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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
AFL: Putting it on the Line

By Tom Herrera
Special to ESPN.com

It's been only two weeks, and we already have two nominations for best catch of the season. Georgia WR Chris Jackson pulled off a phenomenal feat against Austin when he hauled in a touchdown one-handed and held on after DB Nate Coggins pushed him over the boards. Los Angeles WR Kevin Ingram showed the world why he's one of the best in the league when he dove to make the one-handed touchdown catch against Orlando on Monday night. The two grabs by Jackson and Ingram were outstanding proof of the jaw-dropping excitement to be found each week any time you tune in to a game.

Unfortunately, though, that kind of excitement often gives way to more upsets in the Pick 'Em challenge. Week 2 was no exception, and we saw a good share of surprise performances. Las Vegas QB Shaun King rebounded in big way to tear Grand Rapids apart for 373 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns in a 79-69 shootout. WR Kevin Prentiss was on the receiving end of all but one of those passes, as Prentiss used his speed to get free and set an AFL record with nine touchdown catches. In Arizona, QB Joe Germaine went an amazing 21-for-21 on pass completions in the second half to help the Utah Blaze overcome a 12-point deficit, including the winning touchdown pass to WR/DB Ryan Dennard with less than a minute to go.

On Monday night in Orlando, coach Jay Gruden was not a happy man, as his Predators' offense forgot to show up in a 44-37 OT loss to the Avengers. The 2006 National Conference champs had some major issues with the offensive line in the first half, losing OL Jim Sodano early in the game with a ruptured patella tendon. It was pretty amusing, though, to see coach Gruden throw the football back at his own lineman, Reggie Lee, out of frustration after a failed screen pass in the second quarter. I guess the fiery temperament runs in the family.

The current Pick 'Em leader after two weeks is Scott Spohr, leading the pack with 15 points. Congratulations, Scott. I hit on only five games correctly last week, which was disappointing, though I fortunately didn't take the same approach as Jay did and throw a football at the T.V., when Arizona, San Jose, and Orlando came up just short. You can always check out where you sit amongst the current leaderboard here.

Week Three Picks

Philadelphia Soul (1-0) @ Grand Rapids Rampage (1-1)

Game Time: March 15 / 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Tony Graziani (PHI), WR/LB Sean Scott (PHI), DS Eddie Moten (PHI), QB Matt Sauk (GR) or QB Michael Bishop (GR), WR Timon Marshall (GR)
Pick Em' Prediction: Philadelphia Soul

The Rampage pulled off a big upset in Week 1 by taking out the Crush, but they took big step backward when they let the Las Vegas offense score at will in Week 2. Philadelphia travels to Grand Rapids this week fresh off a 63-30 drubbing of the Nashville Kats. If Las Vegas QB Shaun King was able to take apart the Rampage secondary, then Soul QB Tony Graziani should have a field day. QB Matt Sauk could be on the verge of losing his job if he has another couple of poor performances. Just yesterday, Grand Rapids acquired QB Michael Bishop in a trade with Kansas City, giving up FB/LB Jerry Turner in the process. Bishop doesn't bring great efficiency, but he does offer a thrilling double-threat attack that could fit right in considering the Rampage don't have outstanding receivers. Even if coach Sparky McEwen turns to Bishop as his starter, the Philadelphia defense should come up with the big stops again, led by Defensive Player of the Week DS Eddie Moten.

Austin Wranglers (1-1) @ Orlando Predators (1-1)

Game Time: March 16 / 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Adrian McPherson (AUS), OS Derrick Lewis (AUS), WR Shane Stafford (ORL), WR DeAndrew Rubin (ORL), DL Greg White (ORL)
Pick Em' Prediction: Orlando Predators

Some will be picking against Orlando here, since they will be dealing with issues on their offensive line, and QB Shane Stafford didn't look to be in sync with his receivers last week. Orlando also will be facing a very short week, with only three days of rest in between games. However, I think coach Jay Gruden will get this unit turned around in a hurry, and the Orlando defensive line, led by DL Greg White, will force QB Adrian McPherson to make his first costly mistakes of the season. Coach Brian Partlow has added new life to the Austin offense, but this will be the first good defense they will have to face so far. On offense, Orlando will need OS Jimmy Fryzel to have a rebound game along with another strong effort from WR DeAndrew Rubin.

Dallas Desperados (2-0) @ Kansas City Brigade (1-1)

Game Time: March 16 / 8:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Clint Dolezel (DAL), WR Marcus Nash (DAL), WR/DB Will Pettis (DAL), QB Raymond Philyaw (KC), DS Kenny McEntyre (KC)
Pick Em' Prediction: Dallas Desperados

Dallas wasn't quite as dominant against Tampa Bay last week, but they were still very impressive and remain the team to beat so far this season. QB Clint Dolezel has thrown 15 touchdowns to only one interception and is completing passes at a great rate. Even with the new substitution rule change, WR/DB Will Pettis has been a true iron man, contributing on offense, defense and kickoff returns. WR Marcus Nash has proven to be a huge addition already, providing Dallas with another deadly red zone option. QB Raymond Philyaw has been accurate, but his receiving weapons are limited. In all, despite a much-improved defense for coach Kevin Porter's Brigade, Dallas should stay undefeated.

