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.
PlayertoWatch: 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.
Week 8 brought the match-up of the number 1 and number 2 candidates for the AFL MVP competition with Tommy Grady and Arvell Nelson leading their teams in battle. This would be the third time this regular season that these two teams met, with the first 2 being decided by less than 10 points.
This game would however see the Albany Empire have their worst half of the entire season, scoring on only 2 out of 5 drives in the first half, losing the ball on a fumble, an interception and downs on the other 3.
The Valor on the other hand would score on 5 out of 6 possessions with the only exception being when time expired going into the half.
The Valor would go into the half with a 34-14 lead that was built with Arvell Nelson finding 4 different receivers for touchdowns and running one in himself. The first half was the best half the Valor have played all year and the worst the Empire have played, but there are 2 halves to a game and one half doesn’t win games without the other half being played too.
The second half would bring a few different things that would include the third largest comeback in AFL history of 27 points to win the game.
This game will forever go down in Valor history known as “The Collapse.” After the first half saw the Valor offense score 5 separate times, the second half would only see the Valor offense score on 2 possessions. The Empire would capitalize on the mistakes and miscues of the Valor and would score 6 times in the second half with their final score coming with just 12 seconds left in the game to take the final lead 56-55.
The Valor’s kicking woes continued as Clarke would miss yet another point after attempt that would end up being the difference in the 1 point loss.
It is clear that the head coach doesn’t have confidence in his kicker as he had the opportunity for a late field goal to ice the game and instead went for it on 4th down and were stopped. After the game when asked why he didn’t go for the field goal the head coach, Benji McDowell said “that’s 100% on me..that was my decision to go for it there and no one should get the blame but me.”
As I am a fan first, and a writer/reporter second, I can tell you this game was the worst gut punch I have ever experienced as a Valor fan. Even with Arvell Nelson having a day that saw him score on 6 touchdown passes to 5 different receivers and punching one in on the ground, the fact that the Valor choked a 27 point lead in the game away will over shadow anything that anyone could do. After the game when I spoke with Will Corbin, he said “We took our foot off the pedal and their throat and gave them the spark they needed. We have to find a way to pick ourselves up and get ready for our next game against Baltimore.”
The regular season woes facing Albany continue as the Valor cant find a way to beat the Empire during the regular season again. The Valor have beaten the Empire during the playoffs as they did last year to punch their ticket to the Arena Bowl and eventual title last year, and will only get another shot at Albany again if the Valor can fight their way into the playoffs as the Empire with this victory punched their own playoff ticket and will be waiting to find out who they will play.
Two-thirds on the way through the season we see the Valor in third place with their next game against their beltway rivals, the Baltimore Brigade, this Thursday for a chance to move into second place with a win. This game is the beginning of a 4 game stretch which will see the Valor play the Brigade twice in 4 weeks and will help define what the Valor’s season will shape into.
As much as this loss hurt, look for the Valor to bounce back and get back on track this week as Arvell Nelson continues his MVP campaign with his league leading total touchdowns and league leading rushing yards and touchdowns.
There is plenty blame to go around for what happened on the field this past Saturday but blame doesn’t win games. Just like the Valor have to pick themselves up and push forward, us fans must do the same. It won’t be easy to get the taste out of our mouths but it’s just 1 loss in the grand scheme of things and the playoffs are still a real possibility. As always, be loud, be proud and Go Valor.
Week 7 was brutal from a picks standpoint. Hopefully week 8 will be a little more kind. Here is what is happening this week:
(3-4) Atlantic City Blackjacks vs. Philadelphia Soul (3-4)
Neither Atlantic City nor Philadelphia expected to be coming into this matchup at 3-4, but that is how week 7 turned out for them. Atlantic City lost to Columbus, giving the Destoyers their first win of the season. Philadelphia lost to Washington, losing the head to head tiebreaker against the Valor. This weekend’s game will likely determine which of these two teams makes the playoffs. Neither team can afford to drop to two games under .500, so this one will be a slugfest.
Player to Watch: WR Lamark Brown, Atlantic City. Brown was the Draft Kings Fantasy Football Player of the Week for his 12 reception, 150 yard, and 5 touchdown game against Columbus. Look for Brown to exploit the Philadelphia secondary this week, as injuries along the defensive line have placed an extra burden on the Soul defensive backs.
Prediction: Soul 47, Blackjacks 44
(6-1) Albany Empire vs. Washington Valor (4-3)
The Empire fell! Albany lost 42-41 over the weekend to Baltimore. The Empire was assessed a celebration penalty prior to the game-tying extra point, which led to a rare miss by kicker Adrian Trevino. Meanwhile, Washington got a statement victory against Philadelphia over the weekend. A Valor win over the Empire would put the teams just one game apart in the standings. Suddenly, Albany is no longer looking like the team that will run away from the rest of the league. The winner of this game will set the tone for the rest of the season.
