- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of the Week 16 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Georgia (12-2) at Orlando (8-6)
Georgia continues to put up unbelievable offensive numbers each and every week. QB Chris Greisen and his trio of talented receivers take most AFL defenses deeper than they are prepared to go and create matchups that always seem to work in Georgia's favor. Orlando is winning and is in the playoffs, but you just don't get the feeling that the Predators are hitting on all cylinders on a weekly basis. However, Orlando has a very good defense with a terrific pass rush, led by Greg White, who has an amazing 15 sacks in 2007. If Orlando can pressure Greisen, the Force might have to shorten up their passing game. A good pass rush also will help a pretty good Orlando secondary. It's a talented group but it has yet to face a group of receivers this good. This game is great matchup between two well-coached teams and Georgia's offense battling Orlando's defense, but the Force just have too much firepower.
Columbus (6-8) at Philadelphia (6-8)
This is, for all intents and purposes, a playoff game with the winner clinching a postseason berth. The Soul had a defensive letdown versus Tampa Bay and they didn't make a stop all night, which is unusual for a group that creates a lot of turnovers and big plays.. They are also committing too many penalties and mental errors. That's disappointing for a team loaded with veteran players and surrounded by an excellent coaching staff and a solid front office. Columbus QB Matt Nagy is not getting great pass protection, which is leading to sacks and interceptions. That has to improve against a Soul defense that can create that pressure. This is a game that could be decided by a key defensive stop or a turnover and since both teams are well-matched, playing a clean game becomes very important.
Tampa Bay (7-7) at Grand Rapids (4-10)
After an 0-5 start, Tampa Bay fought back and qualified for the playoffs with a roster that never quit. Thanks to some great coaching, the Storm succeeded despite lacking the talent of some other teams. QB Brett Dietz is doing an excellent job. He's making good decisions, not turning the ball over and last week, versus Philadelphia, he led the Storm to a score on every possession. Grand Rapids plays hard, but it just doesn't have a lot of firepower and there's no way it can match that type of scoring pace. Rampage QB Adrian McPherson is inconsistent throwing the ball, but he is very dangerous as a scrambler. The Tampa Bay defense will need to do a good job of containing him as well as putting pressure on him to force bad decisions.
Nashville (6-8) at Kansas City (9-5)
Kansas City might be flying under the radar more than any other team in the AFL. While the Brigade are not flashy, they have quietly won three games in a row and five of their last six. They are getting great play from the most underrated player in the league, QB Raymond Philyaw, and even their defense is starting to make key stops at opportune times. Philyaw is spreading the ball around to his receivers and this is a team that does not make a lot of mistakes. However, the Brigade are playing a young Nashville team that is also underrated in its own right. The Kats play to their own strengths better than teams in the AFL and have run the ball an amazing 178 times this season. Nashville and Kansas City are second and third, respectively, in rushing in the AFL. Nashville realizes its limitations so look for the Kats to slow this game down and try to keep Philyaw off the field. Nashville will make this a physical low scoring game, but Kansas City is just too efficient to stop.
New York (5-9) at Dallas (13-1)
With Aaron Garcia out with an ankle injury, New York had to use backup QB Rohan Davey last week. Although Davey played fairly well, the Dragons are not the same explosive offense without Garcia. Now they have to play Dallas, the best team in the league. Yikes. The Desperados are usually great at making defensive stops versus high-powered offenses, but have a tendency to play down to the level of their competition. If the Desperados want to play in this game, they will win easily because they are better in every phase of the game. Plus, they have QB Clint Dolezel, who is on fire after throwing 11 TD passes last week versus New Orleans. The Dragons have a decent pass defense, but with Dolezel calling his own plays, spreading the field and finding great matchups, they are no match for Dallas' offense.
Arizona (4-11) at San Jose (11-3)
In the past, this has been a classic matchup between two division foes who know each other well. But this has not been a year like any other for Arizona, which has been eliminated from the playoff chase. Arizona's marquee player, QB Sherdrick Bonner, has a sore hip and might not play. Even if he does play, how effective he would be in anybody's guess. The biggest problem for the Rattlers is their defense, which really struggles to make stops. They are 17th in the league in scoring defense and that is not good news facing a San Jose that is playing like a team that wants to win a championship. San Jose's offense is explosive and versatile, led by QB Mark Grieb: He's coming off a 10-TD passing performance versus Utah. The SaberCats are almost impossible to beat at home and are not a team that comes out flat or plays down to the level of their opponents. Arizona has a lot of pride, but this could be a long day with San Jose rolling to an easy win.
Las Vegas (2-12) at Los Angeles (8-6)
Los Angeles escaped with a must-win at Arizona Monday night and now faces a very beatable opponent in Las Vegas. The Avengers should have no trouble in this game. The Gladiators continue to play hard, but they simply don't have enough playmakers to be competitive. At least QB Nick Rolovich gives them some hope for the future. Los Angeles came back from an 18-point deficit at Arizona to keep its playoff hopes alive and a win this week would put the Avengers in the postseason. Look for QB Sonny Cumbie to have a big day versus a Gladiators' defense that cannot matchup. The only chance that Las Vegas has is to make a couple of unexpected defensive stops, which is highly unlikely. Even if that does happen, that might put too much pressure on the Gladiators' offense to score on every possession against an Avengers defense that has quality playmakers.
Austin (4-10) at New Orleans (4-10)
Both of these teams are bitterly disappointed with a season that they thought would result in a playoff run, but to their credit they are still playing hard and putting up respectable numbers. The good news for New Orleans is that it has found the QB of the future in Steve Bellisari. Last week, he passed for 418 yards and nine TDs and also added two rushing TDs. Austin also might have found its QB of the future in Lang Campbell, who is coming off a 443-yard, eight-TD performance. This looks like an entertaining, high-scoring matchup. The keys to this game might be which defense can make one or two defensive stops or if either young QB makes a mistake that leads to a turnover. Regardless, it should be fun to watch.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.