AFL Exchange: Chicago Rising
The No. 3 team in the AFL is looking like those high-ranking Al-Qaeda members a few years ago – getting knocked off week after week. Can the Chicago Rush, in their first Top-5 appearance, hold on to the spot? Here are this week’s rankings:
Well, look at those gaps. The rich are getting richer and the rest are dropping. The 2-9 teams are getting cozier and cozier, as the ninth-place Utah Blaze are closer to 3rd-place Chicago than it is to the 10th-place San Antonio Talons. The Talons have dropped out of the middle-class group with the loss of Nick Hill and look to be crossing paths with the now-average Orlando Predators (Hill’s former team!). Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Power and New Orleans VooDoo seem like they might have an interest in the final playoff spot in a very winnable American Conference.
This is the first week where the TOT+ doesn’t win the week on either side of the ball – the Spokane Shock finished second in both OFF+ and DEF+; the Tampa Bay Storm finished second-worst in DEF+ and fifth-worst in OFF+.
Week 12 top OFF+: Chicago
Bottom OFF+: San Antonio
Week 12 top DEF+: Arizona
Bottom DEF+: Philadelphia
Week 12 top TOT+: Spokane
Bottom TOT+: Tampa Bay
Hey, we’re getting to that point in the season where we start looking at the playoff picture.
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: Philadelphia has basically won its division and probably gets the No. 2 seed. Pittsburgh needs to win to keep ahead of Orlando for the last playoff spot, since Orlando is probably going to beat the Gladiators. Apparently the AFL thinks that this series is one of the best rivalries in the AFL. I guess one winning season so far since both teams entered the league makes for a pretty good rivalry.
Philadelphia has four games with a negative TOT+ this season. Its opponents? Orlando, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Cleveland. This team plays down to its opponents more than any other team in the league, and often gives wins away. I don’t the Soul will do it twice in one season against their “rival,” though.
Cleveland at Orlando: Cleveland didn’t put in the worst performance in the league last week! That’s the first time that’s been true since Week 8…when a Chicago team recently found out its owner was not their owner anymore and they were unsure that they would even be paid. So, with last week’s game being partially due to Iowa missing most of their WR talent, and Cleveland still losing…well, I’m not taking it against a frisky Orlando team. Cleveland has taken over New Orleans’ “I’m not picking it until I see a reason I should” mantle.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans: The argument against Tampa Bay, which is likely to face Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 3 seed: It has posted a negative TOT+ in four of their last five games, while New Orleans has had a positive differential in three of its last four. New Orleans is about a point better per drive exchange at home than they are on the road.
The argument against New Orleans: Tampa Bay is a better team. It is actually 2/3 of a point per drive exchange better on the road than they are at home. If both teams played to their averages, Tampa Bay would win by 13, so it has quite a bit of margin for error. I think the last one is why I’m picking the Storm despite feeling the urge to pick an upset for the VooDoo.
San Antonio at Chicago: The is the game with the most playoff implications this week, and it features a resurgent Chicago team, which since its loss to Cleveland, has posted four consecutive positive-TOT+ games, the longest such streak in the league. San Antonio, meanwhile, is headed the other way amid quarterback issues, and it’s looking like it will pass Orlando in a bid to break up the American Conference’s stranglehold on the “AFL’s Worst Team” competition.
That said, if San Antonio can pull this out, then it's within a half-game of the Rush for the right to host (probably) the Shock in a playoff game where tens of people will watch the home team lose. Chicago’s a better team, a hotter team, and gosh darn it, people like it. Rush over the Talons.
San Jose at Iowa: Hey, remember when San Jose was setting the league on fire a few weeks ago, dominating on both offense and defense? It came back to play the Western Division and that ended pretty quickly. It is 6-0 outside of the division, though, and I don’t know what’s up with Iowa’s receivers – if they don’t play, then the Barnstormers are just about as good as Cleveland, and that means they don’t have much of a chance. San Jose keeps the pressure on the Shock for that No. 3 seed and the right to wait a week longer before having to play the Rattlers in the playoffs.
Spokane at Arizona: Here’s your marquee matchup, and the best rivalry in the AFL (despite not being offered as an option by the AFL site). These are the only two teams to represent the National Conference in the ArenaBowl since the reboot. They’re the best two teams in the league by far (see graph above). Neither team has had a losing season since 2010 despite being in the toughest division. They’re 1-1 against each other in the playoffs; the head-to-head record is 5-4 Spokane, with five of those being decided by one possession and two being decided by a single point.
Spokane has posted the best TOT+ in the league in two consecutive weeks. Arizona has posted the best DEF+ in the league for three consecutive weeks. Spokane and Arizona have led the league in TOT+ in three overall weeks each (no other team has done it more than once).
Arizona probably holds on to the No. 1 seed and home-field even if they lose this game (since it’s unlikely anyone else will beat them), but a win would pretty much lock up the position and make its trip to a third consecutive ArenaBowl much easier.
Should I take Arizona? Of course. Am I going to be a homer again and pick Spokane? Yup. But I’m betting it doesn't win this one by 30.
Jacksonville at Utah: This one looked like it was going to be a great matchup at the beginning of the season for CBS Sports. Then Utah imploded. I said I wasn’t going to pick Utah anymore after being burned by it for three consecutive weeks (accounting for half of my losses in that span). But then Jacksonville went and signed Kyle Rowley and supposedly he might start. With the 2013 versions of Rowley and Grady under center, get ready…it’s an INTERCEPTOFF! One of these times I pick Utah, it is going to win. Why not this week?
Last week: 5-2. Season total: 21-14