AFL Exchange: The Power of the Offensive Defense
Chicago managed to effectively clinch the Central Division last weekend; by doing so in such an impressive fashion, the Rush also opened up the No. 1 ranking for Spokane to step in and take to the house.
In fact, the reason the Shock are in that No. 1 seat right now is because of their ability to “take it to the house” – to get defensive points. When I decided to track defensive points early in the season, Arizona was dominating opposing offenses – they scored six defensive touchdowns in the first three weeks of the season. Through three weeks of the season, they posted a 36-point lead on the Shock in defensive points.
Apparently in Week 4, when Arizona and Spokane played each other, they had a Freaky Friday-type switch. The Shock defense has scored 80 defensive points, the most in the league this season (San Jose is second with 74). Arizona has only managed two defensive scores in the past 13 games. More troubling for Rattlers fans, the offense has started to give points away to opposing defenses – they’ve given away 26 points in the past 7 games after surrendering zero in their first 10 bouts.
Arizona is still the top team in the league per the TOT+ rankings, which only take into account offensive and defensive output relative to expected outputs against a team’s schedule, however, so all is not lost. But the seemingly unassailable Rattlers from earlier in the season are gone – they’re now 1-1 against each of the other National Conference playoff teams, injecting some intrigue into that half of the draw.
Speaking of intrigue, the American Conference holds all of Week 19’s excitement – the National Conference playoffs are set, thanks to the league’s re-writing its rules after realizing they screwed up in announcing Arizona’s division title.
Nearly anything can happen in the American Conference, though – no one has clinched any seed, and Week 19 features a play-in game between the VooDoo and the Predators (more on that in the predictions). The Storm will be first-round fodder this year thanks to earlier wins with Adrian McPherson – the team is currently one of the worst in the league, as evidenced by Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the Power.
Recurring theme numbers:
After the Rattlers and SaberCats each took dumps on their home turf, the American Conference clinched the “Our 7 Teams Won More Games than Your 4” trophy for this season.
American Conference: 49 wins (4-3 this week, 1-0 against the National Conference; 70 losses)
Western Division: 45 wins (2-2 this week, 2-2 outside their division; 23 losses)
The in-division, out-of-division disparity theory took a hit, too, as three out-of-division matchups were won by the team that lost the first game.
In-division: 5 sweeps, 11 splits (Jacksonville sweeps New Orleans)
Out-of-division: 17 sweeps, 6 splits (Spokane, Utah sweep; Arizona/Chicago, Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh, and Orlando/Cleveland split)
Week 18 Top OFF+: Spokane
Bottom OFF+: Tampa Bay
Week 18 Top DEF+: Chicago
Bottom DEF+: Orlando
Week 18 Top TOT+: Spokane
Bottom TOT+: San Antonio
Well, last week’s picks hurt. San Jose and Arizona let me down despite having two of the best home-field advantages and playing against teams they’re better than (though not by much). Cleveland looked frisky and Tampa Bay managed to be worse than Pittsburgh, which I didn’t think was possible. No time to lament an off-week! Let’s close this season with a good week.
Pittsburgh at Spokane: How much effort will Chicago and Spokane be putting in this week, especially with their first-round matchup taking place on a Thursday? Despite Pittsburgh’s win last week, I don’t think Spokane can play poorly enough to lose to the Power. Shock win, and by enough that they maintain their No. 1 ranking.
Chicago at San Jose: In a game that’s meaningless for both teams, San Jose at least wants to get back on track before their playoff tilt in Arizona. Chicago plays this game Saturday and then has to play Spokane in Washington on Thursday? San Jose’s no Pittsburgh – Chicago’s not going to try too hard, but San Jose will be capable of beating a team that isn’t putting its best out there.
Arizona at Iowa: The only reason Arizona would lose this game is to successfully troll ArenaFan and Spokane, making what seemed to be a moot point relevant by failing to earn the No. 1 seed they were handed by the league. Iowa isn’t very good. They lost to Utah in a game for all of the bacon last week – if that doesn’t motivate you to play better than they did, I don’t see how they’re going to be motivated to beat the Rattlers.
Philadelphia at San Antonio: Last week’s events diminished the importance of this game – unless San Antonio can win by roughly 100 or so, they have no shot of making the playoffs. (Chicago also has to lose by 70 if the Talons win by that much). Philadelphia, meanwhile, is playing in order to keep the No. 1 seed in the American Conference. Remember, Jacksonville beat the Soul earlier in the season, so if the teams end up tied, the Sharks take the No. 1 seed…
Tampa Bay at Jacksonville: …and let’s be honest, now that Bernard Morris is back (and Adrian McPherson won’t be), the Sharks aren’t messing around anymore. They don’t want to have to leave the state on their way to the ArenaBowl. They’re the better team, they’re at home, Tampa Bay is awful…Sharks win.
Cleveland at Utah: Apparently this game is still going to be played for some reason. Let’s say Utah wins it and earns the imaginary tiebreaker for the imaginary playoff spot as the American Conference 8 seed.
New Orleans at Orlando: I feel pretty good about the rankings: The top four teams in the National Conference are the four teams in the playoffs. The top three teams in the American Conference are the teams that are in. New Orleans and Orlando are the breaking point – which is more important? Points produced by your offense and stopped by your defense (TOT+)? Or points scored by your defense and prevented by the offense (TurnOVA)?
If TurnOVA is the most important thing, then New Orleans has the edge in this game. If TOT+ is, then Orlando should win. The Predators have a much bigger lead in the category they lead (which is why they have such a large gap in EXCH+), so I’m going to take Orlando…but we might have to consider that Pat O’Hara has hit the New Orleans streets and put a hex on his former squad – he is 3-0 against the Predators since being fired after an 11-7 season. The Predators have also yet to make the playoffs since O’Hara’s departure, and just blew a game against one of the league’s worst teams last week that would have rendered this game meaningless.
You know what? I’m switching my pick to the VooDoo. DON’T PUT A CURSE ON ME, COACH O’HARA!
Stay tuned next week for season-long stats, a whole mess of charts, and full playoff predictions.
Last week: 2-5. Season total: 46-28.
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.