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Arena Football playoff previews
Arena Football playoff previews
Sevransky's Arena Football playoff previews
By TED SEVRANSKY
Underdogs have ruled the roost in the Arena Football League playoffs in recent years, and the Wild Card weekend of the playoffs in 2008 confirmed the prevailing current trend. In 2006, the Chicago Rush were road underdogs in four straight playoff games on their way to winning the Arena Bowl. Last year, another regular season also-ran got hot in the playoffs, as 7-9 Columbus pulled off three consecutive road upsets before finally falling short in the Arena Bowl against San Jose.
This past week, we saw road underdogs go 4-0 ATS, 3-1 SU in the opening round of the playoffs. Will we see more of the same this week? The betting marketplace doesn’t seem to think so. All four home teams are favored by more than a touchdown following their bye week here in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, with the four road underdogs still searching for respect from bettors. Let’s break down the games one by one, focusing on the key pointspread and totals issues for each squad. Just like last weekend, all four games will be nationally televised on ESPN or ESPN2.
Saturday, July 5th
Colorado Crush @ San Jose Sabercats (SJ -11, O/U 111½)
Colorado has some real momentum right now, winning and covering three straight, including two strong performances on the road. The Crush have a solid recent history of postseason success. John Elway’s squad won the Arena Bowl with John Dutton at QB and Mike Dailey as head coach as recently as 2005. Last year, the Crush went 1-1 SU, 2-0 ATS on the road in the playoffs, winning outright at Kansas City and losing in spread covering fashion at the eventual champs San Jose. And despite a rash of injuries at wide receiver, the Crush defense appears to be good enough to give them a chance in this game as well.
San Jose dominated the lone regular season meeting between these two teams, winning 59-42 while averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt in sharp contrast to the Crush’s 5.9 yards per attempt. And the Sabercats defense remains an elite level unit, returning every starter from last year’s Arena Bowl championship team. Few home fields in the AFL really matter, but San Jose enjoys a tremendous advantage at the HP Pavilion, 16-2 SU (12-6 ATS) over the past two seasons. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Mark Grieb led the league with 100 touchdown passes this season while ranking third in the AFL in completion percentage.
Saturday, July 5th
New York Dragons @ Philadelphia Soul (Philly -9½, O/U 110)
New York has been a pointspread machine since March, covering the pointspread at an 9-3-1 clip in their last thirteen games. The Dragons scored touchdowns on eleven consecutive drives against an elite level defense in their upset win at Dallas last week, with quarterback Aaron Garcia showing no ill effects from the hard hit that he took against Philly in his regular season finale. Garcia has Hall of Fame credentials, but he’s never guided his team to the Arena Bowl. The Dragons enjoyed tremendous special teams’ play in their win over the Desperados as well. Kicker Steve Azar had a pair of onside kicks recovered by New York, while going a perfect 11-11 on extra point tries and booting three touchbacks.
On paper, Philadelphia looks like the team to beat in this year’s playoffs. The Soul cruised through the regular season with an AFL best 13-3 record, thanks to the play of the league’s top rated quarterback, Matt D’Orazio, who has filled in admirably for the injured Tony Graziani for most of the season. D’Orazio guided Chicago to an Arena Bowl title two years ago. It’s surely worth noting that the Soul’s three losses can all be easily explained away. Their loss to Cleveland came in a major flat spot on a short week following their biggest game of the year against Dallas. Their loss to Georgia was an aberration – the Soul led by three scores in the fourth quarter but collapsed in the final few minutes. And their loss to KC as a 17 point favorite was a matter of a disinterested team suffering through some mid-season injuries. The Soul are healthy now, and they beat New York 59-30 and 63-42 in their two regular season meetings.
Sunday, July 6th
Grand Rapids Rampage @ Chicago Rush (Chicago -9½, O/U 113)
Grand Rapids has the ‘feel’ of a team like Columbus from last year, who came out of nowhere to reach the Arena Bowl. The Rampage were not good for most of the regular season, losing eight out of nine during one particularly ugly mid-season stretch. But the Rampage played their best football when it counted the most, reeling off three consecutive wins to close out the regular season, then winning outright as a road underdog at Arizona last week in a rare stellar defensive effort (a huge goal line stand essentially winning the game) from a stop unit that allowed 59+ on eleven different occasions in the 16 game regular season. First year head coach Steve Thonn and first year starting quarterback James MacPherson seem to be clicking together right now as Grand Rapids has averaged more than 70 points per game during their current four game winning streak.
Chicago looked like the class of the American Conference for much of the season, but the Rush really tailed off late. First year starter Russ Michna finished fourth in the league in quarterback efficiency, but the offense was sluggish down the stretch as the Rush were held to 52 points or less four times in their final five games. To make matters even worse for Chicago, they lost All-Arena linebacker DeJuan Alfonzo to a season ending injury prior to Week 16. Chicago went 7-1 SU (5-3 ATS) at home this year, but they didn’t have an easy time in their most recent home meeting with the Rampage, needing a huge fourth quarter rally to beat Grand Rapids by a single field goal.
