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Let’s Talk About: How Albany Won ArenaBowl 32, and An Insight On Expansion Rumors

For the first time in two decades, an ArenaBowl Championship is coming back to the city of Albany! In this championship recap, Zach takes a look at the plays that pushedthe Empire over the edge against the red hot Philadelphia Soul. 

He also touches on the future of the league’s expansion for 2020, and where he’d like to see them plant their flag versus what analytics claims to be the top spots. 

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AFL Week 13 Preview and Picks

By: David Taylor

It is the final weekend of the regular season! This will be the last weekend all six AFL teams take the field. It has been an exciting regular season, and this final weekend will keep that excitement high, as the final playoff seedings will be determined. The AFL released all the possible scenarios for the playoffs. Here is a link to that.  Now, here is a look at what is happening in this week’s games:

For Philadelphia, the stakes for this game are simple: Win and secure the two seed. Lose, and end up as the potentially the three seed. Philly would obviously prefer the two, and is red hot right now.  Albany finds itself with a chance to do some fine tuning for the playoff run, which could result in some players not playing the entire game. That is a bit of a nightmare from a fantasy standpoint, as many of the Empire players are huge contributors to many DraftKings lineups out there.

Player to Watch: WR Darius Prince, Philadelphia Soul. Prince has caught at least six passes in each of the last four games, scoring seven touchdowns. Philadelphia is 4-0 in those games. The Soul is playing its best football at just the right time, and Prince is a huge part of that. 

Prediction: Philly rolls into the playoffs on a five game winning streak. Soul 54, Empire 48

Washington has a chance to also be the number 2 seed in the playoffs, and they are facing a 1-10 Columbus team that lost its quarterback for the season. Grant Russell was injured early in the Albany game last weekend. Bad news for one team is usually good news for the other, and that is the case here for Washington. The Valor played very well last weekend against rival Baltimore, and will likely win this matchup against Columbus with relative ease, unless the backup QB is some kind of a ringer.

Player to Watch: WR Josh Reese, Washington Valor. Reese hauled in two touchdown passes and topped 100 yards last weekend. Quarterback Arvell Nelson spread the ball around a lot, but Reese was Nelson’s big play target. Expect another big game this weekend. 

Prediction: Valor 43, Destroyers 31

Injuries and suspensions have tainted the anticipation level of this matchup. Atlantic City will likely be starting third string quarterback EJ Nemeth this week. Add that to WR Joe Hills being suspended, and there is definitely some star power missing. This also makes this matchup difficult to predict. Still, a win for Baltimore puts them in the running for the three seed. 

Player to Watch: WR Brandon Collins, Baltimore Brigade. Collins became the first player in Brigade history to top 2,000 career receiving yards in last weekend’s matchup against Washington. With Hills suspended, look for Collins to receive the lion’s share of passes this weekend. 

Prediction: Brigade 42, Blackjacks 35

Here are the staff picks for this week: 

Warren Smith Jr. “Jacks” the Valor

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!

Stat Pack Attack: The Valor Keep Playing Stupid Games and I Love It

by Richard Martin

Richard Martin

This week was another wild week in the Arena Football League. Philadelphia gave Columbus another heartbreaking loss, Albany and Atlantic City broke the scoreboard, more on that later, and Washington and Baltimore may have had the dumbest and craziest ending to a football game I’ve seen in a while.

Last Thursday, tied at 35, the Valor went for a field goal with under 20 seconds left to give them a narrow three point lead over the Brigade. The kick was up…and missed off the irons! But Josh Reese was composed enough to pick up the live ball and scramble into the endzone for one of the craziest wins in the Valor’s short history.

Add in the come from behind win against Columbus earlier in the year, this is a Washington team that understands the importance of finishing the drill and continuing to play hard no matter the score, which could make them dangerous come playoff time.

Week 9 Results
Washington 42 Baltimore 35
Albany 63 Atlantic City 61
Philadelphia 42 Columbus 35

Almost Conquered

The Albany Empire have been the unstoppable force in the AFL this season. With one loss and just three games left, the Empire can claim the number one overall seed with a win this week. Meanwhile, spots two through four all have teams sitting at a 5-4 record. Atlantic City sits two games out of the final playoff spot at 3-6, and Columbus is in last at 1-8.

