|ESPN.com: 2008||[Print without images]|
There were more tight finishes in the second week of the Arena Football League season, proving that a little luck, in addition to following the league closely, always helps. Cleveland and New York each won by three points, and New Orleans denied an Orlando 2-point conversion for its first victory of the season. All three teams were playing at home, but don't consider that a trend or advantage. Tampa Bay and Arizona both won very close affairs on the road in the opening week.
Five teams have won their first two games, but the Philadelphia Soul clearly established themselves as the team to beat for now with a convincing 11-point win over the Chicago Rush on the road. The Dallas Desperados showed they can still be a prime force without injured superstar quarterback Clint Dolezel. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles are also 2-0 and clear contenders, but still may not be on the level of Philadelphia or Dallas when it really counts the most. The Cleveland Gladiators have been a great story so far, but they aren't quite as good as their early record may seem to indicate.
Four teams have lost their first two games. It wouldn't be surprising to see Columbus, Georgia or Orlando get off the mat anytime soon with its first win, but Utah is in for another frustrating result in the third week and appears to be facing an uphill battle over the course of the full season. When scouting the slate of games for the third week, though, you simply cannot judge many teams based on their records after most of them have played just two games, and two have played only once.
It hasn't been easy, and yes, I've benefited from a few fortunate happenings here and there, but I have actually been on target with 13 of 16 selections in the first two weeks, which puts me atop both my private groups with a percentage of 99.1. That also puts me in a tie for third in the quite large Fantasy Editorial group, where it isn't easy to rank near the top with lots of public players, many of whom I am sure are dedicated AFL followers. Yes, it takes some luck, but you can't be perfect, as only one team is on the overall leaderboard, or close to it, in most cases, without having true knowledge of what's going on in the league. So to those who play in the Fantasy Editorial group and have done very well so far, I'm glad to be among such peers as we look ahead to another challenging slate of matchups in the third week.
Friday, March 14
CHICAGO RUSH @ Grand Rapids Rampage: After an impressive opening-week win over San Jose, the Rush did themselves in against the Soul, with three turnovers and a defensive showing that did not come anywhere close to replicating the dominant performance delivered in Week 1. Sherdrick Bonner threw six touchdown passes against Philadelphia, but also tossed two damaging interceptions. Look for a quick rebound outing for the Rush, as Bonner goes to work quickly with Damian Harrell, who may be the most exciting player in the league. Harrell not only has explosive downfield gears, he also runs very good routes and is a fiery competitor who can boost the morale of his teammates at any given time with a key play. He has 232 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions in his first two games. Wide receivers Donovan Morgan and Travis LaTendresse did not score against the Soul, but they certainly give Bonner other quality options in the passing game. Fullback Dan Alexander not only remains a force as a runner, but he also caught three touchdown passes last week, and he's a great checkdown weapon for Bonner, especially when he is looking to exploit the absence of the Jack linebackers in certain areas. Chicago's DeJuan Alfonso is one of the best Jack linebackers in the league and should revive a defense that forced five turnovers against San Jose. After an opening-week bye, Grand Rapids played well enough against San Jose, but ultimately fell by eight points. Adrian McPherson, who won the starting quarterback job, played a fine game, throwing four touchdown passes with no interceptions. Three TDs went to Kenny Higgins, who continued to display the form that put him on the AFL All-Rookie Team last year. McPherson also rushed for two scores. The Rampage, however, allowed 66 points to San Jose and won't be able to generate enough firepower to keep up with Bonner and Harrell.
Utah Blaze @ ORLANDO PREDATORS The Blaze aren't suffering from the loss of Siaha Burley as much as the fact they can't seem to stop anyone on defense yet. They have allowed 129 points in their first two games, and even though Joe Germaine threw eight touchdown passes against Cleveland last week, he was intercepted twice, and those picks proved to be an ultimate downer in another close defeat. Utah wide receiver J.J. McKelvey stepped up nicely in the absence of the injured Tom Pace, totaling 131 receiving yards and three scores. Aaron Boone also scored twice, and Huey Whittaker finished with 116 receiving yards and three touchdown receptions and will be reliable for Germaine all year long. Germaine has spread the ball around well early in the post-Burley era. After a fine opening week, Predators quarterback Shane Stafford was intercepted twice by New Orleans and could not convert a two-point conversion attempt as the game ended. It made me start to wonder if there was an AFL "cover jinx" here on ESPN.com, as Stafford was on the front page of the AFL Pick 'Em game a week after Dolezel was on the front, just before he was injured. Stafford should play much more like he did in the first week, when he tossed eight touchdown passes with no picks. Orlando will also play up to preseason expectations on defense while Utah won't be able to make the needed stops in important situations.
