by: David Taylor
After week 10, there are as many questions as there are answers for the 2019 Arena Football League Playoffs. Teams faltered. One team punched its ticket to the postseason, and a dark horse is rising in Atlantic City. According to the official AFL tiebreaker procedures, here is an updated look at the AFL playoff picture:
Albany Empire: (8-2)
Playoffs: Clinched. After being upset in Philadelphia over the weekend, Albany still is in control of its own destiny. The Empire is only one win away from clinching the number one seed in the playoffs. Albany has a bye week this weekend, giving head coach Rob Keefe an extra week to prepare for the 1-9 Columbus Destroyers.
7/14 @ Columbus Destroyers
7/20 vs. Philadelphia Soul
Philadelphia Soul (6-4)
Playoffs: Clinched. The Soul rose to the challenge over the weekend, defeating Albany convincingly at the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia suddenly has an outside shot at the number one seed in the playoffs. The Soul needs to win out and need for Albany to lose to Columbus to clinch the number one seed.
7/6 @ Atlantic City
7/20 @ Albany
Baltimore Brigade (6-4)
Playoffs: Baltimore is so very close to the playoffs. An Atlantic City loss this weekend will put the Brigade in. However, Baltimore loses the tiebreaker to Atlantic in head-to-head, and loses the strength of schedule tiebreaker to Washington, so if the Brigade, Valor, and Blackjacks all end up with 6-6 records, Baltimore will be the odd team out. With games against both Washington and Atlantic City coming up, Baltimore could end up as high as the two seed, or could find themselves out of the playoffs.
7/13 vs. Washington
7/21@ Atlantic City
Washington Valor (5-5)
Playoffs: Washington still needs just one win to get into the postseason. The loss to Atlantic City was an eye-opening one, as Arvell Nelson was picked off multiple times. The loss also gives Atlantic City the head to head advantage based on total points scored, but Washington holds the strength of schedule tiebreaker at the moment. Valor oponents are a combined 57-43, while Atlantic City opponents are 51-48. Adding in the records of opponents over the next two weeks, however, makes things very interesting. Washington and Atlantic City’s opponents (including the record of teams in the next two unplayed games) is identical, 64-56.
7/20 vs. Columbus
Atlantic City (4-6)
Playoffs: The Blackjacks put up huge numbers over the weekend, defeating Washington 70-41. Atlantic City can get into the playoffs in a few ways: One, win out. Finishing 6-6 and having Baltimore also finish 6-6 will get AC into the playoffs, due to Atlantic City owning the head to head tiebreaker advantage. Two, Finish 5-7 and have Washington also finish 5-7, which will depend on how some other games go, but Atlantic City could get in based on an identical win loss record of opposing teams in the strength of schedule category. This would put the tiebreaker down to point differential in head to head games, which would give Atlantic City an edge over Washington. Three, win out, and have Washington finish 5-7. Atlantic City plays Philadelphia in the only scheduled game over the weekend, meaning all eyes will be on the Blackjacks this weekend.
7/6 vs. Philadelphia
7/21 vs. Baltimore
Columbus is eliminated, but can still affect the playoffs in a significant manner. However, the Destroyers put up only 12 points last weekend, which won’t beat anyone. Columbus has a bye week this weekend. The season finale vs. Washington is the game with the highest stakes.
7/14 vs. Albany
7/20 @ Washington
With only two games to go for each team, so much is still up for grabs. That is just one of the things that makes the AFL so special. Each game is must-watch television for Arena fans, so make sure to tune in on ESPN 3!
Atlantic City came into town with their backup QB starting, riding a 3 game losing streak and on the outside looking in for the playoff race. Washington came into the game needing a win to secure their playoff spot. Two opposing forces met on the field and a dynamic result is what we got.
The prodigal son returns, Warren Smith Jr. comes back to D.C. as the opposing QB starting against his old team and he would not disappoint. Lots of streaks would come to an end on this night and D.C. would be on the wrong end of all them.
3 game losing streak for A.C. snapped. Blackjack defense gives up points on every drive of the year snapped as they stop the Valor offense on multiple occasions on the night. Washington defense holding opponents to less than 70? Yeah that streak is gone too.
After the first half, which was a horse race of its own, we would see the game score at 35 to 28 with Atlantic City holding the lead and the Valor getting the second half kickoff with a chance to tie it up. Only that didn’t happen. What did happen though was the Warren Smith Jr. show and man was it a show.
Last year Smith played QB for the Valor and lost his starting job to current Valor QB Arvell Nelson, but still went on to win a ring with the team in the ArenaBowl last year. I have been a fan of Smith for a long time and it pains me as a Valor fan to see him have the night he did, but also I am very happy for him getting the recognition and love he deserves in this 3 game stretch, 2 of which were starts.