Standings (As of June 22, 2019)

Albany*                    8-1
Washington             5-4
Philadelphia             5-4
Baltimore                 5-4
———————————-
Atlantic City             3-6
Columbus                1-8

*Clinched a Playoff Berth

Run It Up

No, that Albany-Atlantic City score is not a typo. The Blackjacks and Empire did combine for 124 points last week.

Warren Smith finished 24-for-34 for 329 yards and seven touchdowns for Atlantic City, while Tommy Grady wen 18-for-27 for 229 and seven touchdowns for Albany.

And while Malachi Jones continued his stellar season with nine receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns, teammate Quentin Sims was the hot target, with seven receptions for 91 yards and five touchdowns.

Kendrick Ings struggled for A.C. with just two catches for 20 yards, but Antwane Grant went off with 11 receptions for 177 yards and four touchdowns.

While these stats and the final score is impressive, the 124 combined points isn’t even in the top 15 of most combined points in AFL history. That distinction belongs to the game in this week’s League Lookback.

League Lookback: The Highest Scoring Game in AFL History

The Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings and Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz were two teams left over from the af2 that found themselves in the new AFL in 2010. While each team would relocate after one season and were just a blip on the radar in the entire history of the Arena Football League, they gave us a night to remember on May 8, 2010.

That night, at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 4,775 fans saw the Yard Dawgz come from behind to knock off the Battle Wings 88-79. This was not a basketball game folks. This was an arena football game.

For a while, it looked like the Wings were going to run away with it, up 33-14 after the first quarter. But the Dawgz defense stepped up and Bossier-Shreveport didn’t score more than 20 points in any of the remaining three quarters of football.

OKC would take their first lead of the game with 4:02 left in the third quarter, but the Battle Wings would take it right back. Things looked dire for the Yard Dawgz as they trailed 79-75 with under 10 seconds left. But Timon Marshall would return a missed field goal 56 yards to give OKC the lead with four seconds left on the clock. Add in a David Hyland fumble return for a touchdown, and the Yard Dawgz would win the game 88-79.

The losing QB was Ray Philyaw, who on any other night would’ve had an MVP performance, going 29-for-38 for 355 yards and nine touchdowns. The winning QB was, who else, Tommy Grady, who went 34-for-42 with an astonishing 430 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Four receivers went for over 100 yards and caught at least four touchdowns. PJ Berry lead the Wings with 12 receptions for 173 yards and four TDs, while OKC was lead by Anthony Hines who finished with 11 receptions for 137 yards and four scores of his own.

Folks, I need to watch this game. The only video online I could find was one of Al Hunt’s four touchdown grabs. If anyone has any video, digital, DVD, heck even VCR tape of this game, contact AFL Fan Zone however you can because this game needs to be revisited and documented.

Game of the Week: Albany Empire at Philadelphia Soul

We’re getting to the point of the season where every game is important, but this one has an edge to it.

The Soul have been very up and down this season, at one point finding themselves under .500 for the first time in four years. This team is still dangerous, as they’ve rattled off two straight impressive wins over the lower half of the league.

The Empire will always be a tough team with Malachi Jones and Tommy Grady leading the offense. But after the way the defense has played the past few weeks, Dan Raudabaugh may be looking to show that he’s still one of the top QBs in the AFL.

This Week’s Games

June 28, 2019
Columbus Destroyers (1-8) @ Baltimore Brigade (5-4) – 7:00 PM

June 29, 2019
Albany Empire (8-1) @ Philadelphia Soul (5-4) – 3:30 PM
Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-6) @ Washington Valor (5-4) – 7:00 PM

2019 AFL Playoff Scenarios

Photo by David Taylor

by David Taylor

Week 10 is coming soon! This weekend could potentially set the playoffs for this season. Only one postseason ticket has been punched, so there are three more up for grabs. Here are some playoff scenarios to sift through. 

Albany Empire: (8-1) 

Playoffs: Clinched. Albany is now playing for the #1 seed in the playoffs. A win this weekend will lock that up for the Empire. One thing to watch for with Albany is whether or not the Empire will rest some of its players down the stretch, which could impact playoff seeding. 

