Complaining About the Playoffs, Spokane and Chicago? Get in Line Behind Pittsburgh & Cleveland
Going into the last week of play in the 2012 Arena Football League season, the common complaint is that the Spokane Shock and the Chicago Rush should both be in the playoffs. After all, they are both likely to finish with better records than all but one team in the American Conference playoffs. Spokane is already 3-0 against teams from the American Conference (excluding the Philadelphia Soul) and will likely move to 4-0 this coming week, while Chicago is likely to finish out the year at 6-1 against those same foes.
I'm right there with you, Shock fans and Rush fans. Your teams should be in the playoffs if the best eight teams are the ones that are getting in. However, in the end this year, the two of you aren't the ones that really have the rights to complain. The ones that should be complaining are the fans of the Cleveland Gladiators and the Pittsburgh Power.
I'm sure by now that you all know where this rant is going. Yes, we're going to go back to arguably the two most dubious days in the history of the AFL, the first of which saw a team full of scabs representing the Power play another team full of scabs representing the Orlando Predators, and the second of which saw the Power win a game 2-0 by forfeit over the Gladiators.
Of course, I already hear all of the Preds fans screaming at the tops of their lungs that they should be included on this list of teams that got shafted this year – and perhaps they are right. Goodness knows that Orlando hasn't been this epically bad since its expansion season, and this is a roster that has some legitimate talent on it. It would have been interesting to see what new Head Coach Brett Munsey could have done with this roster if the locker room wasn't shuffled up with the AFLPU fake strike and the firing of all of the team's players on that first day of the campaign. However, this writer can't point at that game and suggest that that was really the reason why the team blew it out its you-know-what for the whole season. Second half collapses just don't necessarily correlate with the fact that the team was beaten in Week 1 with scabs on the field.
But now let's go back to Pittsburgh. Sure, the Power ended up beating that lame Orlando team twice in two different forms, and it is well documented that the now-departed Head Coach Chris Siegfried screwed over the Preds the first time around by playing more than the agreed upon share of "real" players during that Week 1 battle. However, it was clear that the signing of QB Kyle Rowley in the preseason was the move that was supposed to help this franchise get into the postseason in its second year. Instead, before Rowley ever took a snap, he was portrayed as the scapegoat by the organization and the league as a whole for a labor dispute that has been raging now for basically two full years, and he was released from the team.
The Power were left without a quarterback very quickly. The man that they brought in to replace Rowley, QB Bill Stull played a short period of time before getting injured and never being heard from again, and other various quarterbacks proved to be a waste before getting QB Andrico Hines back in the starting lineup in Week 17 after his early-season injury. Put Hines back under center, and the team has averaged 58.3 PPG and has gone 2-1. Not bad, especially considering the fact that the squad averaged 47.6 PPG and had a 1-11 record before that (not including Week 1 against Orlando and the victory via forfeit).
Now, imagine had Rowley actually played the full 17 games thus far with Pittsburgh this year. Prorate his current numbers over those 17 games, and he would have 4,983 yards (would be fourth in the AFL) and 109 TD passes (would be third). Instead, all of the Pittsburgh QBs combined have thrown for 4,466 yards and 85 TDs. The Power could have conceivably averaged 1.4 TDs per game, or about 9.4 PPG if you consider the season-long PAT average than they have been hitting. By the way, Pittsburgh lost five games this year by six points or fewer. Flip three of those the other way, and Pittsburgh is probably playing for a playoff berth this coming week. Remember that three of those close call losses came to the three teams that are 8-9 right now, two of which are going to be in the postseason when next week is said and done with.