Smith lit up the Valor defense, going 22 of 28 on passing for 209 yards and 5 TDs with no INTs and he even did it on the ground adding 2 more TDs and 15 yards rushing. While Smith was doing Smith things, Nelson and the Valor would fold in on themselves and watch their playoff hopes take a serious hit. Nelson would throw 3 interceptions and the Valor defense would give up 70 points for the first time this year.
With the final score being 70 to 41, and the Blackjacks taking the win home with them, the .500 Valor have to find a way to rebound and get a win against their beltway rivals after their bye week. After the game there was some serious bad air around the Valor locker room. While waiting for post game interviews, I heard many not safe for work words, they may have not been safe for anywhere. Coach Benji McDowell, who is usually stone-faced and quiet in his demeanor, was loud and outgoing with his resulting anger over the Valor play on the night.
When asked, Valor WR Epps said ” We didn’t pay attention to the film the way we should have, we expected to be given a win and it didn’t happen that way.” Usually the coach is the first to give the media an interview but he would be the last on this night as he would have to walk off the anger he had after the slap in the face that the Blackjacks gave the Valor on their own home floor.
Sitting at 5-5 on the season, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Valor. Up next is a road game to Royal Farms Arena to face their beltway rivals, the Baltimore Brigade. It is a must win if the Valor want to control their own fate in the playoff race. Don’t despair Valor Nation as it was a bad game, but it was just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
Arvell Nelson’s MVP hopes took a massive hit with this game throwing 3 INTs, but he still sits in 2nd with total TDs and leads the league in rushing yards and rushing TDs. Can the Valor rebound and get a win in Baltimore? Can they punch their playoff ticket without outside help? These are questions that will have to be answered in the coming weeks after the bye week. As always, be loud, be proud and be a Valor fan. Cheer on my friends!
By: David Taylor
Week 10 is here and things are heating up! The playoff teams could be set after this weekend, making making each game a must-win for one or both of the teams involved. Here is what is happening this week:
Albany comes into this contest on the heels of their highest scoring output this season. The Empire edged out Atlantic City 63-61. The Soul are also coming off of a big win, making this matchup even more interesting. If Philadelphia wins, the Soul clinch a playoff spot. If Albany wins, the Empire clinch the top seed in the playoffs. Much is at stake. In the previous matchup, Albany defeated Philadelphia at home, 57-48. In that matchup, WR Lonnie Outlaw recorded three touchdown receptions. Look for the Soul to target him again this weekend.
Player to Watch: WR BJ Bunn, Philadelphia Soul. Bunn has stepped in nicely for the injured Aaron Wascha. Bunn’s reception totals have increased in each of the past three weeks, and he topped 100 yards receiving in the win against Columbus.
Prediction: Albany wins in a shootout, 63-56.
Well hello to Mr. Warren Smith, Jr.! Smith stepped in for an injured Randy Hippeard last week and lit up the Empire defense. Smith went 24-34 with 329 yards and 7 touchdowns. If he can match that output this weekend, Atlantic City will defeat Washington. Speaking of Washington, the Valor need just one more win to clinch a playoff spot. With the log jam in the middle for spots 2-4, Washington can ill afford to lose to Atlantic City. Playoff seeding is also on the line, and the Valor are eager to sew up that second place spot. It will be a close game, especially since a loss will effectively end the playoff chances for Atlantic City. Expect a high energy game with so much on the line.
Player to Watch: QB Warren Smith, Jr. Atlantic City Blackjacks. Smith is the key to victory for Atlantic City. His incredible numbers last week make Atlantic City extremely unpredictable and dangerous for the rest of the season. After leading Atlantic City to its highest point total of the season last weekend, against the best team in the league no less, it would be criminal to not let Smith start again this week.
Prediction: Atlantic City turns the tables on Washington. Blackjacks 56, Valor 55.
Columbus has been eliminated from the playoffs, so the Destroyers get to play the role of spoiler for the rest of the season. Columbus plays Baltimore and Washington in two of the last three weeks. Wins over both of them would almost certainly impact the playoffs. A win for Baltimore sets up a nice playoff run for the Brigade. If Baltimore wins out, the Brigade will likely be the 2 seed in the playoffs. Needless to say, Baltimore is not looking past Columbus this weekend.
Player to Watch: WR Brandon Collins, Baltimore Brigade. Everyone is well aware of the touchdown streak for Joe Hills, but Collins is the leading receiver for the Brigade. Collins leads the team in yards per catch and in total yards. He trails Hills only in touchdowns.
Prediction: Columbus destroys the playoff party for Baltimore. Destroyers 44, Brigade 38.
