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AFL Quickplay Week 20—The Most Difficult Week of the Year

Andrew Nordmeier
Saturday August 8, 2015

The final week of the season is arguably the toughest one to score points on and this season is no exception. We know the names of seven of the eight playoff teams and most of the playoff matchups. This leads to a quagmire in terms of fantasy this week and not the kind that runs around Quahog, Rhode Island either (Giggity).

The theme is that with teams being locked what is their motivation to put their big-name players out on the field? It might be a week of back-up quarterbacks and that could derail your fantasy game. It comes at a real key time with this being the last week to pick up the points. That said, let’s see where everyone stands. 

Our own Tim Capper is on top of the pack with 3551 points this season with Legnbaz firmly in second place with 3532. There is a sizeable gap back to the rest of the pack with Tim George in third at 3466. Our sample team, the Unemployed Punters, is tucked into fourth place at 3431 points. Fifth through ninth place are up for grabs with Rattler1 (3415), the Soup Nazis (3407), South Phoenix Bombers (3403), Diamond Thief (3401) and Firebird DW (3400) battling it out to the wire. Sara’s Sabercats round out the top ten at 3369 points. 

Another thing to talk about is eligibility. Tim and I are both ineligible for prizes since we provide content to the site. That said, it removes the first and fourth-place teams from potential prize positions. Fifth place is up for grabs but it could wind up as a top-three spot so keep playing!

Also, if you scored more than 180 points last week you made the top 10 for the week. Nice job!

Let’s look at the schedule for this final squirrely week. 

All games are Saturday and all times are Eastern

New Orleans at Jacksonville 7:00 p.m.
Philadelphia at Cleveland 7:00 p.m.
Tampa Bay at Orlando 7:00 p.m.
Portland at Arizona 9:30 p.m.
San Jose at Los Angeles 10:00 p.m.
Spokane at Las Vegas 10:30 p.m.

The thing to keep in mind here is who still has something to play for. Spokane needs a win to lock up the #3 seed and book a return trip to Arizona in the first round of the playoffs. The Shock stunned the Rattlers earlier this season in Spokane so that could be a scary matchup. 

Las Vegas needs a win to clinch the fourth playoff spot and push Portland out of the picture. A Portland win coupled with a Las Vegas loss gets the Thunder into the playoffs. Spokane won the season series 2-1 over Portland so the Thunder can’t get better than fourth. If Las Vegas and Portland get identical results (i.e. both win) then Las Vegas gets in based on the “tie” awarded from the cancelled game.

A Las Vegas win coupled with a Spokane loss makes the Outlaws at 6-11-1 the third seed and Spokane at 6-12 the fourth seed. Clearly, there is a lot to be decided as two teams are gunning for one playoff spot and three teams are going to have an impact on the lower two seeds in the playoffs. 

In the other conference everything is wrapped up and ready to go for the playoffs. This will make this final week of the season that much more difficult in picking your players. The rosters in this league aren’t very deep and you don’t want to show your playoff opponent too much of your hand. How long will Philadelphia and Cleveland keep their starting quarterbacks on the field knowing the face each other the next week in a playoff game? 

Let’s go real slow here and build the roster for this week. Grab a snack and a drink because this will be a very long explanation. 

Pacific Division

Our picks this week are Portland quarterback Kyle Rowley and Portland wide receiver Jamar Howard. Last week, Rowley was tagged as a sleeper pick and it would have been a great choice. Last week, Portland thumped Las Vegas by 31 points and Rowley accounted for 206 passing yards and seven touchdowns (47 fantasy points). This week, I expect something similar out of him against Arizona. Rowley gave the Rattlers fits when he played against them as a member of the Shock a few years ago and could be a thorn in their side again. He threw for 296 yards and six touchdowns against Arizona earlier this season so he could have another big game in him. We all know how badly Portland needs this win so Rowley looks like a smart pick this week. 

Howard was reactivated late Thursday off of injured reserve which gives Portland a huge boost. Howard was having an excellent season with 45 catches for 610 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first four games before going down hurt against San Jose. I would like to think that Portland would want to give Howard a ton of targets in this game and he has the dynamic playmaking ability to find the end zone repeatedly. Don’t get me wrong but Jared Perry (93-1218-28) and V’Keon Lacey (105-1139-28) are having great seasons but Howard should put up the biggest numbers against Arizona. Also, Portland is 0-8 on the road this season and this would be the best time to finally get a road win. 