Upcoming Games:
6/28 @ Philadelphia Soul
7/14 @Columbus Destroyers
7/20 vs. Philadelphia Soul

Washington Valor (5-4)

Playoffs: Washington needs just one win to clinch a playoff spot. The defending AFL champs are in a prime position to clinch the #2 spot with two more wins. Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over Philadelphia and can take the tiebreaker over Baltimore next weekend. Defeating Atlantic City this weekend would all but eliminate the Blackjacks from the postseason. 

Upcoming Games:
6/29 vs. Atlantic City
7/13 @Baltimore
7/20 vs. Columbus

Baltimore Brigade (5-4) 

Playoffs: Baltimore gets in with a win and an Atlantic City loss. Atlantic City owns the tiebreaker in the head to head category, so if the two teams finish with identical records, Baltimore would likely miss the postseason. Baltimore does own the tiebreaker against Philadelphia, based on points scored in head to head matchups, so that could become a seeding issue in the weeks to come. 

Upcoming Games: 
6/28 vs. Columbus
7/13 vs. Washington
7/21@ Atlantic City

Philadelphia Soul (5-4)

Playoffs: Philadelphia has the most difficult schedule of all the teams on the playoff bubble. The Soul play Albany twice (home and away) and also travel to Atlantic City. Philadelphia clinches a postseason spot with a win this weekend. A win over Albany this weekend would also give the Soul confidence heading into the postseason, since the Empire have only lost one game all season. 

Upcoming Games:
6/28 vs. Albany
7/6 @ Atlantic City
7/20 @ Albany

Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-6)

Atlantic City is the team in the most danger right now. The Blackjacks need to win out to get a playoff spot ideally. There is a small chance they can sneak in at 5-7, but that will require a lot of other chips to fall Atlantic City’s way. If Atlantic City finishes 6-6, it will likely mean that either Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington will be 5-7, which would vault the Blackjacks to the postseason in their inaugural season. Two of the last three games are in Atlantic City, and all three of the Blackjacks’ wins have been home wins. 

Upcoming Games:
6/29 @ Washington
7/6 vs. Philadelphia
7/21 vs. Baltimore

Columbus Destroyers (1-8)

Columbus has been eliminated from the playoffs. The Destroyers can still play spoiler though, and they are a team that is much better than their record indicates. Wins over Washington and Baltimore in the coming weeks would undoubtedly affect the playoffs.

Upcoming Games:
6/28 @ Baltimore
7/14 vs. Albany
7/20 @ Washington

This weekend promises some of the most dramatic moments of the season so far! Tune in to ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app to catch all of the Arena Football League action.

Battle of the Beltway

by Bee Jay Glosson

Here we are, two-thirds of the season in the books and the battle for second place in the league gives us two familiar teams battling it out. The Brigade and Valor are owned by the same group and might as well be brothers in the grand scheme of things. They certainly act like it when they play each other with lots of back and forth banter and some of the most aggressive play from both. Some say they are rivals because of proximity as Baltimore is only an hours ride from D.C., others because they have played each other more than any other teams in the league. The players see themselves as rivals just as much as anyone and it shows on the field.

When you play your brother in anything you never want to lose, ever, so when you do lose, you know there will always be sour grapes in the bunch about it. This game would be no different except this time the game winning touchdown would come in a very different type of way. As I said earlier, these two teams know each other very well, so there are no niceties and well wishes, there are just hard hits and trash talking immediately.

Starting the game off the Brigade would defer and give the Valor the ball first, and in return the Valor would show them what that would cost them. Arvell Nelson would help drive his team down the field and then find “Big Play” Reggie Gray for a TD halfway through the first quarter. The Brigade would not go quietly into the night however, as Joe Hills would break his own record and extend his 100 game streak with a touchdown to 101 to bring them even at the end of the quarter.

Back and forth they would go til the end as the the proverbial brothers would move to beat the other. With 2 TD’s on the ground by Nelson for the Valor and another TD for Hills and a kickoff return by Joe Powell for the Brigade we would see this game go into the half tied at 21.