Monday, July 7th
Cleveland Gladiators @ Georgia Force (Georgia -7½, O/U 114)
The Gladiators didn’t look like a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2003 in their opening round win over Orlando, showing great poise following a rough start to pull out the three point victory. The Gladiators have not been the most consistent team in the AFL this year (to put it mildly) – they haven’t won back-2-back games since mid-May. This offense is loaded. Quarterback Raymond Philyaw finished the regular season as the #2 rated quarterback in the AFL. Wide receiver Otis Amey made the All-AFL squad with 50 touchdown receptions while Robert Redd led the team in receiving yards and fullback Marlon Jackson also earned All-AFL honors. But the Gladiators defense has been a problem area all season, and could be a problem again here.
Georgia has not been a ‘blowout’ team this year, with half of their ten wins coming by a touchdown or less. In six of those ten wins, Georgia found themselves tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, a testament to the coaching acumen of Doug Plank (my choice for AFL Coach of the Year honors) and the fortitude of quarterback Chris Griesen, who ranked among the league’s elite signal callers for the second consecutive season. Georgia went 14-2 during the regular season last year, then blew out Philadelphia in their first playoff game, but were knocked off at home by the upstart Destroyers in the National Conference Championship Game right here at Phillips Arena. A solid win here should wipe some of the bad taste from that defeat away, and put the Force in position to return to the Arena Bowl for the first time since 2005.
Re: Arena Football playoff previews
The AFL Playoffs: Dogs Have Their Day
by Max Powers
The Wild Card Weekend of the Arena Football Playoffs was completed last week and the underdogs dominated, covering all four games and winning three of them straight-up. The AFL playoffs follow the NFL prototype with six teams in each conference making the playoffs and the top two seeds in each earning a bye. That being said, a major difference is that there are only 17 teams in the AFL compared to 32 teams in the NFL and thus some undeserving teams made it to the playoffs. This includes Arizona hosting a playoff game after a stellar 8-8 season and three, yes three 6-10 teams making it into the big dance as well.
The National Conference proved far superior, as all six teams that made the playoffs had at least a .500 record. The No. 1 seed in the conference was Philadelphia, a team owned by Jon Bon Jovi. They went 13-3 and were the most consistent team from start to finish this season. Dallas finished a close second but since they are in the same division they had to settle for the third seed and were bounced out last weekend in a surprising upset by New York, a team they had beaten six-straight times.
I think only three squads have a chance to win the ArenaBowl, at the end of July in New Orleans. Those three teams would be Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Jose. San Jose won it all last year after making a late charge and they are on pace to do it again in 2008, but they will have to travel to Chicago should the chalk prevail during the divisional round. The Rush won it all in 2006 and appeared to make a big splash in the offseason, signing quarterback Sherdrick Bonner away from Arizona. Bonner is an AFL lifer but he under performed and was quickly shown the bench in favor of Russ Michna, who threw 57 touchdowns and four interceptions. Matt D'Orazio left Chicago to be a back-up QB for Philadelphia, but has played most of the season with the injury to Tony Graziani.
Here is a small sampling of what lies ahead this week:
Saturday, July 5
Colorado at San Jose (3 p.m. ESPN) - If Colorado can make a game of this I would be shocked. They lost by 17 points at San Jose this season and I don't see this one being any different. However, this one will have a big line and back doors happen all the time in the AFL, see Orlando/Cleveland last week.
Saturday, July 5
New York at Philadelphia (7 p.m. ESPN) - The Dragons are on a roll coming off a huge victory in Dallas, in what most experts believe was the only true upset of the opening weekend. They will have their hands full against the Soul, a team that they have already lost to twice this season. What is worse is that both games were blowouts, by 29 and 21 points, respectively. This game will feature another big number but one must be careful when laying that kind of wood against divisional opponents, since these teams are very familiar with one another and it is always hard to beat a team three times in one season.
Sunday, July 6
Grand Rapids at Chicago (3 p.m. ESPN) - The Rampage enter this game on a roll having won three straight but they all came against bad competition and it wouldn't surprise me if their luck runs out on Sunday. That being said, they can light up the scoreboard and that is the best way for success in the AFL. The Rush have been a very consistent team and were only blown out one time in their five losses this season. They have a strong defense and do not beat themselves.
Monday, July 7
Cleveland at Georgia (8:00 p.m. ESPN 2) - This is the game that has no luster but it will likely be the most competitive game of the weekend. Georgia didn't deserve a No. 2 seed, but nonetheless was the third best team in the league and now will face Cleveland, a team that has made a remarkable turnaround since moving from here from Las Vegas. This game will likely feature the lowest number available and if Bernie Kosar and his losing playoff ways do not jinx them, expect the Gladiators to march onto the finals.
I don't see any chance that three of the four visitors emerge victorious in the divisional round of the playoffs, but there is usually one upset in the AFL. This year appears to be a three-horse race and I hope that the chalk does prevail, setting up an ArenaBowl everyone would want to see.