Saturday, March 15
Cleveland Gladiators @ COLUMBUS DESTROYERS: The Gladiators go on the road, where they won't have an enthusiastic new crowd backing them up. Even though Columbus supporters already recognize that last year's thrill ride is over, the Destroyers are not quite as bad as their early record indicates. The Destroyers can easily turn things around in the next two weeks with matchups against Cleveland and Utah. Last week, the Destroyers got behind early against Dallas and never recovered, but the combination of Matt Nagy and Derek Lee, which accounted for four of Columbus' five offensive scores, should stand out, even though Nagy has to establish other targets besides Lee. Scoring will be very tight against Cleveland, which played great defense in its opener against New York and forced three turnovers against Utah. Quarterback Raymond Philyaw has been a superb addition for the Gladiators as expected, with 11 touchdown passes and only one interception in the first two games. Yet there are games that can go either way each week when they are close, and this will be one of them. Cleveland has had the benefit of facing two shaky opponents at home to open the season, and Columbus will be playing with a great sense of urgency.
LOS ANGELES AVENGERS @ Georgia Force: After playing respectably in an opening-week loss to Dallas, the Force committed four turnovers and were decisively dispatched at Tampa Bay. Ultimately, the Force may play better than their record indicates, but not this week against the Avengers. Sonny Cumbie, who leads the league with 14 touchdown passes, is the AFL's current version of Brett Favre. Cumbie is a gunslinger who is a lot of fun to watch, as he can make all the throws with a big arm and isn't afraid to test a defense anytime, from anywhere on the field. He threw seven scoring passes to four different receivers in Monday's rout of Arizona. The defense, led up front by terrific pressure from standout lineman Ken Jones, registered five sacks, forced three Rattlers turnovers, and made many impressive stops as it allowed only 33 points. Georgia quarterback Chris Greisen has thrown 10 touchdown passes in the first two games, but he had two interceptions against Tampa Bay. The defense allowed 69 points to the Storm and won't be a match for Cumbie.
Arizona Rattlers at SAN JOSE SABERCATS: After a close win at Utah in the opener, the Rattlers came crashing down in the second week against the Avengers. Not only could they not stop Cumbie, but the offense, which was so effective against Utah, was banged up and harassed all night long. Lang Campbell, who threw eight touchdown passes at Utah, was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, and backup Jeff Smoker threw only two touchdown passes in relief while facing heavy defensive pressure. Smoker will start this week. San Jose held off a tenacious Grand Rapids effort and should soar at home this week. Mark Grieb was his usual cool, highly efficient self against the Rampage, throwing six touchdown passes with no interceptions. Rodney Wright caught three touchdown passes last week, and he and James Roe will overwork the Arizona defense.
Sunday, March 16
New York Dragons @ PHILADELPHIA SOUL: Two of my three incorrect picks have been on the Dragons, but I was fine with last week's result, since they are now my favorite team in the league, since I must root for my home squad. Rohan Davey got the job done against Kansas City, throwing six touchdown passes, but the Brigade picked him off twice and kept it close. Jason Willis caught four scoring passes, but there is no way the Dragons can survive mistakes, keep pace or hope to contain the opposing offense as they visit the best team in the league right now. This is the easiest pick of the week, and unfortunately, I will be right for the first time on a Dragons pick this season.
TAMPA BAY STORM @ New Orleans Voodoo: Storm quarterback Brett Dietz, one of the league's rising stars, let loose against Orlando for seven touchdown passes in last week's win over Orlando. Wide receiver/kick returner Sedrick Robinson, one of the AFL's best all-around threats, caught two touchdown passes and recovered a fumble in the end zone. The defense forced four turnovers and should deliver another solid outing this week. The Voodoo made timely defensive stops and turnovers in their rousing win over the Predators. The real story for the Voodoo, however, was backup quarterback Danny Wimprine. In his first AFL start, filling in for the injured Steve Bellisari, he was named the league's offensive player of the week, as he completed 27 of 33 attempts for 309 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. The Voodoo proved they will be no pushovers this year, as they have looked quite competitive overall so far. The Storm, however, will have too much for them to contain on both sides of the ball.
Monday, March 17
Colorado Crush @ DALLAS DESPERADOS: The Crush come back from a bye after an opening-week win over Columbus. Colorado may be one of the AFL's more underrated teams and will be a solid pick in many weeks, but not this time. John Dutton was very effective in the opener, throwing six touchdown passes, three each to Ben Nelson and Willie Quinnie. A solid defense, led by a hard-hitting, quality secondary will keep the Crush close, but Dallas can win at home without Dolezel. Backup Chris Sanders is an AFL veteran who stepped in well last week against Columbus, and he won't have a major test until the Desperados travel to San Jose next week. Sanders threw five touchdowns with no interceptions and rushed for another score against Columbus. He has a versatile receiving corps that will be up to the challenge against Colorado. Last week, Marcus Nash was the latest go-to guy, totaling 112 receiving yards and catching three touchdown passes. The Dallas defense held Columbus to 36 points last week, and while it will give up more this week, it'll make the plays needed to ultimately preserve the Desperados' third victory.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.