Here are the staff picks for this week:
by David Taylor
Football is a game where you have to have a short memory. If you dwell too much on past mistakes, (a loss, an interception, a dropped pass), or get too comfortable during a win streak, teams can get stuck in a hole they can’t crawl out of.
The Albany Empire looked like they were in too deep after the first 33:32 of their game against the Washington Valor. The Valor had a chance to break the game, and the league, wide open, before back to back fumbles lead to the lead being cut to just six points headed to the fourth.
With the ball on the Empire four yard line, and a one possession lead, the Valor chose not to go for the field goal and go for the touchdown, leading to an interception and giving Tommy Grady and Albany the ball back with 1:04 left.
The Empire would score with 12 seconds left, thanks to an amazing pass from Grady to Quentin Sims on fourth down. An Empire pick would end the game, and give Albany the 56-55 win.
Albany scored 42 points in the second half, the most since July 7, 2018 when the Philadelphia Soul scored 43 points in a 71-57 loss to, strangely enough, the Albany Empire.
Unfortunately for the Valor, they go down in the record books as the team who blew the third largest lead in AFL history, as they lead by 27 points at one point in the game. The largest blown deficit was when the Pittsburgh Power overcame a 31 point deficit to knock of the Orlando Predators in 2012.
With the win, Albany becomes the first team to clinch one of the four AFL playoff spots. The Baltimore Brigade sit two games back in second and are the AFL’s hottest team after two huge wins over Albany and Columbus. The Valor and Soul are currently just a game back, both 4-4, while Atlantic City is just one spot out of the playoffs at 3-5. Columbus sits in last place at 1-7 but with four games left in the regular season, the Destroyers still have an outside chance
Standings (As of June 16, 2019)
Albany Empire 7-1
Baltimore Brigade 5-3
Washington Valor 4-4
Philadelphia Soul 4-4
Atlantic City Blackjacks 3-5
Columbus Destroyers 1-7
Bold = Clinched Playoff Berth
Week Eight Results:
Baltimore 44 Columbus 39
Albany 56 Washington 55
Philadelphia 54 Atlantic City 29
Joe Hills Makes History
In what would’ve been the lead story this weekend in the AFL if it wasn’t for the Empire’s epic come back, Joe Hills made not just AFL history, but football history.
With 3:23 left in the first quarter in Columbus, Hills caught an 11 yard pass from Shane Boyd, giving him his 100th straight game with a touchdown reception.
Hills had already broken the league record when he played for the Tampa Bay Storm, catching a pass in his 79th straight game in 2017 against, oddly enough, the Baltimore Brigade.
To truly appreciate Hills record, the NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown reception is 13 by hall of famer Jerry Rice.
Joe Hills doesn’t look to be done this season. He’s tied for third in the AFL with 17 touchdown receptions, and now ranks eighth all time with 276 receiving touchdowns.
League Lookback: The Largest Come Back In AFL History
On April 14, 2012, the Pittsburgh Power took on the Orlando Predators in an early season clash. The Predators were sitting at 0-4, looking for their first win.
And for 38:25 of game time, it looked like they would, as the Preds would pull away for a 48-17 lead.
The Power would go on a 34-3 run, including a touchdown catch by Randy Hymes with 37 seconds left to tied the game at 51.
In overtime, Orlando would get another field goal, but Christian Wise would catch his only pass of the game, a 19 yard reception for the game winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Power in the largest come from behind win in AFL history.
The loss would give the Predators their first ever 0-5 start in team history. Orlando would finish 4-14, while Pittsburgh would finish 5-13 with two wins over the Predators.
Game of the Week: Baltimore at Washington
I’m going to bookend this week’s Stat Pack with how I started, you have to have a short memory in football.
Washington will need a short memory to rebound this week after such a heartbreaking loss. Baltimore will need a short memory to continue their winning streak.
The key payer this week is the Valor QB Arvell Nelson. Nelson went 23-for-34 with 262 yards and six touchdowns but threw two interceptions in the last two minutes of the game.
He’ll be facing a tough Brigade defense that tallied four sacks last week against Columbus. Darryl-Cato Bishop has made a case for Defensive Player of the Year this season, as the former NC State Wolfpack defender has four sacks, four and a half tackles for loss and has forced two fumbles.
Dezmon Epps will need to be a factor as he had four receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown last week.
This Week’s Games
June 20, 2019
Baltimore Brigade (5-3) @ Washington Valor (4-4) — 7:00 PM
June 22, 2019
Atlantic City BlackJacks (3-5) @ Albany Empire (7-1) — 3:30 PM
Philadelphia Soul (4-4) @ Columbus Destroyers (1-7) — 7:00 PM