Look at the flip side of that. Spokane was having all sorts of problems at the quarterback position before bringing Rowley back. QB Erik Meyer was hurt early on, and QB Adam Froman was a disaster. It's a small sample set with just a total of 120 passes thrown, but the other Spokane quarterbacks not named Rowley this year have combined to throw 14 TDs against nine picks. That's a TD/INT ratio of an absolutely embarrassing 1.6. Rowley might have 23 picks this year and is easily in the league lead in that dubious category in spite of the fact that he has only played 13 games, but he also has 90 TDs, giving him a TD/INT ratio of 3.9. Heck, even freaking Matt Gutierrez, clearly the worst regular starting quarterback that the league has right now, has a 2.1 TD/INT ratio for the campaign! For what it's worth, the league's leader in that category, Russ Michna has a 9.0, and the league as a whole is 4.4.
Think that Rowley made a bit of a difference to the Shock's season this year? They were 1-2 without him, and they averaged just 53.7 points per game. With him, they are now 8-6 and are averaging 59.9 points per game. Oh, and just for good measure, those two losses early in the season came against the Iowa Barnstormers and San Jose SaberCats, and both losses came at home without Rowley. With Rowley in there, Spokane went to "The Well" and knocked off the Barnstormers by six, and then turned around a month later and slammed the SaberCats 90-63 at HP Pavilion in a game in which he broke the league record by throwing for 12 TD passes in a game (a record that has since been tied by Tommy Grady).
Oh, don't worry Cleveland, I haven't forgotten about you. Let's go back to June 8th. The Gladiators were 6-5 at the time, and were averaging outscoring teams by a 51.7-49.0 margin. They were hosting a Pittsburgh team that still was playing with an-IFL quality quarterback in QB Bryan Randall, who never did end up winning a game as the team's starting signal caller. The biggest crowd of the year was expected at Quicken Loans Arena that night, and it was a game that really should have gotten the team back on track after losing back-to-back games.
Instead, the AFLPU called for the Gladiators to stand down and not show up for the game, and the end result was the first forfeit in league history. Cleveland was favored by 10.5-points in Las Vegas, a clear indication that it was likely to win that encounter. Instead of improving to 7-5, the team slipped to 6-6. Since then, the Gladiators have won just once, going 1-4 and getting outscored by a margin of 50.0-56.0.
The Gladiators clearly put their season in the tank, and they just couldn't get anything going. Matters have gotten so bad for Head Coach Steve Thonn and company that QB John Dutton, a 12-year vet of the league, was benched in favor of QB Matt Bassuener. Sources have told ArenaFan.com that Bassuener was one of the driving forces behind the Gladiators not showing up to that forfeit of a loss, and it is ironic that he is going to be called upon to finish out this season in place of Dutton.
I digress. The possibility is definitely there that the Gladiators could have continued on this losing streak. But there really is no reason to believe that they wouldn't have beaten Pittsburgh on that damning night in June. So figure, for the sake of argument, that Cleveland would have won that game. It would be 8-9 right now, just like the New Orleans VooDoo, just like the Georgia Force, and just like the Tampa Bay Storm. As it stands, two of the aforementioned three are going to get into the playoffs. But perhaps had Cleveland still been in the mix, the story would have been a bit different.
It would have been difficult for sure, as the Gladiators wouldn't have held head-to-head tiebreakers with any of the teams from the Southern Division. However, a win in Week 20 against a Chicago team that is playing without its starting quarterback, Russ Michna certainly wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility, especially knowing that that game is going to be at home and would have potentially been for a playoff spot. Tampa Bay is likely to lose to Spokane, and either Georgia or New Orleans has to lose. All of a sudden, voila! Cleveland would have been in the playoffs.
I absolutely understand those who think that conferences are bunk and that the best eight teams should be in the playoffs in the AFL. And, if that was the standard, yes, Spokane and Chicago should be in. However, in every other major American sport, you have to do well in your division and in your conference to be rewarded.