Pulling even at the half would not be as simple as scoring a touchdown though as the Valor had the last possession of the half and would make it a memorable one. With just over a minute left the Valor would score, or would they? A defensive penalty on the scoring play would allow the Valor to take their own points off the board in exchange for a new set of downs. Take points off the board? No way, never, nope, not gonna do it, but they did. With the crazy move though, the Valor would take the clock to 0 and score before the half to tie the game not allowing the Brigade a chance to hurt them again.

The second half would be the same as the first really, back and forth and then a crazy play to end it. With another 2 touchdowns on the ground for Nelson and the Valor, combined with 2 touchdown passes by Shane Boyd and the Brigade, we would find ourselves tied at 35 with less than 5 minutes to go in the game. Tie you say? No brotherly affair can be tied at the end and this one would not be any different.

With under 30 seconds left to go in the game, the Valor would go for a potential game winning field goal. Valor fans at this point are holding their breath and crossing fingers, toes and anything else they can find to make this kick go through the uprights. With kicking woes all year long, it was not a position anyone wanted to be in. Then it happened, the greatest missed kick of all time.

Pat Clarke III after the game would say, “We set up too close to the line, that’s on me, but we practice for things like this.” The kick was up, and wide left, but in all things arena, the ball would bounce off the bar, land in between 4 Brigade players, bouncing off one’s back and then into the hands of Josh Reese who would take it into the endzone for a Valor touchdown with less than 15 seconds to go left on the clock.

The Valor score on one of the most improbable plays to go up 42 to 35, but again arena knows no safeguards as 1 second on the clock is enough to win a game. The Brigade would get a final shot at it, literally as a defensive penalty would give them one untimed play, with no time on the clock to try and tie. That effort would fall short however and the Valor would hold on to win.

The Valor find themselves at 5-4, tied for second place in the league, heading into the final 3 games of the season. Atlantic City is in town this week with QB Warren Smith Jr and former OC Shane Stafford, who were both on the Valor staff last year during their championship run. Every game matters from here on and with Atlantic City on the outside of the playoff race looking in, expect a knock down, drag out game at home next week. As always, be loud, be proud and go Valor.

AFL Week 9 Preview and Picks

Week 8 gave the AFL its first playoff team! The Albany Empire clinched a playoff spot in a huge come from behind win against the Valor. This week will shuffle the playoff deck a bit more. Here is a look:

Philadelphia needs this win badly to stay in the playoff debate. Columbus needs to win out and will need some help to have a shot at the fourth spot. The Destroyers dropped a close one to Baltimore last week, while the Soul looked dominant against Atlantic City. Philadelphia defeated Columbus earlier in the season in the two teams’ only matchup. Destroyer QB Grant Russell was picked off twice in that game, but has since not thrown an INT.

Player to Watch: WR Lonnie Outlaw, Philadelphia Soul. Outlaw let the team in receptions in the last meeting with Columbus. His size is a matchup nightmare in the Red Zone. Look for Outlaw to have another big game this Saturday.

Prediction: Soul 47, Columbus 38

Baltimore finally broke the win/loss pattern this past week, putting together a two game win streak for the first time all year. The Brigade will be facing a Valor team that squandered a 27 point lead to lost to Albany by 1. Baltimore currently holds the head to head advantage over Washington, making this game the most significant game of the weekend, playoffs-wise.

Player to Watch: WR Joe Hills, Baltimore Brigade. Hills has caught a TD pass in 100 consecutive AFL games. He is third in the league in touchdowns scored with 15. If Baltimore is going to win, look for Hills to have a big night.

Prediction: Valor 55, Brigade 49

Atlantic City enters this matchup on a bad note, losing 54-29 to Philadelphia last week. Albany defeated its arch rival Washington last weekend to clinch a playoff spot. Atlantic City needs this game much more than Albany does, but with QB Randy Hippeard all banged up, the task appears to be too tall this week for AC. The deck is stacked against the Blackjacks.

Player to Watch: WR Malachi Jones, Albany Empire. Jones dominated the Blackjacks last time the two teams played in Atlantic City. Jones caught 12 passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns.

Prediction: Empire 56, Blackjacks 41

Here are the rest of the staff picks this week: