By Anthony Reinhard
“Deep Routes” is a weekly series that will look in-depth at AFL stats and present weekly updates to my AFL model.
We’re now in the final week of the regular season and much of the playoff picture has been revealed. All four spots have been clinched and the final week will only settle seeding.
Albany locked up the top seed last week with a win and will host their playoff game on July 27th. The following weekend they will play at the fourth seed (Baltimore or Washington).
The second seed will go to either the Soul or Valor depending on this weekend’s results. A loss by the Soul and a win by Washington would give the Valor the two seed and an option as to which weekend they would travel to Philadelphia. A win for Philly OR a loss by Washington would keep Philly as the two seed.
Though the Valor could grab the second seed, they could also fall to the fourth seed. A Washington loss and a Baltimore win would drop Washington to fourth place, which would land them in Albany in Week 14. If Washington wins OR Baltimore loses this week in AC, Baltimore will be the one to take on the Empire.
Albany’s Deep Threats
My post last week touched on how often Albany has been able to complete deep passes to Malachi Jones. That trend continued in Columbus on Sunday when Jones hauled in three more deep touchdowns early in the game as the Empire routed Columbus 49-18. With 11:23 left on the clock in the second quarter, Albany had run nine plays and Tommy Grady had connected on four of seven passes for 152 yards and four touchdowns. Grady’s four early touchdowns of 33, 40, 32, and 37 were joined by a 45 yard strike to Sims in late in the third quarter.
In digging through box scores on ArenaFan (available starting in 2000), I found only nine other games where a team connected on five or more passing TDs of 30+ yards. At just 18 minutes and 37 seconds into the game, Albany was the fastest to put four 30+ yard touchdowns on the board. The Orlando Predators actually completed the feat twice on back-to-back weeks during the 2014 season.
Throughout the year, the duo of Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims have had no trouble burning opposing defenses for deep touchdowns. With one week remaining, Jones & Sims have caught 28 touchdowns of 20 yards or more, already the best on record when accounting for length of season.
The Race to Host ArenaBowl XXXII
Albany maintains the best odds of hosting the Arena Bowl. There is a 40% chance that Albany will host Philly in what would be a rematch of their matchup this week. Baltimore still has a chance to host in the event that they nab the third seed and fourth seeded Washington upsets Albany, identical to last season.
Odds of hosting ArenaBowl XXXII:
Albany – 69.2%
Philly – 17.6%
DC – 12.0%
Baltimore – 1.2%
by Bee Jay Glosson
With the playoffs on the line, the battle for the beltway against the Brigade carried more weight than normal in the week 12 matchup in Baltimore. The last time the two squared off we saw a chippy back and forth game and this week would not be any different.
The scoring would start immediately as the Valor would score on a Nelson to Mcneil 8 yd pass. The proverbial little brother would not let the attention go off of them as the Brigade would go on a 9 play drive and score on a 1 yd run by QB Shane Boyd to tie the game at 7. Answering immediately on a 45 yard pass from Nelson to Dangerfield the Valor would take back the lead but, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, miss the extra point to only make the lead 13 to 7.
The Brigade would score on a return of the ensuing kickoff and then tack on another TD with a strike from Boyd to Collins to take a 20-13 lead. Arvell Nelson would add to his league leading rushing TD total with a 6 yd run but again a missed extra point only allowed them to get within 1. After a botched onside kick the Brigade would take over on a short field and would extend that lead back to 7 after a missed extra point of their own. That lead would hold up til halftime as poor clock management would keep the Valor from adding anymore to their first half total.
The third quarter would be all Valor as they would score on a Nelson run and another Nelson pass to McNeil that would give them the lead going into the fourth quarter 33-26.
Then the real fireworks would start. Joe Hills would continue his streak of 103 straight games with a TD reception as he goes up and over the wall to pull in a Boyd pass in the back of the endzone.
As he jumped back over the wall though he would kick a Valor player and get a flag. The flag wasn’t the real story as this situation set off a pushing, shoving and eventual punching match between Brigade and Valor players that would lead to 3 ejections. Joe Hills and Maurice Morgan for the Brigade and Jadar Johnson for the Valor would all get an early shower and end of their night on the field.
The two teams would trade 45 yd pass TDs with Josh Reese for the Valor and Brandon Collins for the Brigade tying the game up at 40 apiece. Josh Reese however was not done as he would add another pass TD from Nelson to give the Valor the final lead of the game 47-40 and the defense would keep the Brigade off the board securing the win on the night for the Valor.
