SaberCats conclude regular season vs. Iowa
Friday July 13, 2012
Thanks to a loss by Chicago last Sunday, the San Jose SaberCats (11-6) clinched their first playoff berth since losing in ArenaBowl XXII in 2008 and this Saturday will conclude their regular season against the Iowa Barnstormers (6-10). San Jose has a bye in Week 20 and gets a week off before the playoffs begin.
Right now, the SaberCats are seeded fourth and would have to travel to top-seeded San Antonio if the playoffs started today. That could change with Arizona playing San Antonio tonight. If San Antonio wins, the Talons secure the top seed; but if Arizona wins then the Rattlers will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to sweeping San Antonio. San Jose is 3-1 against Arizona and San Antonio.
Entering Week 19, there's a couple possibilities that the SaberCats could win the West Division and host a playoff game. However, with both Arizona and Utah playing on tonight, this might be a moot point. Here's a look at how the SaberCats could win the West as well as going from the #4 seed to the #3.
1. San Jose would need to win and both Utah and Arizona would need to lose out. Then Arizona and San Jose would be tied at 12-6 and since the SaberCats swept the Rattlers would be West Division champs.
2. If it were a three-way tie at 12-6, then the Arizona would be out because of its 3-3 record in the division (1-2 vs. San Jose and Utah) compared to 4-2 by both San Jose and Utah. Utah wins the West if its only win in the next two weeks is against Philadelphia, if not then San Jose would take home the division. This is based on record among common teams. Right now, San Jose is 8-5 and Utah is 8-4. Assuming the SaberCats win this week would put them at 9-5 and if Utah loses next week to Philadelphia, then it's at 8-5. If Utah or San Jose won the West in either of these scenarios, the two would play each other in the first round of the playoffs.
3. Assuming Arizona wins one of its final two games, Utah loses one of its last two and San Jose wins on Saturday; then the Rattlers win the West and San Jose would leapfrog the Blaze to clinch the #3 seed. This is because in the non-division championship tiebreaker, point differential is a tiebreaker and the SaberCats beat the Blaze by 11 while losing by a single point. Confusing, I know.
The SaberCats destroyed the Barnstormers back in April by 43 (76-33). It's San Jose's biggest win and Iowa's biggest loss in terms of point differential this season. San Jose shut out the Barnstormers for the game's final 30 minutes and 45 seconds.
Iowa has lost some barnburners this season losing by a single point at home against Chicago and at Utah. Eight of the Barnstormers' games have been decided by fewer than eight points. Iowa is 3-5 in those games.
2012 AFL Hall of Fame finalist Mike Hohensee is Iowa's head coach. After taking the Chicago Rush to four straight conference championships from 2004-07; Hohensee has coached four different teams in his last four seasons. He was 5-11 with the af2's Peoria Pirates in 2009, 10-6 with the Rush in 2010, 6-12 with Philadelphia last season and comes into this week 6-10 with the Barnstormers.
Despite the losing record, the Iowa offense, led by QB J.J. Raterink, has thrown the fewest interceptions in the league (11 - nine by Raterink). However, the Barnstormers are the worst at protecting their signal caller allowing a league-high 50 sacks. San Jose enters with the second best team in terms of defensive sacks (37), led by Joe Sykes, who was credited with his AFL record-breaking 16th sack last week. Iowa is also anemic in terms of sacking opposing passers with a league-low 14 QB takedowns (none in the last three games).
Raterink needs 319 yards to best his career high in yards set last year when he spilt time in Kansas City and Chicago. With 82 passing scores and eight rushing TDs, he's already surpassed career highs in both categories. The last time Raterink played San Jose, he tossed for 303 yards with five scores, but was picked off once (returned for a touchdown), sacked seven times and fumbled twice. Sykes took Raterink down four times that game.
Iowa receiver Jesse Schmidt is Raterink's favorite target and is the league leader in receptions (158), receiving yards (2,034), receiving touchdowns (52), total touchdowns (53) and points scored (320). He tallied seven grabs for 120 yards with two TDs the last time these two teams met. Despite playing in an 18-game season, Schmidt is not on pace to break the AFL single-season marks in those categories that were all set in the 16-game era. He's close but has a chance though. Schmidt needs nine receiving TDs to tie the mark set by Damian Harrell in 2006 (needs 8 total TD and 46 points to tie those set by Harrell) and 339 yards to surpass Rod Windsor's 2010 record. He's not close for the receptions record needing 35 just to Windsor's 193.
Former 2011 SaberCats receiver Marco Thomas is Raterink's second option (126 catches for 1,370 yards and 17 TDs). Thomas posted season highs in catches (13) and yards (129) along with two scores when he played his former team in April. Last year, Thomas ended the season with San Jose after being released by Chicago. In six games with the SaberCats, he caught 45 passes for 398 yards with five touchdowns.
Defensive back Jason Simpson is the player to watch on the other side of the ball and special teams. He has ten interceptions and is also the primary returner. Simpson has three picks in his last two games and has posted seven games with at least 100 return yards. His fellow DB Cameron McGlenn leads the AFL in tackles - not exactly a category you want to be tops in the AFL meaning that likely you're being thrown to a lot. He does have six interceptions, but Iowa has given up the fourth most passing TDs in the league (93 - San Jose has given up the most with 108).
