AFL Exchange: The Beatings Continue
As my colleagues have pointed out, Week 17 was the most lopsided week in AFL history, with winning teams averaging 31.9 points more than their hapless opponents.
While there is certainly much merit to the point that there are several teams that aren’t competing at a watchable level, last week was pretty close to a perfect storm of sorts – due to inter-conference matchups in all seven games, the league’s best teams took on the league’s worst in most matchups.
San Jose, one of the league’s hottest AND best teams, played a Pittsburgh team that is, to be nice, an embarrassment…in fact, Pittsburgh’s offense scored three touchdowns in 11 drives, and it was only their third-worst offensive performance of the year. Arizona, the best team in the league, took on an improving-mostly-because-they-couldn’t-get-worse New Orleans squad. Philadelphia beat down the worst team in the National Conference. Spokane beat a fellow “top” team, but Jacksonville has been deteriorating for more than a month now.
The only “surprise,” rankings-wise, was the Talons’ win over the Storm. Even then, Tampa Bay has been the worst performer in the league in three of the last four weeks (and the week before that, they were the second-worst), so that wasn’t much of a surprise, either.
What’s worth watching now? The race between Chicago and San Antonio for the final spot (and No. 2 seed) in the National Conference – Philadelphia is the only team in the American Conference that’s any good, so as nice a little race as it is for the final spot, it’s a bit like being excited about the race for the 8 seed in the NBA playoffs.
Chicago currently holds a slight edge over the Talons…but the Rush have to play the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the AFL in the final two weeks. That might seem like a death sentence, but San Antonio has to play the No. 2 and No. 4 teams.
Recurring stories after Week 17:
Western Division: 43 (21 losses – 31-9 outside the division)
American Conference 45 (67 losses)
In-division season series: 4 sweeps, 11 splits
Out-of-division season series: 15 sweeps, 3 splits
Is this because divisions are more evenly matched within each other? Or perhaps is there a tendency for people (you decide which ones) to want divisional rivalries to not be one-sided? Maybe a little of both?
More than half the league is either the best or worst they’ve been since the rankings started. Iowa, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and Utah are worse than ever, while Orlando, Philadelphia, Spokane and San Jose have never been better.
In news that will surprise no one, the top four teams of the week in TOT+ are the top four teams in the league overall. San Jose, Arizona, Spokane, and Philadelphia were the only teams to finish with a TOT+ over 1.0.
Week 17 Top OFF+: Arizona
Bottom OFF+: Pittsburgh
Week 17 Top DEF+: San Jose
Bottom DEF+: Tampa Bay
Week 17 Top TOT+: San Jose
Bottom TOT+: Pittsburgh
San Antonio at Spokane: Congratulations, San Antonio, on breaking out of the bottom five! As a reward, how about playing the league’s best offense on the road? San Antonio is a slightly better team on the road, Spokane is slightly worse at home...but that’s about the only thing even sort of in San Antonio’s favor. And those “advantages” take it from an expected 13-point Shock win to roughly an 11-point cushion if both teams play as expected. Spokane gets lucky No. 13 at home.
Jacksonville at New Orleans: Well, New Orleans needs this one. Jacksonville doesn’t – it’s probably going to get the No. 2 seed no matter what. The Sharks MIGHT want to start acting as though they’re going to be a threat in the playoffs, however – they’ve lost nearly a full point in their EXCH+ since Week 7, and they’re now basically a league average team. That said, a league-average team will beat a VooDoo team that, despite their improvement, is still well below-average. I’ll take Jacksonville, no matter how much I’d prefer that the ‘Doo win.
Orlando at Cleveland: The Predators’ improvement has been fairly consistent and marked – they haven’t had a truly bad week since Garcia’s arrival. Cleveland has improved as well, since a midseason downturn that put them in the league’s basement…but not enough to beat the Predators as Orlando goes for the final playoff berth.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: The worst team in the league or the worst team lately? These two teams carry the longest losing streaks in the league into the game (Tampa Bay 5, Pittsburgh 7). Tampa Bay’s dropped from fourth in the league to eighth and it’s entirely possible they get passed by San Antonio this week. I’m picking Tampa Bay, but that’s less a reflection of confidence in them than it is in supreme confidence that Pittsburgh will continue to be awful.
Utah at Iowa: Both of these teams have spent time in the Top 5, but their best days this season are long, long behind them, as each is worse than it’s ever been. Iowa’s actually above average at home, so I’m going with the Barnstormers here.
Chicago at Arizona: You guessed it, I’m still not picking against Arizona, which now has the best defense in the league to go with their No. 2 offense.
Philadelphia at San Jose: You know who cares more than anyone in Philly or San Jose about this game? Rush and Talons fans (assuming both teams lose their matchups against the Rattlers and Shock, respectively). If that happens and San Jose wins, then the SaberCats still have to try next week against the Rush AND Philadelphia still has to try against the Talons. If Philadelphia wins this week? Everything depends on the outcome of Jacksonville/New Orleans – if Jacksonville wins, Philadelphia still has to win next week while San Jose is locked into the four seed, meaning Chicago may sneak in. Philadelphia has the longest win streak in the league right now…but it ends in San Jose, and the drama continues for everyone.
Last week: 6-1. Season total: 44-23.
Brian Beaudry has been both an intern and a Director of Communications within the AFL and occasionally provides analysis of the league and the Portland Thunder as an Oregon resident. He maintains a blog, Wrong Way Sports, and you can reach him with research or graphic design suggestions on Twitter at @BeaudryPDX.