The extra curricular activity would not end on the field as sources reported that security kept the teams apart in the tunnels and then the police were called to the parking lot to break up a fight between multiple parties according to a police scanner app identified the two football teams and others. Until we hear from the league later this week we wont know the circumstances of suspensions or other penalties that may result from all of this.
The Valor now sit in the 3 seed position with one game to go with the possibility of ending up in the 4 seed or the 2 seed depending on the outcome of the final week of the season. With only Albany securing the 1 seed the other 3 seed positions are still open between the Soul, Brigade and the Valor.
Seed position is not the only thing up for grabs in the final week of the regular season as the AFL MVP race is coming to a head.
Arvell Nelson leads the league in total TD’s (65), total yards (2937), total rushing yards (199) and total rushing TD’s (17). Tommy Grady is just behind him with 64 TDs, all of those coming through the air.
While Nelson has thrown 4 more INT’s than Grady, his ability to score on the ground sets him apart from Grady. My MVP vote would go to Nelson as all but 3 Valor TD’s on the year have gone through Nelson making him the teams true MVP.
Next week is the final regular season home game for the Valor as they face off against the Columbus Destroyers at 3:30 pm on Saturday July 20th. With so many things on the line in the final week, it should be one of the most entertaining times in this already action packed year. As always, be loud, be proud and Go Valor.
Week 12 is here and there are two matchups to preview. Albany travels to Columbus to take on the Destroyers, looking for the number one seed. Washington travels to Baltimore to try and clinch the final playoff spot. There’s still plenty to play for this weekend.
Albany is coming off of a rare loss in this matchup against Columbus. The Empire have had an extra week to prepare for the Destroyers, and are focused on one goal: The number one seed. Albany is as explosive as ever offensively but suffered many injuries to the secondary in the loss to Philadelphia two weeks ago. The severity of those injuries may have some impact on this game.
Columbus was embarrassed the last time they took the field. Quarterback Grant Russell was intercepted four times and sacked twice. Overall, the Destroyers turned the ball over six times. Columbus also surrendered two defensive touchdowns and one special teams touchdown in the loss to Baltimore. It was a rock-bottom moment.
Player to Watch: Wide Receiver Malachi Jones, Albany Empire. Setting the AFL ablaze this season, Jones leads the league in receptions, yards, and yards per game. He is second in the league in receiving touchdowns, trailing teammate Quentin Sims by three scores (24 to 21). Jones is also fantasy gold, according to Draft Kings.
Prediction: Empire, and it’s not even close. Albany 52, Columbus 26.
Seeding and a playoff spot are on the line in this matchup. Washington needs one win to clinch the final spot, and a win over Baltimore benefits the Valor’s seeding hopes. The teams have played twice so far this season, with each team winning once. The teams are only one game apart in the standings, so a tie is a likely outcome. The winner of this matchup will hold the tiebreaker advantage.
Washington lost a close game last weekend to Atlantic City, opening up a playoffs version of Pandora’s box. Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson has struggled lately, throwing three interceptions in the loss to Atlantic City. Nelson is a bit of a statistical mystery this year. He leads the league in completions and pass attempts, but is last in completion percentage. Nelson is second in touchdown passes but is also second in interceptions. For the Valor to make the playoffs and repeat as champions, Nelson must find some consistency.
Baltimore is breathing a collective sigh of relief after Atlantic City was defeated by Philadelphia last week. The Blackjack loss propelled the Brigade into the playoffs. Baltimore can still climb as high as the number 2 seed in the playoffs, so don’t expect the Brigade to take any games off heading into postseason play. Having the higher seeding in the first round could be critical for the Brigade to advance to the Arena Bowl.
Player to Watch: Defensive Back Josh Victorian, Baltimore. Victorian intercepted two passes in the matchup vs. Columbus two weeks ago. Victorian returned one of those two for a touchdown. With Valor QB Arvell Nelson struggling over the last few weeks, Victorian could have a big day in the secondary. Baltimore is second in the league with 13 interceptions. As mentioned earlier, Nelson is second in the league in interceptions thrown.
Prediction: Baltimore wins a wild one, 56-52.
Here are the staff picks for this week:
by Anthony Reinhard
“Deep Routes” is a weekly series that will look in-depth at AFL stats and present weekly updates to my AFL model. In my second post, I’ll take a look at the playoff picture and show the leaders in targets so far this season.
