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Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Updated: April 17, 10:59 AM ET
AFL Pick 'Em Week 8 preview

By Scott Engel
ESPN.com

The Arena Football League results this season continue to thrill and sometimes baffle as we head into the eighth week of the season. Nothing seems to be a certainty. Well, maybe the only certainties are that Dallas and Philadelphia are the best teams in the league, and Kansas City and Utah should continue to be the bottom-feeders. The Desperados and Soul both remain undefeated as they inevitably careen toward their nationally televised matchup in Week 9. The Brigade and Soul remain winless.

None of the four teams, though, have a locked-in result in any week. Philadelphia had to overcome a considerable deficit to keep its record perfect in the seventh week. The Brigade put up a real battle before falling to Chicago. Utah can't remain winless for much longer, especially with quarterback Joe Germaine doing his best to scratch out an elusive victory most weeks. Dallas has a bye in the eighth week, so it's safe from any surprised defeats and can bask in its success before clashing with the Soul.

Other teams are not making life easy on AFL Pick 'Em players. Cleveland has dropped three consecutive games after opening the season with three wins, burning those who gained confidence in it after a good start. Los Angeles is enigmatic and may be the most unpredictable team in the AFL. Grand Rapids has suddenly gone cold after a short hot streak, and after looking like an also-ran early on, New York has rebounded to play better recently. Staying near the top of your group isn't easy, and will continue to be very challenging as we head into the newest slate of games.

Week Eight Selections

My Picks are in CAPS.

Friday, April 18

NEW YORK DRAGONS (3-4) at Tampa Bay Storm (2-4): The Dragons are in the midst of a miniature turnaround, having won two in a row after their season seemed lost with a 1-4 start. New York has been playing balanced football while enjoying the efforts of a healthy Aaron Garcia. The Dragons scored more than 60 points for the second consecutive week as they beat Columbus, with Garcia throwing eight touchdown passes and no interceptions. Kevin Swayne is also healthy, and he caught three touchdown passes against the Destroyers. Chris Anthony also caught three touchdown passes and Jason Willis caught 10 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Garcia is comfortable with his receivers, and the Dragons have a solid secondary that gives them a chance to win in any given week. The Storm have dropped four consecutive games, with their past two defeats coming by a total of three points. Brett Dietz is not the problem, as he continues to play well. He threw six touchdown passes with no interceptions in a loss to Arizona last week and is expected to get standout wide receiver Terrill Shaw back for this game. This is no easy pick, but the Dragons are looking better overall recently, so I give them the nod.

SAN JOSE SABERCATS (3-4) at Utah Blaze (0-7): The Sabercats have officially lost their championship luster. They have already lost more games than they did in 2007, suffering their fourth loss of the season last week to Philadelphia. San Jose showed it no longer had the form of a champion in its 58-57 defeat, as it could not hold on after scoring the first 20 points of the game and holding a 33-14 halftime lead. Mark Grieb threw six touchdown passes with only one interception, but the defense allowed four of Philadelphia's five touchdown passes after halftime. It's unlikely that the Sabercats will suffer such a collapse against the Blaze, even though the Blaze are desperate for a win. San Jose is still capable of dispatching the league's weaker teams, even if Germaine can keep his team close.

NEW ORLEANS VOODOO (5-2) at Arizona Rattlers (3-3): The VooDoo have unexpectedly established themselves as one of the league's better teams. Unfortunately, they had their five-game winning streak halted by the Desperados, who reminded New Orleans that there are only two truly elite teams in the league, and the VooDoo is not one of them. Dallas limited surprise sensation Danny Wimprine to only four touchdown passes and intercepted him once, while Clint Dolezel picked apart the upstart New Orleans defense for seven touchdown passes, five to Will Pettis. The VooDoo can take just about any team in the league besides Dallas or Philadelphia, right now, though, and Wimprine will re-establish himself quickly against the Arizona secondary. The Rattlers have the Lang Campbell/Siaha Burley duo back in action, but it won't be enough.