That’s the other reason why I am letting my lineup take a double shot of Portland this week: the matchup with Arizona. The Rattlers have won a fifth straight division title but they don’t have the feel of a team that is as dominant as the ones of years gone by. Last year’s Arizona squad scored 1151 points in the regular season and 1203 in the 2013 season. This year, they’ve put up 936 points. Yes, Nick Davila missed games but he never really got on that big hot streak that we’ve seen in years past where he would post games with eight, nine or even ten touchdowns. Arizona is 13-4 but it doesn’t feel as strong as it could be. We’ll discuss the Rattlers more in depth when we get to their division. 

So why not take Erik Meyer and a San Jose wide receiver? The answer seems to be simple to me. San Jose shouldn’t risk its big name guys getting hurt again. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Meyer get to run three or four drives and then get benched for Nathan Stanley. It’s a good idea to get your backup quarterbacks some live-fire action in case he is needed. It’s difficult to predict how much time Reggie Gray will be on the field. Maurice Purify will likely see more action then Gray but I’d be surprised to see him on the field after halftime in a totally meaningless game against Los Angeles.

As for Spokane, they seem to have gone back into turtle mode on offense. They’ve scored 42 points or fewer in four of their last five games. The lone exception was a 52-point night when they upset Arizona. The offense isn’t doing much lately and they don’t have a whole lot they can do to change their playoff fate. They’re going to get a good game from Las Vegas as they fight to get in the postseason. 

It’s also difficult to know what to expect out of the quarterback position for the Shock. To that point, Spokane has six different quarterbacks who have thrown at least 11 passes this year and each of them has at least one touchdown pass to their credit. Arvell Nelson was okay against Cleveland with five passing touchdowns but could have to rely on his feet to be productive. He only threw two touchdown passes against Portland two weeks ago but ran for two more to avoid a fantasy disaster. This also drops the value of the wide receivers greatly and none of them can be trusted.

The Las Vegas-Spokane game has all the feel of a 42-35 finish and it’s going to be tough to find fantasy points in that game. For those reasons, we’re not recommending the Shock this week. 

East Division

We’re going to take Tommy Taggart of the Soul as our fullback this week. This makes sense for a couple reasons. We know that Philadelphia plays Cleveland each of the next two weeks and the game has the feel of a grind-it out, make-a-statement game for Cleveland. By handing the ball off to Taggart, it minimizes the risks to their quarterback and wide receivers. Earlier, we said teams don’t want to show their hand right before the playoffs. This is the perfect example to illustrate it. 

Last week against New Orleans, Taggart was given 11 carries and he rolled up 24 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass for a four-score game so it’s no secret that he can move the chains. Taggart has also quietly put up seven rushing scores in his last three games on a total of 24 carries. We can predict eight to ten touches for Taggart this week and at least two touchdowns. He should be their best option inside the five-yard line in this game. 

We can’t predict how much guys like Dan Raudabaugh and Marco Thomas might play this week so it’s difficult to recommend them. This could be a chance for the Soul to work wide receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku back into the fold and give him a big dose of targets. He missed four games and posted a lousy line of 18 yards on three catches against New Orleans which makes him a sleeper option. The prospect of him potentially catching passes from Bryan Randall instead of Raudabaugh isn’t very enticing and Kauleinamoku looks like the third wide receiver in the pecking order. We’ll pass on him. 

Our other pick from this division will be Philadelphia kicker Tommy Frevert. The Soul has put up some big point totals as of late and Frevert should have plenty of chances to add points to our team this week. 

So why not any players from Cleveland? Well, we used them last week when they had something to gain. Now they have nothing to gain this week and they won’t be motivated by anything other than sending a message to the Soul. People forget Cleveland went 17-1 last season and made it to the championship game. They do remember how Arizona stomped the Gladiators by 40 points in the final. 

