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Wednesday, April 9, 2008
AFL Pick 'Em Week 7 preview

By Scott Engel
ESPN.com

When I enjoyed a perfect record of 8-0 in the AFL Pick 'Em game in Week 5, I admitted there certainly was some luck on my side and said I would not take such results for granted. In Week 6, luck certainly didn't go my way in a few surprising games, and I am sure many of you were stunned by the results of at least a game or two. Each week, as I often have said, close games in the Arena Football League can go either way, and you just have to hope for the best when some contests go down to the wire.

It's not just the tight games, however, that can be the difference between a good week and a great week in the AFL Pick 'Em game. After six weeks, we're still seeing some outcomes that few have foreseen. In my Friday fantasy sports chat, someone asked me if he should reconsider and pick the struggling New York Dragons over the Grand Rapids Rampage, who were coming off a league-record 176 points in two games prior to the sixth week. No way, I said. The Rampage were on fire, and New York simply couldn't keep up, I thought. Of course, the Dragons then came through with their best performance of the season so far in a 63-34 home victory. I was happy for my hometown team, yet I was completely bowled over by the result.

Tampa Bay suffered a two-point loss to Columbus, which was desperate for a win in one of two close games I predicted incorrectly. Chicago's 57-56 loss to Orlando in overtime was even more unbelievable. That's one I'm pretty sure many of you also got wrong, and it left us all (except Predators fans) shaking our heads. Orlando turned the ball over five times, yet somehow survived to win the most thrilling game of the season so far. Even if you don't get the desired result, Arena Football games still can be highly enjoyable, with so many being so close at the end.

So I wasn't fretting after getting five of eight selections correct in the sixth week. In my private group, where I am in second place, no one had a perfect week and only one person was correct on seven selections, so surely the New York and Orlando wins threw a lot of people off. I am tied for third in the large fantasy editorial group, with 35 correct selections out of a possible 48 so far this season. I am ahead of 98.9 percent of all other players participating in that league. That's nice, but I fully realize that in addition to a lot of studying and research on the league, I just have to hope a few bounces go my way as we enter a challenging seventh week. More importantly, if you follow my recommendations, I'm hoping things go your way, as my results are simply used as a measuring stick of what to expect even when you fully prepare for every week in the AFL Pick 'Em game.

Week 7 Selections

My picks are in CAPS

Friday, April 11

Colorado Crush (2-3) @ CLEVELAND GLADIATORS (3-2):The Crush are a better team than their 2-3 record indicates, and their three consecutive losses entering the sixth week all were against elite AFL teams. Colorado rebounded with a 67-54 win over Los Angeles. The Crush were led by Ben Nelson, the AFL offensive player of the week, who caught 13 passes for 174 yards and five touchdowns. In the third quarter, Nelson caught three touchdown passes, while the Avengers scored only once. Colorado quarterback John Dutton threw eight touchdown passes and was intercepted just once, while the Crush defense intercepted two passes and forced a pair of fumbles. Cleveland has lost two straight games after a 3-0 start, but the Gladiators did not back down in a 58-51 loss to Dallas last week. The Gladiators return home after a three-game road trip, and they will have the backing of a highly enthusiastic home crowd. Like Colorado, Cleveland is a good, but not great, team that can prevail when it's not facing a top-level opponent. This will be another thriller, but look for the Gladiators to edge out the Crush in front of their "new breed" of passionate fans.

Saturday, April 12

New Orleans VooDoo (5-1) @ DALLAS DESPERADOS (6-0): This certainly is the marquee game of the week, as the surprising VooDoo have firmly established themselves as one of the league's best teams, despite preseason predictions that labeled them as basement residents. New Orleans has won five in a row and sent a message to the rest of the league that it is indeed for real with a 72-43 win over San Jose last week. Defense continues to be a key to New Orleans' success, as the VooDoo picked off Mark Grieb three times, returning two for scores. Defensive back Calvin Spears returned one of the two picks for a score and broke the team record for interceptions with his sixth of the season, an amazing feat considering we are entering only the seventh week. However, the Voodoo, even with the out-of-nowhere Danny Wimprine throwing for 29 touchdown passes with only two interceptions on the season, will come up short in their stiffest test of the season. The Desperados saw Clint Dolezel return to action last week, and he is back in top form. He threw five touchdown passes with no interceptions and ran for a score against Cleveland. He also used a hard count to his advantage to draw key penalties from the Gladiators' defense late in the game. The VooDoo defense won't be as easy to exploit, but with the best quarterback in the AFL back at the helm, the Desperados will continue their quest to dominate the league after the 2007 season ended without a trip to the ArenaBowl.

UTAH BLAZE (0-6) @ Los Angeles Avengers (2-4): Utah is winless, but this one isn't easy to call, either, as the Avengers have lost four in a row after winning their first two games and are looking equally downtrodden. The Avengers started Tim Hicks over Sonny Cumbie in their loss to Colorado, and he was not quite capable of leading a turnaround, throwing five touchdowns and two interceptions. The defense, however, continued to be a big issue, as Los Angeles gave up eight touchdown passes and 67 points, after allowing 84 and 71 points in their previous two games. Utah lost to the Soul by eight points, and Joe Germaine, who continues to plug away in frustration, threw five touchdown passes and was not intercepted. Huey Whittaker, one of the most underrated players in the league, caught three of his scoring tosses. The Blaze are desperate for a victory, and they can take the reeling Avengers and end their run of disappointments.

