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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
AFL: Putting it on the line

By Tom Herrera
Special to ESPN.com

One of the big questions going into the 2007 AFL season was how the new free-substitution rule would affect the way the game is played. After four weeks, it's become apparent which coaches have taken full advantage of the rule to improve their teams. We've also seen a few coaches fail to adapt quickly; and their squads are in danger of being phased out of contention rather quickly.

For better or worse, there have been some key roster shakeups, and there will be even more in the coming weeks. Tampa Bay has released their starting quarterback (veteran John Kaleo) this week and has replaced him with Stoney Case. Additionally, they've placed fullback/linebacker Rodney Filer on injured reserve. Filer had been a big playmaker on both sides of the ball for Tampa. Elsewhere, the Arizona Rattlers have placed their star wide receiver, Randy Gatewood, on injured reserve.

The current Pick 'Em leader after four weeks is Aaron Flippen -- leading the entire field with 28 points. Good luck holding the lead Aaron, as there is nine teams right behind you with 27 points.

Week Five Picks

Georgia Force (4-0) @ Columbus Destroyers (1-2)
Game Time: March 30 / 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Chris Greisen (GEO), WR Chris Jackson (GEO), WR Troy Bergeron (GEO), WR Derek Lee (GEO), QB Matt Nagy (COL), WR Damien Groce (COL), DL Ken Jones (COL)
Pick Em' Prediction: Georgia Force

Many opposing teams don't even have one shutdown defensive back, let alone three, to cover Georgia's talented trio of receivers. Georgia's defense has made strides as well with Mike Sutton and Jermaine Smith combining for five sacks on the season. Columbus will need to contemplate a change if they can't get a better effort out of QB Matt Nagy, who has completed less than 60 percent of his passes in back-to-back games. And DL Ken Jones seems to be the only one stepping up on defense to make plays right now for the Destroyers; DB Jerald Brown couldn't handle the physical play of Chicago WR Bobby Sippio last week. Overall, there's just too much talent on this Georgia team for Columbus to contend with, and I think Doug Plank's team will remain undefeated.

Arizona Rattlers (1-3) @ Kansas City Brigade (1-3)
Game Time: March 30 / 8:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Sherdrick Bonner (ARZ), WR Kevin McKenzie (ARZ), QB Raymond Philyaw (KC), WR Jerel Myers (KC), WR Charles Frederick (KC), DB Kenny McEntyre (KC)
Pick Em' Prediction: Kansas City Brigade

Arizona is coming off their first win of the season, a 26-point blowout against Las Vegas, but the Brigade are fresh off the bye and pose a much bigger defensive test. Arizona will be without WR Randy Gatewood again and will be thin on offensive weapons, so Sherdrick Bonner (27 passing TDs, only two INT) likely will go to WR Kevin McKenzie as his primary receiving option. Coach Kevin Porter has the Brigade playing tough, hard-nosed football, and they'll get even tougher with the addition of DL Jerry Turner, who they acquired in the Michael Bishop trade with Grand Rapids. Turner doesn't have much AFL experience, but he was the Defensive Lineman of the Year in the AF2 league last season and is a force to be reckoned with. I think the Brigade defense will play up to par and they'll come through with the win.

Orlando Predators (2-2) @ New Orleans VooDoo (2-2)
Game Time: March 31 / 8:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Shane Stafford (ORL), WR Javarus Dudley (ORL), DL Greg White (ORL), QB Andy Kelly (NO), WR Tyronne Jones (NO), DL Henry Taylor (NO)
Pick Em' Prediction: Orlando Predators

Orlando is coming off a tough 21-point loss to the dominant Desperados and will have only four days in between games. They'll head to the bone yard to take on a VooDoo team that had their offense shut down by the Avengers last week. QB Shane Stafford will need to be more consistent for the Orlando offense, as they've struggled to score points during stretches of games. Expect this game to come down to the battle of lines, as both teams have defenses anchored by a strong pass rush. New Orleans has yet to play a team as good as Orlando, and I think QB Andy Kelly (21 passing TD, one INT) will be pressed into a couple of decisive mistakes. Even on the short rest and road trip, I like Jay Gruden's club to come out on top.

Austin Wranglers (1-3) @ Dallas Desperados (4-0)
Game Time: March 31 / 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Adrian McPherson (AUS), WR Derrick Lewis (AUS), DB Nate Coggins (AUS), QB Clint Dolezel (DAL), WR/DB Will Pettis (DAL), DS Jermaine Jones (DAL)
Pick Em' Prediction: Dallas Desperados

The Wranglers benched QB Adrian McPherson for the start of last week's loss to Nashville because he violated team rules. Starting in his place, QB Lang Campbell threw interceptions on two of his four drives. This week, McPherson will be on the field as a starter, but their offense will still have problems scoring against the stingy Desperados defense. Even though QB Clint Dolezel might not have WR Marcus Nash to throw to again due to an injury, he will do just fine with WR/DB Will Pettis, who caught five touchdowns last week. Austin puts up a solid defense, but the Wranglers don't have enough firepower to match up to Dallas.