We see this happen all the time in the NFL. In the 2010 season, the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 10-6 New York Giants, and the 9-7 San Diego Chargers were all left out of the playoffs. So too were the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders at 8-8. However, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks got into the dance as the NFC West champs. In 2008, the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New York Jets all finished 9-7, and the New England Patriots went 11-5 in a year in which QB Tom Brady played less than a half of football before tearing his ACL. None got into the playoffs. However, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers got into the show. Even more of a crime was in 2007. The Cleveland Browns went 10-6 and weren't even good enough for a Wild Card slot in the AFC. The Washington Redskins were a Wild Card in the NFC though, and they finished 9-7. (Note: Tampa Bay also finished 9-7 that year.)
Think this doesn't happen in baseball? In 2009, the 87-76 Minnesota Twins won the AL Central in a one-game playoff. The San Francisco Giants (88-74), Florida Marlins (87-75), and Texas Rangers (87-75) were all left home with better records. Heck, eight teams that didn't get into the postseason finished with better records than the Los Angeles Dodgers when they won the NL West at 84-78 in 2008. Don't even get me started about the 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals who won the NL Central and then went all the way to the win the World Series. That year, the Chicago White Sox won 90 games and finished five-games outside of the postseason, and they were one of the five teams that finished with better records than the Cards that didn't get in.
The NBA? Thanks to the domination of the Western Conference over the course of the last decade or so, it feels like every year, teams in the East back into the postseason that aren't amongst the best 16 teams in the league. The Indiana Pacers made the playoffs at 37-45 two years ago. That year, three teams from the West had better records than that and didn't sniff the postseason. The biggest travesty in recent years might have been the 2007-08 Phoenix Suns. They finished 46-36 and finished out of the postseason by two-games in the West. In the East, they would have been the No. 5 seed.
Hockey, anyone? Two years ago, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames had 95 and 94 points respectively, and they were left out of the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup. The New York Rangers were in though, and they only had 93 points. The year before was even worse. The Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens both got into the playoffs with 88 points in the East. Four teams had at least 88 points in the West, and all of them were mathematically eliminated from the second season with two full games to play. It worked the other way in '08-'09, though. The Florida Panthers had 93 points and didn't get into the Eastern Conference playoffs, but three teams with fewer got in out West.
In the end, in sports you have to beat the teams on your schedule, and that means playing games against divisional and conference rivals. The Shock might finish 10-8, but in the end, they went just 5-7 against non-conference foes. The Rush went just 5-6 outside of their conference but will finish at 10-8 or 11-7. The worst team in the National Conference playoffs is likely going to end up being 8-5 against fellow conference foes. Meanwhile in the American Conference, five teams are going to finish .500 or better in conference play, and Cleveland should have made it six if it had gotten a fair lick at Pittsburgh. Four of those five are going to get into the playoffs.
What all of those other sports had in this country that the AFL didn't this year was a fair slate. An unbalanced schedule gave some teams an easier slate than others, some by a significant margin, and two games were directly affected by the labor disputes. Not only were both of those games involving teams from the American Conference, but one National Conference team (Spokane) clearly went from being a losing team to a winning team thanks to the labor troubles as well when Rowley switched conferences.
If the Shock want to complain about this setup, they should remember that the only reason that they are here is because of the AFLPU and that an ArenaBowl and ArenaCup winning quarterback all of a sudden hit the open market and was ready to come back to the franchise that he helped put on the map. If the Rush want to complain, they should remember what happened in 2006, the first year that the AFL switched to this conference hoopla. They made the playoffs at 7-9 and went on to the win the ArenaBowl, while the 8-8 Columbus Destroyers were left behind.
This writer knows that there has been just a ton to complain about in this, the 25th Silver Anniversary of the AFL. Labor problems, horrid officiating, very suspect transactions, players coming over from lesser leagues when that practice was always frowned upon before this year, miserable quarterback play, gobs of penalties… the list could go on and on. However, if you're a fan of the Shock and the Rush and think that your team has gotten screwed out of the playoffs this year, perhaps you should look a little closer.
The teams that really got screwed were Cleveland and Pittsburgh.