Baltimore will be headed to the playoffs after AC was knocked off at home by the Soul last week. The Valor are now a near lock to take the final playoff spot, as they will clinch this week with either a win against Baltimore or an Albany win against Columbus. I have Albany as a 15.5pt favorite and Washington as nearly a six point underdog on the road.
With the playoff teams nearly set and only five total games left in the regular season, I thought I’d break down all four possible matchup combinations, from the least likely to the most likely based on my simulation. I’m going to mostly ignore seeding here, as the first round of the playoffs will be a pair of home & home games.
PHI/AC & ALB/BAL (0.6%)
This is Atlantic City’s only chance to crash the playoff party and they’ll need quite a bit of help. The Blackjacks are on a bye this week, but will need Columbus to pull off a big upset over Albany and Baltimore will have to beat Washington. If both Week 12 games work out for AC, they’ll still have a tough Week 13 slate. Obviously they’ll need a win over Baltimore, but before that they will also need Columbus to pull off a second consecutive upset (this time over the Valor) and Philly to earn another win over the Empire in the two Saturday games.
PHI/ALB & BAL/DC (2.9%)
In order to see a matchup of the league’s top two teams in round one, we’ll need the same Week 12 results as our first combination (Columbus & Baltimore both win). Week 13 would require another Soul upset over Albany and then an Atlantic City loss to Baltimore. Baltimore (8-4) would win the three-team tiebreaker over the Soul and Empire, vaulting them to the top seed and forcing the remaining two to play for the fourth and fifth times this season.
ALB/BAL & PHI/DC (31.2%)
There are a couple ways to end up with this set of matchups. The least likely involves the Soul snatching the top seed as Albany loses out and Washington and Baltimore both split their final two games.
The remaining possibilities here have the Empire as top seed and Washington scraping out the second or third seed. For that to happen, Washington must beat Baltimore this week. Washington will then need another win over Columbus or a Baltimore loss in Week 13, coupled with at least one Albany win in Week 12 or 13.
ALB/DC & PHI/BAL (65.3%)
The most likely combination of our four falls in line with the current standings and will hold just as long as Baltimore and Albany both win one of their last two and Washington loses one of their last two. This combination could be locked in as soon as this week with wins by Baltimore and Albany.
We could also see this setup if Albany drops their final two and either Washington wins out or Baltimore loses out. This would push the Soul to the top seed where they would face the Brigade.
One of the most useful fantasy football stats is targets. While the AFL does not aggregate these anywhere officially, they do exist in play-by-play logs. Here is what I found when I went digging:
One of the first things that jumped out to me is how Washington is using their receivers. Perhaps those who have watched more Valor games may already be aware of how much they favor Reggie Gray near the goal line. Gray has been in the league for nine years and has over 10,000 yards receiving, but I’m still a little surprised at how often they send it his way around the end zone at just 5’9/175 lbs. McNeil at 6’3 is a big target and leads the league in proportion of targets inside the 10.
Malachi Jones leads the league in catches, targets, and yards through the air, but has only 12 targets inside the 10 yard line on the season. Part of this is that Albany typically scores before they reach the 10 yard line. The Empire average just 4.2 passes inside the 10 per game, compared to AC who lead the league with 7.4 per game.
Jones is a big part of the Empire scoring early. His average touchdown catch this year is nearly 24 yards and he has already piled up 23 catches of 20+ yards. In Joe Hills’ 2016 season where he averaged 10/126/3.6, he hauled in only 28 such passes over 16 games. Jones skills as a deep threat are making him easily the league’s top wideout.
By Richard Martin
If you’ve been watching Arena Football for awhile, you understand that there have been plenty of high scoring games in the league’s history. Last week, I talked about the highest scoring game in AFL history, the bounty for video still holds strong by the way, and the Albany Empire and Atlantic City Blackjacks combined for 124 points.
This week, the Blackjacks continued their strong offensive output, dropping 70 points in the nation’s capital in a strong 70-21 win over the Washington Valor.
The last time an Arena Football team scored at least 60 points in back to back weeks was in 2017, when the Philadelphia Soul defeated the Cleveland Gladiators 69-67 on May 6 and then beat the Baltimore Brigade 61-56 on May 13.
The main reason for the fireworks in Atlantic City can be attributed to a Quarterback change. Randy Hippeard, a star AFL QB, had not quite performed up to his potential this season, with 1602 yards, 29 touchdowns and five interceptions so far. While this sounds, and still is, very impressive, Hippeard tossed 61 touchdowns last season in Baltimore.