For the SaberCats, winners of two straight, a win secures the best home record in the AFL this season (8-1 - San Antonio can also be 8-1 with a win Friday night) and the team's fifth year with at least 12 wins (2000, 2002, 2003 and 2008).
San Jose QB Mark Grieb's 105 passing scores in the season ranks 12th all-time in AFl single-season history (3rd in AFL in 2012) and could move into the top five if he gets his average of six per game. Grieb already has surpassed career highs in passing yards and passing TDs. He needs just 10 completions and 15 attempts for new career highs (both set last year). With 11 games over 300 yards this season, Grieb is tied with Utah's Tommy Grady for the most in the league. If he edges out Grady in passing yards this year, it will be Grieb's fourth time leading the league in yards and second straight (Grady is averaging 9.4 more per game than Grieb). In his past four seasons, Grieb has thrown exactly 400 touchdown passes.
Though Grieb is playing some of his best football (at age 38), he might ponder retirement following the season. Unless San Jose gets a home playoff game that means this could be the last time the home crowd will get to see the future AFL Hall of Famer play. Grieb's AFL resume puts him up with Jay Gruden as the best to play the position. Here's a breakdown.
* AFL career leader in completion percentage, passer rating and yards per attempt among passers with at least 1,800 attempts
* Highest winning percentage of any starting QB with at least 100 games started
* Most career 350-yard and 400-yard passing games
* Most 400-yard passing games in a single season
* Most career 4,000-yard passing seasons (consecutive no less)
* Most career seasons with 70 or more passing TDs (consecutive no less)
* Second in career passing yards and passing touchdowns
* Second most 300-yard passing games
* Second most wins as starting QB
* Third in career pass attempts and completions
* First AFL player with back-to-back 5,000-yard passing seasons
* Two-time ArenaBowl MVP
* 114-55 record as starter in regular season
* 14-6 record as starter in playoffs
* AFL playoff leader in passer rating and completion percentage
* Second in playoff history in career pass yards and pass TDs
The list goes on.
Receiver Samora Goodson, who is tenth in the AFL in catches and fourth in yards per catch among players with 100 receptions, is the only wideout to play in all 17 games this season. Despite not catching a ball in the win at Iowa, he leads the team with 103 catches for 1,386 yards and 27 touchdowns. Goodson is 174 yards away from the team record set by James Roe in 2007, the last year the SaberCats won the ArenaBowl. Speaking of Roe, who surpassed the 900-catch and 11,000-yard mark last week, is 53 yards away from his seventh career 1,000-yard season.
The SaberCats are averaging 63.9 points per game this season, second only to Philadelphia and if they continue that pace should end the season with the second most points scored in league history (they are already at the 4th most right now). Last week, San Jose fans booed the team immediately after the SaberCats ran out the clock at the VooDoo three-yard line instead of scoring. If San Jose had scored all 9,251 that were in attendance were going to get free food from Tony and Alba's Pizza. In three of the SaberCats' home wins they failed to reach the 60-point threshold for the free grub; but surpassed it five other times. With it being fan appreciation night, you'd expect the SaberCats to be gunning for 60. However, Iowa hasn't allowed 60 or more points in its past four games.
A bunch of team and AFL records will be set during the game thanks in part to the 18-game season. The SaberCats have already broken team records in points scored, first downs by pass, passing yards, touchdowns scored, passing TDs and sacks. With seven net offensive yards, the SaberCats will break their 2011 AFL record of 5,786. San Jose has already tied the AFL record for most two-point conversions in a season (11 with the 2006 Chicago Rush). The SaberCats have made just one field goal this season on three attempts. Both would be new team lows, which isn't a bad thing since the top three scoring teams in the league (PHI, SJ, UTAH) are a combined one-of-six in field goals. San Jose is 25 first downs away from breaking its AFL record of 427 set last year. The SaberCats 37 sacks on defense ranks fourth most in AFL history and is four away from the AFL record set last year by Tampa Bay when SaberCats linemen Tim McGill and Jermaine Smith were member of the Storm.
Saturday's game will feature Barry Wagner (#2) and Sam Hernandez (#55) becoming the first SaberCats to have their numbers retired. Both were inducted into the AFL's Hall of Fame the day before the 2012 AFL season kicked off. Wagner, the league's only six-time Ironman of the Year, will likely be named the greatest player in AFL history when the league announces it the week of ArenaBowl XXV. Hernandez, the AFL's all-time sack leader, was placed number nine on the league's 25 Greatest Players list.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 PM Pacific at HP Pavilion in San Jose. Ticket information can be obtained by going to TheSanJoseSaberCats.com.
Andy Lopusnak is an 11-year AFL front office veteran, spending time with the Tampa Bay Storm, San Diego Riptide and Grand Rapids Rampage. He works as a statistician for NFL and college sports for CBS Sports and is a freelance photographer. Lopusnak received two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of South Florida and has been a fan of ArenaBall since its inception.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.