PHILADELPHIA SOUL (6-0) @ San Jose Sabercats (3-3): The Soul remain one of two undefeated teams, and they are expected to get starting quarterback Tony Graziani back this week. Veteran backup Matt D'Orazio kept Philadelphia rolling while Graziani missed three games, and with their leader returning, the Soul will roll past the enigmatic and erratic Sabercats, who trailed 41-17 at halftime in a loss to New Orleans last week. The luster of last season's championship has worn off, and Grieb has thrown a league-high 10 interceptions. Last season, the Sabercats didn't look back after starting 3-3, their record right now, and never lost again, and Grieb was named the ArenaBowl MVP. This team certainly isn't headed for the same destiny and will surpass its 2007 loss total this week. The Sabercats proved they aren't among the league's elite teams, at least for now, with their loss to New Orleans, and the Soul will be fired up to show San Jose they are on their way to being the next league champion.

Sunday, April 13

ORLANDO PREDATORS (4-2) @ Grand Rapids Rampage (2-3): Another tough pick to make, because we simply don't know what to expect from the Rampage this week. After their two-game hot streak, Grand Rapids failed to score in the first half for the first time since 2005 in their blowout loss at New York. James MacPherson, who had been the team's new signature player during their two-game offensive outburst, was the centerpiece of the surprising collapse, as he threw three interceptions and fumbled once. He finished with three touchdown passes and four interceptions. The Rampage failed to score 40 points for the second time this season, and allowed seven New York touchdown passes. Orlando won its fourth game, upsetting the Rush despite four interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Shane Stafford. The defense held Sherdrick Bonner to four touchdown passes and the Preds overcame an early 14-0 deficit. Wide receiver/kick returner T.T. Toliver caught three touchdown passes and returned a kickoff 55 yards for a score. He's one of the most dynamic players in the league and The Rampage will have much trouble containing him and will drop this one even if they rebound offensively.

Arizona Rattlers (2-3) @ TAMPA BAY STORM (2-3): The Rattlers, who are coming off a bye, have dropped three of their past four games. They suffered a 59-35 loss to Chicago before the week off and now take on a Storm team that is also better than its record shows. Tampa Bay has lost three in a row after winning its first two games, and their past two defeats have come by a combined 10 points. They dropped a two-point decision to Columbus last week, as quarterback Brett Dietz continued to do his best to try to carry the offense that is missing key players. Dietz threw six touchdown passes and only one interception, and he should be the central figure as the Storm stop their skid against the Rattlers, who have dealt with notable injuries of their own. The Arizona defense won't be able to hold off Dietz, despite the regular workhorse efforts of defensive back Isiah Trufant, who needs more help in the secondary.

Columbus Destroyers (2-4) @ NEW YORK DRAGONS (2-4): Both teams notched much-needed victories last week and enter this game with identical records. Columbus survived against Tampa Bay, as quarterback Matt Nagy and favorite target Derek Lee continued to be the crux of the offense, hooking up for five touchdowns. The New York defense, however, played simply amazing football as the Dragons built an unreal 49-0 lead en route to their 63-34 win over Grand Rapids. Defensive back/wide receiver John Walker was named the league's Co-Defensive Player of the week as he intercepted three passes and returned one for a score. DB/WR Chris Anthony forced a fumble and caught 10 passes for 92 yards and four touchdowns as he was named AFL Ironman of the Week. DB Levy Brown recorded his fifth interception, and defensive backfield partner Billy Parker broke up three passes. Linebacker Idris Price and defensive lineman Henry Taylor recovered fumbles. The Destroyers often struggle to find consistent pass-catchers other than Lee, and that will hurt them against the New York secondary. With Aaron Garcia now healthy, the Dragons will win at home for the second consecutive week.

Monday, April 14

CHICAGO RUSH (4-2) @ Kansas City Brigade (0-5): The Rush get a gift on the schedule, which they need after their overtime loss at Orlando. Concerns are starting to surround Bonner, who has been inconsistent this season, and was held to four touchdown passes and was intercepted once at Orlando. Bonner has thrown 25 touchdown passes with five interceptions, but he struggled against the Predators, and some Rush followers are starting to question whether he is still capable of being a championship quarterback at 39 years old. The Rush defense, one of the best units in the league, forced five turnovers against Orlando, returning an interception and a fumble for scores in the third quarter. Chicago has dealt with some recent injuries in the secondary, but facing Kansas City should be no problem. Last week, with John Fitzgerald benched and Matt Kohn out with a thumb injury, AFL rookie D. Bryant started at quarterback. He threw six touchdown passes and was intercepted twice in a loss at Georgia. The winless Brigade allowed 70 points to the Force and surrendered 92 to Grand Rapids on March 24. Bonner will get back on track, at least temporarily.

Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.