AFL Power Rankings through Week 14
The league-wide bye week in Week 14 for the Fourth of July gave all eight teams one last shot to reassess the situation they're in heading down the stretch of the season. For my money, little has changed across the league for a lot of the year, but with three teams still chasing down that last playoff spot and three teams still in sight of what could be a pivotal advantage as the No. 1 seed, there's a lot more drama down the stretch of the year than most of us probably envisioned in this "all-in" playoff format in 2016.
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1: Arizona Rattlers (10-3) (LW: 1) - No one will deny the fact that the Rattlers weren't at their best in Week 13 against LA. They weren't as crisp offensively as we're used to seeing, scoring on just eight of their 12 possessions, but their defense did the job when they had to, forcing four turnovers and amassing six stops, including shutting out the KISS in the fourth quarter to secure a road win. Even though Orlando has the top spot in the league right now, the road to the ArenaBowl goes through the Snake Pit at the moment as well. The Rattlers don't play another road game this year, and if they win out, they'll be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The one thing Kevin Guy and the Rattlers haven't done in this stretch of dominance is win an ArenaBowl at home. For my money, they're still the favorites to end that statement at this point.
2: Philadelphia Soul (10-3) (LW: 2) - When the Soul play like they did in the first half two weeks ago in Portland, they look like paper tigers who could be beaten by anyone in the first round of the playoffs. When they play like they did in the second half, they look like world beaters. The defense didn't give up a single second half score en route to a 59-38 victory. Now, Lehigh Vall… err… Philadelphia will play its last "home" game of the regular season against the Gladiators, a game it really has to win if it wants to keep its hopes alive of winning the American Conference regular season title.
3: Orlando Predators (11-2) (LW: 3) - The game plan for Bernard Morris was pretty darn good against Tampa, as he was never really put into a possession where he had to do too much to keep the machine known as the Predators' offense rolling. Orlando had no problems with Tampa and really shouldn't have any difficulties this week with Portland either, but we all know that this season will be determined in the last two games of the year against Arizona and Philadelphia. Talk to me then about this team being the best in the league, especially without the injured Randy Hippeard under center.
4: Cleveland Gladiators (7-6) (LW: 5) - It's time to give the Gladiators their due. They aren't the biggest dog in the fight, per se, but Steve Thonn and Ron Selesky just keep finding ways to churn out victories against seemingly all odds. By right, the game in Jacksonville should've been lost, just as the game at home against Jacksonville earlier in the year should've been lost, too. But the Gladiators fight like no other team in the AFL, and that's why they're going to be a serious threat to one of the big boys in the playoffs. Arvell Nelson has revived his career and has turned himself into a legitimate starting quarterback in this league (just read this well done piece by our Brian Beaudry for proof of that). Just as the switch from Chris Dieker to Shane Austin propelled the Glads to greatness in 2014, the switch from Dieker to Nelson might do the same trick in 2016.
5: Jacksonville Sharks (5-7) (LW: 4) - Kryptonite. That's what the Gladiators are to the Sharks for whatever reason. Twice, the Sharks had Cleveland dead to rights this year, and twice they let it off the hook. That's going to probably end up being the difference between hosting a first round game and having to play on the road. Jacksonville faces the prospects of having to win out in order to have any realistic chance of locking up a home date in the postseason, but the first task is going to likely end up being too touch against Arizona. Then again, the Sharks also had the Rattlers dead to rights at home earlier this season and coughed that game up in OT, so this potential playoff preview might end up being a war to keep an eye on this weekend.
6: Los Angeles KISS (5-7) (LW: 6) - Nathan Stanley is healthy again, but Pete Thomas was the choice under center for Omarr Smith anyway. Four picks and a scoreless fourth quarter later, and he might be reconsidering that going into a game which has to be won against Tampa to keep any chances alive of hosting a first round game. The KISS actually have a legitimate chance to win out (vs. Tampa, vs. Cleveland, at Jacksonville, at Portland), and they do still hold their own destiny for that No. 4 seed. It's a tough road to get there though for a club which hasn't beaten a team not named the Storm or Steel since Week 3.
7: Portland Steel (1-11) (LW: 7) - The Steel played two really good quarters against the Soul in Week 13, but they also played two of the most horrifying quarters of their season to turn a winnable game into a laughable defeat. Portland now has 34 turnovers this season and is -19 in turnover differential, and that's why it still hasn't found a way to get into the win column but once this year. Who's looking forward to that Portland/Tampa matchup in Week 17 on CBSSN? Wee!
8: Tampa Bay Storm (1-11) (LW: 8) - I'll say this much about the Storm: Their roster decisions are starting to look a little bit better in recent weeks. Prechae Rodriguez was a good addition which paid dividends immediately against Orlando, as he scored four of the team's five touchdowns on the night. This isn't a bad stretch to end the season for the Storm, and it's believable that they could win two or three of these games if they can just get their acts together and play up to their potential. It's clear though, that this last month of the regular season is nothing more than a dress rehearsal for the game which counts on the road against either Orlando, Philly or Arizona in August.
ArenaFan Fan Power Poll
1. Orlando Predators (95.7 Power Points)
2. Philadelphia Soul (85.7 Power Points)
3. Arizona Rattlers (82.1 Power Points)
4. Cleveland Gladiators (71.4 Power Points)
5. Los Angeles KISS (56.4 Power Points)
6. Jacksonville Sharks (54.3 Power Points)
7. Portland Steel (40.7 Power Points)
8. Tampa Bay Storm (38.6 Power Points)