Tampa Bay Storm (0-4) @ San Jose SaberCats (1-2)
Game Time: March 31 / 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Stoney Case (TB), WR/LB Lawrence Samuels (TB), DB Jeroid Johnson (TB), QB Mark Grieb (SJ), WR Ben Nelson (SJ), WR James Roe (SJ)
Pick Em' Prediction: San Jose SaberCats

Tampa Bay will be going with QB Stoney Case as their starter this week after QB John Kaleo was released. The Storm also will be without FB/LB Rodney Filer due to injury, so they're truly reeling right now. Tampa Bay's defense couldn't even contain New York last week, so it's going to have big problems stopping the duo of WR Ben Nelson and WR James Roe. Coming off a close loss to Georgia last week, San Jose should tear it up at home.

Philadelphia Soul (3-0) @ New York Dragons (1-2)
Game Time: April 1 / 1:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Tony Graziani (PHI), WR Charles Pauley (PHI), DS Eddie Moten (PHI), QB Rohan Davey (NY), OS Mike Horacek (NY)
Pick Em' Prediction: Philadelphia Soul

Philadelphia has started its season with three blowout victories and it won't be slowing down against New York this week. Philly's defense has been simply unbeatable thus far. On offense for Philly, QB Tony Graziani will have no trouble finding open passing lanes and connecting with WR Charles Pauley. DS Eddie Moten should lock down Dragons' WR Mike Horacek while QB Rohan Davey will be under intense pass pressure from DL Dwayne Missouri and company. It could very well be a fourth blowout to open the season for the Soul.

Los Angeles Avengers (2-1) @ Chicago Rush (3-1)
Game Time: April 1 / 1:30 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Sonny Cumbie (LA), WR Kevin Ingram (LA), DL Silas Demary (LA), QB Matt D'Orazio (CHI), WR Bobby Sippio (CHI), DL E.J. Burt (CHI)
Pick Em' Prediction: Los Angeles Avengers

On defense, the Avengers have held their opponents to under 40 points in back-to-back games, thanks to great defensive line play led by Silas Demary. And on offense, QB Sonny Cumbie has been perfect so far -- he's thrown 16 passing touchdowns but has yet to throw an interception. They'll take on a Chicago team that has won three straight and is on fire dating back to last season. It should be a close game, and while picking against the Rush has failed me twice before, I think the Avengers will do just enough to take them down.

Nashville Kats (2-2) @ Colorado Crush (2-2)
Game Time: April 1 / 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Jeff Smoker (NAS), WR Cornelius Bonner (NAS), DB Ahmad Hawkins (NAS), QB John Dutton (COL), WR Damian Harrell (COL), DB Rashad Floyd (COL)
Pick Em' Prediction: Nashville Kats

The switch to QB Jeff Smoker has benefited Nashville greatly, as the Kats have been a significantly better offensive team as a result. They have won back-to-back games against formidable opponents. DB Ahmad Hawkins has four interceptions already on the season and should be fired up to take on his former team. Even in the Crush's two victories, they've won by a very close margin. They don't seem like the same team they were last season. I think Nashville forces QB John Dutton (seven interceptions) into a pivotal mistake and they win it in a close one.

Utah Blaze (3-1) @ Las Vegas Gladiators (1-3)
Game Time: April 1 / 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Key Players: QB Joe Germaine (UTA), WR Siaha Burley (UTA), WR/DB Orshawonte Bryant (UTA), QB Shaun King (LV), WR/DB Etu Molden (LV), DS Earthwind Moreland (LV)
Pick Em' Prediction: Utah Blaze

Utah QB Joe Germaine has completed a terrific 71.1 percent of his passes this season to go along with 29 passing touchdowns. WR Siaha Burley has caught more than 130 yards in each game he's played so far and WR/DB Orshawonte Bryant has grown into an outstanding two-way player (five receiving touchdowns, three interceptions). The fact that Utah's offense is clicking on all cylinders is very bad news for a Las Vegas team coming off two straight blowout losses. QB Shaun King has struggled in his transition to the AFL and the Gladiators' defense has been poor.

Points Tiebreaker: 61-44 Utah Blaze

Bye Week

Grand Rapids Rampage
Sparky McEwen will have to regroup his team and possibly make some more personnel changes during the bye. Grand Rapids is coming off a 41-point blowout loss last week in Utah, where QB Michael Bishop had a disappointing season debut as a starter.

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