Collin Taylor had a great game last week with five touchdowns but it doesn’t seem likely to repeat here. The best thing Cleveland can do is get the game overwith and prepare for next week when it really counts. Because of this, it’s tough to predict how Cleveland will use its players. The uncertainty is the key factor in driving me away from the Gladiators this week. It’s both in terms of how much each player will play and how the ball will be distributed on offense. Will Shane Austin focus again on one receiver or will he spread the ball around and diminish their overall fantasy value? How much will Austin play and will we get a Chris Dieker sighting? We’ll find out Saturday by looking at the box score and not how our team did. 

New Orleans has been a miserable place all season in terms of fantasy. The only time they should have been in a lineup this season was Week 18 with the cancelled game debacle. That needed to be done to keep your lineup eligible for that week. The problem with New Orleans this season was a consistently poor output on offense. 

The VooDoo was a perfect 3-0 when scoring more than 50 points but they were 0-13 when they were held to 43 or fewer. Except for the emotional home finale 65-53 win over Tampa, they have not scored more than 50 points since their last win on May 2 against Spokane. That was more than three months ago and it’s a great way to avoid being recommended in fantasy. It also doesn’t help that they were stuck in a division with a powerhouse Soul team and the defending conference champs from Cleveland. There were very few bright spots for the VooDoo this season in fantasy. Hopefully, it wasn’t their last season in the league. 

South Division

We still need two quarterbacks and two wide receivers at this point. Let’s dive deeper in this division and see what gems we can mine for this final week. 

Jacksonville hosts New Orleans and Tampa visits Orlando in another round of the War On I-4. My gut feeling says to take a pair of Sharks and this is why. First, the matchup is a positive one. The Sharks know they have the Predators next week in the first round of the playoffs and it would make sense to avoid a letdown against a weak New Orleans team in the season finale. 

The reason we skipped on Derrick Ross of Jacksonville is rather simple. Last week he posted an abysmal stat line of three carries for three yards and no touchdowns. That was a big, fat, juicy zero on a lot of people’s scoresheets for that position. The game against the VooDoo should be a runaway early. We hope that happens like that but we also thought the Sharks were going to blow away the KISS and that didn’t happen. 

In his previous games against New Orleans, he averaged eight carries, 35 yards and two touchdowns in those two games. It would make sense to expect the same this week but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get even less. It makes more sense to not run Ross much this week. There is no more dynamic fullback than him in the league and Jacksonville will need him to try and make a playoff run. 

We’re going to take Tommy Grady and Joe Hills of the Sharks this week as our two players from this division. Grady makes sense as he posted 41 completions last week to three different receivers, each posting at least 12 catches, 105 yards and a touchdown. Last time out against New Orleans, Grady threw for 278 yards and eight touchdowns with only five incompletions. Grady might also be motivated to get to milestone of 100 passing touchdowns and he is seven shy heading into the final week. 

Hills appeals to us in this way. He has five more touchdowns than Anthony Jones (41 to 36) but has nearly 500 fewer receiving yards than Jones. In our game, touchdowns pay the bills and Hills has the skills to pay said fantasy bills. Hills had a five-touchdown game against New Orleans earlier this season and he is coming off a five-score effort last week against Orlando. He has 12 touchdowns in his last four games while Jones only has six. No other receiver on the team has more than five touchdowns this season so it’s going to be one or the other having the big game. In this sort of case, you ride the hot hand and it’s why we like Hills this week. 

Orlando has won four in a row coming into the season finale and posted at least 64 points in each of its last three games but it’s not quite what it seems. In their last game against Jacksonville, quarterback Randy Hippeard threw for all of two touchdown passes. No receiver had more than four catches and only two of them scored touchdowns through the air. By comparison, they rushed for four scores, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and took a kickoff back for a score. 

The key takeaway is that Orlando’s total’s aren’t all offense. At some point, the scores from the defense and special teams won’t be there and it will put extra pressure on the actual offense. Whether or not they can keep up is a question mark. 

The aerial offense didn’t do much for the Predators last week and we don’t know what to expect against Tampa. When it comes to the War On I-4, anything can and will happen. Both of the previous battles were high-scoring affairs with the teams both racking up more than 60 points in each game. This game should have a more conservative feel to it given there is nothing on the line for either side. 

