Looking ahead to Week 16 in the AFL
Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton takes an in-depth look at the Week 16 AFL matchups.
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):
New Orleans (8-6) at Orlando (8-7)This is a huge game with playoff implications. With both teams coming off disappointing losses, this game features a sense of urgency. Orlando finally got a solid offensive effort from QB Shane Stafford last week, but now the Predators are struggling to make defensive stops and can't seem to put a complete game together. They are making too many mistakes and committing too many penalties for a Jay Gruden-coached team. New Orleans plays solid defense with good pass rush pressure, but their Danny Wimprine-led offense can't seem to finish drives and it is struggling on third- and fourth-down conversions. Orlando must avoid turnovers versus a terrific VooDoo defense that leads the league with 24 interceptions and has a deep secondary that matches up well. Orlando must protect Stafford because if he's forced to get the ball out quickly it will lead to big defensive plays. New Orleans must not waste offensive possessions and look for 6-foot-5 WR James Jordan to be the go-to guy both in the red zone and on key third- and fourth-down conversions.
Grand Rapids (4-10) at Columbus (3-11)Grand Rapids is coming off its most complete game of the year, while Columbus is fading badly. Still, the Destroyers appear to be more talented team when they are playing well. Both teams are capable of good QB play. Columbus is throwing the ball well and led by QB Matt Nagy, who has just eight interceptions this year, this is an underrated pass offense. Grand Rapids has a very innovative offense that is a little up and down, but QB James MacPherson threw 10 TDs in Week 15 and now faces a defense that does not create many big plays -- only 10 sacks and eight interceptions this season -- and allows opposing QBs have plenty of time to identify good matchups. Grand Rapids would like to make this an up-tempo, high-scoring game, as the Rampage have 107 TDs (fourth in the AFL) compared to Columbus' 92 TDs (16th). Neither offensive line is great in pass protection, but can either pass rush take advantage of it? Also, neither secondary matches up well in coverage (without an effective pass rush), so this game will come down to which QB has time -- because both can make plays.
Cleveland (8-6) at Philadelphia (11-3)This has the feel of a competitive game and both teams are coming off huge Week 15 wins, Philadelphia over Dallas and Cleveland over Chicago. The Gladiators win when they get solid play from QB Raymond Philyaw, and versus Chicago he was almost flawless. This is an underrated offense that lacks a franchise receiver, but Philyaw does a nice job of spreading the ball around and finding the right matchups. Cleveland also has two other facets in its offense that are underrated -- the best run game in the AFL with FB Marlion Jackson and an offensive line that is good in pass protection. Matt D'Orazio again stepped in to replace injured Tony Graziani (concussion) and this should be D'Orazio's team the rest of the way. The Soul are the top passing and scoring offense in the league and just don't turn the ball over (only eight interceptions). Defensively, they seem to be getting healthier, but they are not quite the dominating ballhawk defense that they were earlier in the season. Still, this is a solid crew. D'Orazio can exploit a so-so Gladiator secondary that does not matchup well in man-to-man situations and doesn't have a DB who can cover WR Chris Jackson. This game could come down to red zone offense with Cleveland using Jackson and Philadelphia utilizing D'Orazio's mobility. This will be a good game.
Chicago (10-4) at Georgia (9-5)With six wins in a row, Georgia is the hottest team in the AFL. This is a huge game with playoff implications. This is a classic matchup between a great offense (Georgia is second in passing and third in scoring) and a dominating defense (Chicago leads the league in scoring and pass defense). They also have a huge similarity -- both offensive lines do an excellent job protecting their quarterbacks. Georgia has allowed a league-low four sacks and Chicago is right behind with only six. The Rush need a big defensive game from the guys up front. When they apply pressure it leads to turnovers and interceptions (22 this year), but Georgia QB Chris Greisen does a nice job of spreading the ball around, finding good matchups and avoiding interceptions. Chicago is not as explosive on offense but it plays smart football and doesn't beat itself. QB Russ Michna not only throws well, but he is a dangerous scrambler when he's pressured. This game will go down to the wire.
New York (8-6) at Dallas (11-3)The Dragons come to Big D with seven wins in their last nine games and are getting it done with great defense and a smart, but not necessarily explosive offense. Dallas wins by being smart on both sides of the ball, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and is loaded with veteran playmakers. Both QBs -- Dallas' Clint Dolezel and New York's Aaron Garcia -- call their own plays and that is a big part of their success, but this game could likely come down to pass rush and pass protection. Both defensive fronts get after opposing QBs and both have an elite edge rusher -- Dallas' Colston Weatherington and New York's Henry Taylor -- but Dallas does a much better job up front of protecting the QB. If the Dragons want any chance to win, their offensive line must have its best game of the year. Both defensive secondaries are aggressive and will play tight man-to-man schemes so there will be pressure on both QBs to make the right throws and not force the ball into coverage. However, New York must play with better discipline if it expects to win in a tough road environment. The Dragons do too much trash talking, commit silly penalties and make some cheap hits -- and that won't work against a veteran Dallas team.
Tampa Bay (7-7) at San Jose (9-5)The Storm are in desperation mode in an effort to make the playoffs, but winning in San Jose is a tough challenge. Tampa Bay wins when it plays mistake-free offensive football -- which it usually does behind QB Brett Dietz -- and create turnovers on defense, which it doesn't do on a weekly basis. The Storm have a secondary that does not match up well in coverage facing an excellent SaberCats receiving corps. They need a great game by their best cover guy, Jeroid Johnson, who has not had a great year. A big problem for the Storm will be containing the best pass rush in the league. San Jose has 27 sacks and that pressure leads to excellent pass defense and big turnovers. If the SaberCats play a solid defensive game the Storm will be hard-pressed to score enough points to be competitive. San Jose plays a high risk/high reward offense that's capable of big plays, but also capable of turnovers. QB Mark Grieb has thrown a surprising 16 interceptions and those mistakes could keep Tampa Bay in the game.
Kansas City (3-11) at Los Angeles (4-10)These are two teams headed nowhere and both probably can't wait to end disappointing 2008 season. Kansas City is coming off an embarrassing home loss to Arizona and their QB experiment with new starter Quincy Carter was a disaster. He is the fourth starter at the position and this team has not gotten over the loss of Raymond Philyaw to Cleveland in the offseason. The Avengers played a competitive game at Utah in Week 15, but their weaknesses are glaring and no longer fixable. This could be the most disappointing team in the AFL in 2008. No one knows who will play QB for the Brigade on Sunday, but whoever it is, he will face an Avengers defense that has given up a whopping 116 TDs, is next to last in scoring defense and pass defense and gives up a ton of big plays. Their other big problem is pass protection. Their offensive line has given up a league-worst 30 sacks, leading to a lot of QB mistakes and turnovers. However, it is doubtful that Kansas City can exploit those weaknesses because they lack explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to watch the level of intensity in this game and find out which team will play with the most pride.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.