Player to Watch: Quarterback Arvell Nelson, Washington Valor. Nelson is the leading fantasy football player in the AFL this season. He looks better and better each week and will be extra motivated this week as the Valor and Empire rivalry is the best one on the league right now.
Prediction: Empire 48, Valor 44
(4-3) Baltimore Brigade vs. Columbus Destroyers (1-6)
Baltimore just beat the best team in the league. Now, they face the worst team in the league. Baltimore has been remarkably steady this year, alternating wins and losses. This is the week for the Brigade to end up in the L column again. Columbus, on the other had, finally found their way into the win column last week. The Destroyers will more than likely have to win out to make the playoffs, so look for a sense of urgency for Columbus.
Player to Watch: WR Keyattus Cook, Columbus Destroyers. Cook was activated from injured reserve just prior to last week’s game and made an instant impact, catching 3 passes for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While that was shocking, the biggest storyline may have happened on Friday when the Columbus Destroyers won their first game of the season, a 54-50 win over the Atlantic City Blackjacks.
Fun fact, the game winning touchdown was scored by Kenny Cook who graduated from Gardner-Webb University. While this is also the school I graduated from, Sko Dawgs, but almost a week to the day of the Destroyers first win in 11 years, Harold Wells, a former GWU Runnin’ Bulldog himself and the Destroyers all time leader in rushing touchdowns, was inducted into the Big South Hall of Fame.
The Destroyers may not win the ArenaBowl their first year back, the team is able to hold their heads up high and know they gave the city of Columbus a huge boost.
Week Seven Results:
Columbus 54 Atlantic City 50 Baltimore 42 Albany 41 Washington 48 Philadelphia 41
Arvell for MVP?
As everyone knows, MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. For years, I’ve held the belief that the MVP award should go to the player that, is the most valuable to their team. The player that, if you took them off the roster completely, the team would change completely in the wrong direction.
This year, that player has to be Arvell Nelson of the Washington Valor. Nelson has been on fire this season, throwing for 1814 yards and 32 touchdowns. And while those numbers don’t compare to guys like Tommy Grady or Dan Raudabaugh, Nelson has been able to get it done with his legs, leading the AFL with 144 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Valor may not be the best team in the league, but Nelson has proved that he is the most valuable player to his team.
Fabian Is For Real
Fabian Guerra has been a force to be reckoned with in the special teams department. He showed off his skills against Atlantic City early this week, taking the opening kickoff 57 yards to the end zone, his third kickoff return touchdown of the season.
Guerra also has 488 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, along with a rushing touchdown.
Guerra may gave been an afterthought to some after the shutdown of the AAF, but he is making his case for rookie of the year
League Lookback: Columbus Destroyers last win
In a new section, we’re going to throw it back to some old school Arena Football League games. This week, we’re going to look back at the Columbus Destroyers last win before Friday, a 43-41 win over the New York Dragons.
While the Destroyers won just three games all season, this one was huge as the Dragons made it to the second round of the playoffs that season, falling to eventual ArenaBowl champs Philadelphia 49-48.
This game was a QB shootout, as Aaron Garcia would go 30-for-40 for 295 yards and six touchdowns for New York. Current Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy would go 19-for-32 for 269 yards and four touchdowns.
CJ Johnson would be named Offensive Player of the Game with nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns
The Dragons would take a 35-30 lead into the half, but a rushing score by Nagy and then a 40 yard reception by Calvin Russell would give the Destroyers a 43-35 lead.
Garcia would lead a last second touchdown drive, but the two point conversion would fail, and Columbus would hold on to knock off New York, 43-41.
Game of the Week: Albany at Washington
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
At the halfway part of the season, the Albany Empire were 6-0. Tommy Grady and Malachi Jones were rolling.
Last week, Grady was still on top of his game, going 17-of-24 for 284 yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, Grady also threw two interceptions, but luckily only one of them lead to points.
While Grady and Jones did hook up for a late touchdown, the extra point was missed by Adrian Trevino. This was the fifth missed extra point by the Empire this season and Albany hasn’t made a single field goal this year.
This could be a trap game for Albany, as the Valor have given them trouble all year long, with the Empire pulling out nine and 10 point wins with late scores.
If the Empire can reload and move on from the loss, then they should stay the top dog in the AFL. But if they drop a second straight game, look for the Valor or another team to try to claim the yard.
This Week’s Games
June 15, 2019 Baltimore Brigade (4-3) @ Columbus Destroyers (1-6) — 3:30 PM Albany Empire (6-1) @ Washington Valor (4-3) — 7:00 PM
June 16, 2019 Atlantic City BlackJacks (3-4) @ Philadelphia Soul (3-4) — 4:00 PM