- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of some of the Week 15 games in the Arena Football League (Note: Games appearing on ABC/ESPN will have separate breakdowns):
Philadelphia (10-3) at Dallas (11-2)
This shapes up to be the game of the year and a battle between the two best teams in the AFL. The Soul have been devastated by injuries and they head to Dallas after three losses in their last four games. They are not playing with a lot of confidence right now, but they are coming off a bye week and they should be well prepared and well rested. Both teams have dynamic passing attacks that will challenge aggressive secondaries with man-to-man and zone schemes, while avoiding excellent pass rushes. The Desperados have an elite rusher in Colston Weatherington and the Soul must try to neutralize him. Philadelphia has a good pass rush of its own, but it must matchup versus a Dallas OL that has only allowed nine sacks. If Philadelphia's pass rush is not effective, it will expose a once-outstanding secondary that has been ravaged by injuries and appears to be very vulnerable versus QB Clint Dolezel and the passing game. The Desperados' secondary will be challenged by QB Matt D'Orazio and the best scoring offense in the league. The Soul quarterback has only thrown seven interceptions and has a mind-boggling 129.1 QB rating. Can the deep Dallas defensive front keep constant pressure on D'Orazio? Can Philadelphia's thin secondary hold up versus the Dallas pass offense? These are two great teams, but this looks like it's going to be all Dallas.
New Orleans (8-5) at New York (7-6)
This is a very interesting matchup with major playoff implications as both teams come off gratifying victories in Week 14. Neither team plays with consistency on a weekly basis, but both are capable of solid efforts. These are two very good defenses with similar philosophies -- both like to attack, create turnovers and take chances by jumping routes and trying to read the quarterback. New Orleans has recorded the most interceptions in the league (24) but the VooDoo face a crafty veteran in QB Aaron Garcia, who calls his own plays and knows how to exploit a gambling defense. The Dragons' pass defense is also good, with 20 interceptions on the season. Ironically, neither offense is very explosive and both depend on their defenses to keep them in games. If these two defensive units play as well as expected, the outcome will depend on which quarterback takes care of the football, which would favor Garcia over VooDoo QB Danny Wimprine.
Chicago (10-3) at Cleveland (7-6)
Neither team played very well in Week 14, but Chicago was able to come away with a win over under-manned Kansas City. Cleveland was not as lucky in a tough loss to Dallas, where the Gladiators simply could not convert enough offensive possessions in the fourth quarter. This will be an interesting matchup between a very creative Gladiators offense that lacks a franchise receiver and a great Rush defense that wins with aggressiveness, intimidation and a gambling nature in an attempt to create turnovers. Cleveland QB Raymond Philyaw does a nice job of spreading the ball around. He relies on an underrated offensive line in pass protection and he has a good run game with Marlion Jackson at his disposal. However, Chicago's defensive line is excellent and the Rush apply a lot of pressure. Philyaw will have to be very smart with the football. The challenge for Cleveland, defensively, is to protect its secondary, which does not match up well in man-to-man coverage. The Gladiators will utilize a strong pass rush, but they must also be aware of Rush QB Russ Michna's ability to scramble.
Colorado (4-9) at Grand Rapids (3-10)
These two teams showed glimpses of solid play early in the season, but have faded in recent weeks. They are coming off disappointing losses and opponents have really figured out how to expose their weaknesses. Colorado's pass offense is ranked a lowly 14th in the league, despite the fact Ben Nelson is a quality No. 1 receiver and Chad Owens is an emerging star. But QB John Dutton hasn't been consistent and this offense does not seem to have any flow. Their receivers are not very physical and they must win with speed rather than power. However, the Grand Rapids secondary is not very good in tight man coverage. The Rampage offense also lacks explosiveness and the creativity that we saw earlier in the season seems to be missing in recent weeks. Grand Rapids has problems in pass protection, which has led to turnovers and offensive mistakes, but Colorado does not have a great pass rush. This game will be determined by which quarterback makes the least amount of mistakes.
Georgia (8-5) at Columbus (3-10)
Georgia may be the hottest team in the AFL right now. The Force have won five in a row and appear to be a legitimate playoff contender, but they face a Columbus team that is better than its record indicates. Destroyers QB Matt Nagy is playing at a solid level and he gives them a chance to be competitive. The problem for Columbus is usually its defense, as the Destroyers do not make enough key stops and they have a secondary that does not match up well when they are not getting pressure up front. Georgia has an excellent offensive line that does a great job of protecting QB Chris Greisen and has only allowed four sacks through 13 games. The Force will likely control the trenches on both sides of the ball and unless the Destroyers get unexpected pressure on Greisen, he will pick them apart.
Orlando (8-6) at Tampa Bay (6-7)
These are two bitter rivals who know each other well, but both are coming off disappointing losses and neither is playing up to expectations. With the playoffs looming, this battle is almost a must-win situation for both. In recent weeks, the Storm have been winning due to a very sound and opportunistic defense that generates turnovers, but they fell apart in the fourth quarter versus a good Georgia offense. Orlando seems to self-destruct on almost a weekly basis with turnovers and offensive mistakes, which is baffling for a veteran team that is so well-coached. Orlando also has all sorts of instability at the quarterback position and you don't know which guy is going to line up behind center week-to-week. Neither secondary can match up well in man-to-man coverage, putting pressure on both teams' pass rush up front to create hurried throws. Orlando can pressure from the inside and outside. Tampa Bay needs a big game from NT Tim Gill, who will try to collapse the pocket and force the Predators' quarterbacks to scramble, which is when their accuracy really diminishes.
Arizona (7-6) at Kansas City (3-10)
The gutsy and resilient Rattlers clinched an impossible playoff spot last week with a win at Orlando. They seem to be oblivious to feeling the pressure of playing in tough road environments. Kansas City is playing hard and the Brigade were competitive in a loss to Chicago in Week 14, but they just seem to lack explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. Ironically, Arizona seems to play it's best football versus the elite teams and that makes this game somewhat dangerous. Arizona started a new quarterback last week, Matt Sauk, who played well and is fortunate to have a good receiving corps, led by WR Siaha Burley. For Arizona to be successful, it must play well on defense and special teams. Luckily for the Rattlers, the Brigade pass offense is last in the league and it doesn't produce a lot of big plays. This game will likely be decided by the team that makes the fewest offensive mistakes, but don't expect an explosive offensive outburst.
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 AFL matchups.