Saturday, April 19

COLORADO CRUSH (3-3) at Kansas City Brigade (0-6): Defense was the key as the Crush brought their record to .500 in a win over Cleveland last week. Defensive back Rashad Floyd, a centerpiece of one of the league's better secondaries, intercepted passes on consecutive Gladiator possessions to open the fourth quarter. The turnovers helped the Crush turn a tie game into a 10-point lead en route to a 69-66 victory. The Crush have won two games in a row after losing three of their first four, and now get the gift of facing the Brigade to officially earn a winning record. John Dutton threw eight touchdown passes against the Gladiators, but he was also intercepted twice. Mistakes should hurt him less against Kansas City. The Brigade looked scrappy in a 49-42 loss to Chicago, but the offensive line is shaky and the defense, which surrendered 70 points the week before, won't be able to hold off Dutton when it counts.

ORLANDO PREDATORS (5-2) at Georgia Force (3-3): Still riding high after their thrilling overtime win over Chicago on April 6, the Preds easily did away with Grand Rapids last week, 75-56. Orlando is one of the league's most respected franchises and the team has reeled off five wins in a row after losing its first two games. Wide receiver T.T. Toliver was again at the center of the Predators' push to success, as he registered 181 receiving yards, the AFL high for the week, and caught three touchdown passes and ran for another. Toliver might be the ultimate weapon in the league right now, as he can also be a major threat on Kickoff returns. He was named the league's Offensive Player of the Week. The defense also caused three Grand Rapids turnovers. Georgia has been playing much better recently, and scored 70 points in two consecutive wins before last week's bye. Those victories, however, came against Utah and Kansas City, and the Force won't be able to keep pace throughout the game with the Predators.

CLEVELAND GLADIATORS (3-3) at Los Angeles Avengers (3-4): The Avengers have finally stopped their own bleeding, and now the Gladiators look to do the same. After being a great story to open the season in their first year in Cleveland, the Gladiators appear to be haunted by a ghost of their past in Las Vegas in three consecutive losses. The defense has been exposed as a unit that still has some holes to be plugged, and quarterback Raymond Philyaw can't carry the team by himself. The Gladiators surrendered 69 points in their loss to Colorado, and Philyaw threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions that put the defense back on its heels in the critical stages of the game. The Avengers halted a four-game skid with a 17-point win over Utah, but beating the Blaze is obviously no big feat and the Gladiators, even though they are sliding, present a more formidable matchup that could result in the beginning of another Avengers tailspin.

Sunday, April 20

Grand Rapids Rampage (2-4) at CHICAGO RUSH (5-2): After their brief offensive outburst in late March, the Rampage have gone back in the tank and their opponents are the ones ringing up the better numbers on the scoreboard. The Rampage have allowed 138 points in their past two games, which have been losses by a combined 48 points. The Rush have dealt with inconsistent play and injuries at quarterback recently, as Sherdrick Bonner missed last week's game with a knee problem and Russ Michna was erratic as a game manager in his place against the winless Brigade. The Rush are not looking like a true championship contender right now, but should easily handle Grand Rapids like they did in the second week of the season, a 64-35 Rush victory. Michna threw five touchdown passes with no interceptions in that meeting and the Rush defense forced three turnovers, two of which resulted in touchdowns.

Monday, April 21

PHILADELPHIA SOUL (7-0) @ Columbus Destroyers (2-5): The Soul didn't get Tony Graziani back as expected last week against San Jose, and seemed stunned in the first half before Matt D'Orazio rallied the team in the second half for a rousing comeback that only champions can muster. D'Orazio's late five-yard touchdown run capped a 44-point second half as Philadelphia might have officially wrested the label of the league's best team from San Jose, which has looked very incapable of keeping that distinction. The Soul are expecting to get Graziani back for this week's game and should have no trouble rolling past Columbus, also a shadow of its 2007 self, as Philadelphia looks ahead to meeting Dallas to decide which is truly the best team in the AFL -- at least until the playoffs begin.

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