Tampa dropped four in a row before squeaking out a win over the KISS last week to try to keep faint playoff hopes alive. The Storm has zero run game yet had Undra Hendrix rush for two touchdowns in the win against Los Angeles. Quarterback Jason Boltus has fallen off with three touchdowns in that game. The week before, Boltus had a two-touchdown game with 260 passing yards when the Sharks rolled them. No player on the Storm has more than four touchdowns over the last three weeks, which makes us leery of their passing game. It’s to a point that we won’t recommend the Storm this week. 

West Division

A wide receiver and a quarterback are necessary here to fill out our final lineup of the season. 

Las Vegas has been hit by injuries and didn’t have Tysson Poots nor Jomo Wilson last week. They also used both quarterbacks (JJ Raterink and Dennis Havrilla) when they got their lunch handed to them by Portland. The Outlaws committed six turnovers (four interceptions, two on downs) so it doesn’t inspire much confidence in them from a fantasy standpoint. Jason Willis had a three-touchdown game last week and it was the first one for the team since Poots’ three-score game, also against the Thunder. Las Vegas has a total of two wide receivers that have scored more than twice in the last eight games. 

They don’t feel like the same team that pulled a huge upset of the Rattlers back in March and we can’t recommend them this week for fantasy. 

When it comes to Los Angeles, the only real fantasy option this season has been wide receiver Donovan Morgan. He’s torn up the league with 125 catches for 1929 yards and 40 touchdowns despite playing for one of the worst teams in the league. Los Angeles takes on San Jose this week in a somewhat interesting game. The Sabercats have nothing to gain and it makes us wonder how this game will turn out. The KISS has scored less than 40 points in three of its last four games and averages 38 points per game against San Jose. Morgan merits consideration for the final wide receiver spot but we need to shift our focus to the Arizona Rattlers before making the final picks. 

The Rattlers are in need of a big game heading into the playoffs. San Jose held them to just 29 points last week. We mentioned earlier how the Rattlers don’t have that feel of the title teams and this would be a great week to put up a big number. Arizona has a history of success against Portland putting up 65 points in one win and 69 in another win over the Thunder. Dan Buckner led Arizona last week with nine catches and 83 receiving yards. Rod Windsor scored two of the three passing touchdowns last week for Arizona on a week when the Rattlers had five turnovers. 

Chase Deadder is on inactive reserve for Arizona and it leaves Windsor and an inconsistent Kerry Reed to be the top targets. 

We still need a quarterback so we’re going to hope Nick Davila has a bounce-back week to build playoff momentum. He could be the best quarterback to play almost the entire game this week. Davila needs some swagger back and he had one of his best games of the season against the Thunder. He threw for 319 yards and nine scores with an interception when the Rattlers won in the Moda Center earlier this season. After a disappointing outing against San Jose, we look for Davila to throw for at least seven touchdowns for Arizona this week. 

Now that leaves us with the choice between Windsor and Morgan for the final spot this week. It’s like trying to pick which fifty-dollar bill you like better. We’re going with Windsor.

The reason why is found in an article in the Arizona Republic by noted AFL author Richard Obert. 

"We play a half," Guy said. "We're going into the playoffs with momentum. I don't believe in resting people. We've lost two of our last three games. We're in a sense of urgency mode around here. We're not going to think about resting. We're thinking about playing."

Davila said he's good to go.

"I have to take care of the football," Davila said. "I watched the last game. That's not the type of performance I expect from myself as the quarterback. I had a fumbled snap. There was a pick. That starts with me."

That confirms our thought and makes the Windsor the pick over Morgan. It also reinforces our selection of Davila this week and hopefully this stack pays off in the final week of the season. 

Unemployed Punters Week 20 Lineup
FB Tommy Taggart PHI
K Tommy Frevert PHI
QB Kyle Rowley PDX
WR Jamar Howard PDX
QB Tommy Grady JAX
WR Joe Hills JAX
QB Nick Davila ARI
WR Rod Windsor ARI

Andrew Nordmeier is a freelance sportswriter originally from Chicago. Andrew is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and has won more than three dozen fantasy championships. He has written for local newspapers in the Phoenix area covering high school sports for the last seven years. Andrew also has done play-by-play in the USHL and on the Arizona Rattlers internet broadcast in 2011. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and two sons. You can find Andrew on Twitter @AndrewNordmeier.
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.
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