Arizona Rattlers (0-2) @ Colorado Crush (1-1)

Game Time: March 16 / 9:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Sherdrick Bonner (ARI), WR Randy Gatewood (ARI), WR Cosmo DeMatteo (ARI), QB John Dutton (COL), WR Willie Quinnie (COL), DB Rashad Floyd (COL)
Pick Em' Prediction: Colorado Crush

I really want to go with Arizona here, but they couldn't come through when I picked them last week against Utah. While the Rattlers have adequate offensive support led by QB Sherdrick Bonner (15 touchdowns, 680 passing yards), it's their defense and special teams that have done them in. Colorado WR Damian Harrell hasn't been himself at all due to sore quadriceps muscles that have been nagging him since the preseason, but rookie WR Willie Quinnie has stepped up as a reliable target for QB John Dutton. The Colorado defense has been solid, as usual, with DB Rashad Floyd taking down receivers like a tackling machine: he has 23 total tackles so far. After facing two easy defenses (Georgia and Utah) at home, Arizona faces a much tougher test on the road this week.

Georgia Force (2-0) @ Tampa Bay Storm (0-2)

Game Time: March 17 / 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Chris Greisen (GEO), WR Chris Jackson (GEO), WR Troy Bergeron (GEO), WR Derek Lee (GEO), QB John Kaleo (TB), T.T. Toliver (TB)
Pick Em' Prediction: Georgia Force

There's trouble in Tampa Bay, as the offense for the Storm has scored only 67 points through their first two games. QB John Kaleo has only six touchdowns and has thrown three interceptions. And Tampa has yet to find a consistent receiving threat to complement WR T.T. Toliver to give them more offensive options. Even if they make some improvements, their production isn't going to match up to whatever the Force put up. With 129 points through two games and stellar receiving corps already clicking with new QB Chris Greisen, you definitely could make an argument that this Georgia team has the best offensive attack in the league. When it comes to needing a big catch in the red zone, the trio of Bergeron, Jackson and Lee will get it done. Now if only they could play some defense, then we'd be talking ArenaBowl contender.

New York Dragons (0-1) @ Chicago Rush (1-1)

Game Time: March 18 / 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Leon Murray (NY), WR Mike Horacek (NY), QB Matt D'Orazio (CHI), WR Bobby Sippio (CHI), DB Jeremy Unertl (CHI)
Pick Em' Prediction: Chicago Rush

Whether it's Leon Murray or Rohan Davey starting at quarterback for the Dragons, it won't matter much if their offensive line is as bad as it was in Week 1. The Dragons were blown out by Dallas. There's still no word on when QB Aaron Garcia will return to start. While I still think that QB Matt D'Orazio and the Chicago Rush need better protection and another weapon on offense, it's their strong defensive secondary that has been compensating for it. DB Jeremy Unertl came up with two big interceptions and shut down San Jose WR Ben Nelson repeatedly last week, which is no easy assignment. This week, Unertl likely will have to cover WR Mike Horacek and should match up well again. On offense, WR Bobby Sippio will find open space to add to his total of eight receiving touchdowns.

Utah Blaze (2-0) @ Nashville Kats (0-2)

Game Time: March 18 / 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Joe Germaine (UTA), WR/DB Ryan Dennard (UTA), QB Clint Stoerner (NAS), WR Cornelius Bonner (NAS)
Pick Em' Prediction: Utah Blaze

Nashville is dealing with a rash of injuries that spread throughout last week's embarrassing loss to Philadelphia. The list of the wounded includes WR Alonzo Nix (hamstring), WR Jason Shelley (hand) and, most importantly, OL/DL Joe Minucci (knee sprain). Nix and Shelley should be able to play, but Minucci could miss this game. That's bad news for the Nashville offense and QB Clint Stoerner, who managed to throw only one touchdown against Philadelphia last week. Stoerner will be facing a weak Utah defense, but WR Cornelius Bonner has been his only big receiving target. Utah QB Joe Germaine, who is on a tear in his fourth season in the league, doesn't have that problem at all. Even when WR Siaha Burley was out of the lineup last week, Germaine found Ryan Dennard (16 catches, 181 yards, seven touchdowns) and Orshawonte Bryant as big-time receiving threats.

New Orleans VooDoo (1-1) @ Las Vegas Gladiators (1-1)

Game Time: March 18 / 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Andy Kelly (NO), WR Kenny Henderson (NO), QB Shaun King (LV), OS Kevin Prentiss (LV)
Pick Em' Prediction: New Orleans VooDoo

One week after a disappointing debut against the Wranglers, Las Vegas QB Shaun King was nearly flawless against Grand Rapids, throwing for 373 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception. His speedy sophomore receiver, Kevin Prentiss, had 13 receptions for 235 yards and set an AFL record for receiving touchdowns in a game with nine. While it was a tremendous offensive showing for King and Prentiss, I credit much of it to how brutal the Rampage defense was in that game. Prentiss was wide open on most of his catches, and the VooDoo defense won't be the same cakewalk. New Orleans is coming off a big win in front of a record-setting crowd, and this team will be fired up to make it two in a row. Veteran QB Andy Kelly has yet to throw an interception through two games this season, and he will turn to rookie WR Kenny Henderson as his playmaker downfield to beat the Vegas secondary repeatedly.

Bye Week

Columbus Destroyers, San Jose SaberCats, Los Angeles Avengers

Three teams have a bye during Week 3; a rarity in the AFL that you'll see only once this season. The Destroyers have been playing it close and will take on the ArenaBowl XX champion Rush on March 24. The SaberCats will have to ramp up their defense before they face the dynamic offense of the Force in Week 4. The Avengers will try to follow up on their strong showing against the Predators when they visit New Orleans next.

Tom Herrera is a professional sports video logger and a fantasy sports expert for TalentedMrRoto.com. E-mail him with your questions and comments at THerrera@talentedmrroto.com.