Insert Warren Smith. Smith was on the Washington Valor’s roster for the past two seasons after playing for the Spokane Shock in 2015. He was mostly used as a backup, but still had a combined 15 touchdowns and 677 yards in two seasons.
After a rough week eight relief effort against Philadelphia, going 16-for-31 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, Smith has impressed the past two weeks going a combined 46-for-62, with 538 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
Warren Smith has brought some excitement into the AC, but more importantly, he’s gotten the Blackjacks back into playoff contention. With just two games left, the Blackjacks could shock the league and make a deep run in their first season.
Soul Train Comin’ Through
The Philadelphia Soul have been a stalwart in the Arena Football League for the past 10 seasons. With their 54-43 win over the first place Empire, the Soul clinched the playoffs for the eighth straight season, and now have an outside shot at first place.
Washington needs just one win to clinch a playoff bid, while Atlantic City and Baltimore are battling for the last spot. You can read more in David Taylor’s Playoff Scenarios.
Standings (As of June 29, 2019)
Albany Empire 8-2
Philadelphia Soul 6-4
Baltimore Brigade 6-4
Washington Valor 5-5
Atlantic City BlackJacks 4-6
Z – Columbus Destroyers 1-9
Clinched Playoff Berth
Z = Eliminated from Playoff Contention
Week 10 Results:
Baltimore 50 Columbus 12
Philadelphia 54 Albany 43
Atlantic City 70 Washington 41
Can’t Sink This Battleship
It’s been a rough season for the Columbus Destroyers, especially for their offense.
The Destroyers rank last in the AFL in touchdowns, points, and have scored just 32 points per game, currently 15th worst all time in Arena Football League history.
Quarterback play has struggled as well, with Columbus ranking last in passing yards , passing touchdowns and have thrown the most picks, 16, and have been sacked the most, 25 times.
This week was another tough week for the Destroyers offense, as they would trail 21-12 at halftime in Baltimore. The offense wouldn’t score again, falling to the Brigade 50-12.
The funny thing is, Columbus finished with more yards of offense than Baltimore, with 200 compared to just 145 for the Brigade. However, the swarming Baltimore defense forced six turnovers, returning a fumble and an interception for a touchdown, and a safety. The Brigade also had four sacks and on special teams, Joe Powell returned a kickoff 57 yards to the house.
The 12 points scored by Columbus is the 8th least amount of points scored by an away team in AFL history.
The Brigade defense now leads the AFL in forced and recovered fumbles, sacks and tackles for loss. They also rank second in interceptions. The Brigade still have some work to get into the playoffs, but this defense could help them make a run to the ArenaBowl.
League Lookback: The Lone Shutout in AFL History
Teams have done worse on offense than the Destroyers did this week.
The Denver Dynamite beat the Detroit Drive 15-14 in 1989. The Sacramento Attack lost 51-3 to the Charlotte Rage in 1992. Recently, in 2014, the New Orleans VooDoo lost 54-13 to the Jacksonville Sharks.
But only one team has been shut out in the entire history of the Arena Football League.
On June 13, 1992, the San Antonio Force fell to the Orlando Predators 50-0 in Orlando, Florida. In an 2012 article by Richard Oliver on mysanantonio.com, David Caldwell, the first ever draft pick in San Antonio history, said that the Force had a “full-contact, two-hour practice a day before the game…got dressed, got on the plane and our legs were dead.
The team apparently left for Orlando at 4 am local time the day of the game, were stuck in Atlanta for a layover, and made it to the arena in time for a pregame meal. By the way, this was also an expansion team against a Predators squad that would go 9-1 and make the ArenaBowl.
The Predators would take a 33-0 lead at halftime and never look back.
The closest a team has been to being shut out in the modern area of Arena Football was in 2007 when the New York Dragons scored a touchdown with 11:38 left in the game to avoid a shut out in a 60-7 loss to the Dallas Desperados in Week One.
We’ll probably never see another shut out in AFL history, but it is interesting to look back at the lone shut out and how the game has changed.
Game of the Week: Philadelphia at Atlantic City
The Arena Football League must be going out of town for Independence Day, as there is just one game this week.
Philadelphia is set as they clinched their playoff spot with a huge win over Albany. Atlantic City has found themselves back in the playoff race with just two games left.
Dan Raudabaugh has gotten back in his groove, and Warren Smith has become an interesting story late in the season.
With the two cities just 61 miles away from each other, playoff spots on the line, and two phenomenal quarterbacks, the fireworks show could continue Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.