, Utah is entirely a different team, capable of beating anybody in the league. San Jose keeps rolling on, a little bit under the radar, and has quietly won seven games in a row. The SaberCats look like a complete team right now. QB Mark Grieb is playing very well and the SaberCats know how to spread the field in the passing game. Most importantly, they play good defense with an excellent matchup secondary that doesn't give up a lot of big plays. Watching Utah's pass offense versus San Jose's pass defense will be very entertaining, but the key to this game will be the Blaze's defense. Is it actually getting better or is it a one-game wonder?
Nashville (5-8) at Las Vegas (2-11)
The young Kats are coming off a bye and you just don't know what you are going to get week to week from them. Still, they face a very beatable opponent this week in Las Vegas. The Gladiators just don't have much to play for at this stage of the season. Although Las Vegas QB Nick Rolovich shows some hope for the future, he is part of a bad football team. The Gladiators are last in the league in pass defense and scoring offense and 18th in run defense, while Nashville is the third-best rushing team in the AFL and runs the ball more than any other team (159 rushes). Look for the Kats to control the ball on the ground and run right at the Gladiators' defense in what could be a low-scoring game. Neither offense is explosive, so taking care of the football and converting in the red zone and also on third and fourth downs could be critical.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton takes an in-depth look at the Week 15 matchups.