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As if making selections in the Arena Football Pick 'Em game wasn't challenging enough, now we have teams playing with additional motivation as Week 12 beckons. With only six weeks left in the season, several ballclubs are trying to position themselves in prime spots for the postseason, which can only increase the amount of tight contests and possible upsets.
Chicago became the first team to clinch a playoff berth last week and can wrap up its second consecutive Central Division championship with a win and a Colorado loss. The streaking New York Dragons, the hottest team in the league, can maintain their lead over Cleveland for the fifth playoff spot in the National Conference with a win. With another victory, Georgia can pull to within one game of the Southern Division lead. Let's not forget the defending champion San Jose SaberCats, who haven't been nearly as strong this year but can clinch an American Conference playoff berth with a win and losses by three other teams. When San Jose sews up its spot in the playoffs, it will mark its ninth consecutive postseason appearance.
Philadelphia is looking to get back on track this week after two consecutive losses, while the suddenly sliding New Orleans VooDoo get the week off. Dallas may have repositioned itself as the team to beat in the AFL, and it will look to win its 18th consecutive home game this week, one short of the league record. The Desperados have won 37 of their past 42 regular-season games and are looking to nail down their fourth 10-win season in the team's seven-year history.
My picks are in CAPS
Friday, May 16
TAMPA BAY STORM (4-6) at Grand Rapids Rampage (3-7): Grand Rapids has been wildly inconsistent but looked more competitive in a loss to Dallas last week. The Rampage still had obvious problems -- they recorded no sacks or interceptions and could not handle the Desperados' offense when it counted. The Storm do not present the same kind of formidable matchup, yet Tampa Bay has been playing better recently and should be able to handle Grand Rapids for their third win in four games. The Storm held New Orleans to a season-low 37 points in a four-point victory last week and have not surrendered more than 47 points in their past four games. Defensive back Traco Rachal was named the league's defensive player of the week as he recorded 12.5 tackles, one pass defensed and an interception. His pick of Danny Wimprine came with eight seconds left and sealed a victory in which Tampa Bay surrendered only 16 first-half points. The defense should rule again while quarterback Brett Dietz continues his steady play.
Saturday, May 17
Columbus Destroyers (2-8) at PHILADELPHIA SOUL (9-2): After looking like world-beaters in their first nine games, the Soul have not won since they peaked in a 29-point win over the Desperados on April 28. The Soul defense was largely responsible for last week's collapse against the Force, who scored 22 unanswered points in the final three minutes to earn a one-point victory. Connor Hughes missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt as time expired, but now the Soul get the gift of facing the Destroyers, who arguably may be the worst team in the league following a 2007 season that saw them take a Cinderella ride to the ArenaBowl. The Destroyers have lost four in a row and five of their past six games as they come off a 16-point loss to the equally inept Kansas City Brigade. The Destroyers allowed four passing touchdowns and three rushing scores against Kansas City while forcing only one turnover, so there's no way they will be able to contain the Soul's high-powered attack.
Arizona Rattlers (4-6) at DALLAS DESPERADOS (9-2): Simply the easiest pick of the week. The Rattlers have lost two in a row and three of their past four games as they come off a 21-point loss to San Jose. The Rattlers' shaky pass defense allowed Mark Grieb to throw eight touchdown passes with no interceptions, and there is no way they will be able to contain AFL Offensive Player of the Week Clint Dolezel. The Desperados QB also threw eight touchdown passes against Grand Rapids as he led his team on scoring drives on nine of their first 11 possessions. Rattlers quarterback Lang Campbell is out with a knee injury, and there is no way fill-in Jeff Smoker can hope to keep up with Dolezel, who last week became the first quarterback in professional football history to throw for 900 career touchdowns.
CLEVELAND GLADIATORS (6-4) at Colorado Crush (4-6): The Gladiators have established themselves as one of the true contenders in the league and one of the better regular selections in the AFL Pick 'Em game with their play in recent weeks. Cleveland has won two consecutive games and three of its past four. The Gladiators are coming off decisive wins over Orlando and Philadelphia, two of the best teams in the AFL, and the underachieving Crush are in for a very tough time. The Gladiators have scored 139 points in their past two games, as Raymond Philyaw continues to be a steady, guiding force at quarterback. He threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions against Orlando last week. Cleveland has improved on defense as the year has progressed and will have little trouble handling a Colorado offense that mustered only 36 points in a befuddling loss to Utah last week. The Crush turned the ball over four times and erratic quarterback John Dutton threw only four touchdown passes.
Utah Blaze (2-9) at SAN JOSE SABERCATS (6-5): Though it lost its first nine games and was the joke of the league just a few weeks ago, Utah still has a shot to make the American Conference playoffs after winning its past two games. But the two victories have come against Kansas City and Colorado, and San Jose has proved it can routinely handle weaker opponents, while having real problems with the better teams in the AFL. The Blaze scored a season-high 71 points in last week's win over the Crush. Quarterback Joe Germaine, who has admirably plugged away all season, threw six of the team's seven touchdown passes, and the Blaze did not turn over the ball. J.J. McKelvey continued to make the most of his opportunity with four touchdown receptions, and Huey Whittaker is a definite threat as well, but look for San Jose to prevail late in the game even if Utah can keep this one close for a while.
Sunday, May 18ORLANDO PREDATORS (7-4) at Kansas City Brigade (2-8): The Preds have dropped two of their past three games and are suddenly looking like less than an elite team now. They are coming off a 21-point loss to Cleveland and have scored only 119 points in their past three games. Last week against the Gladiators, quarterback Shane Stafford threw six touchdown passes with no interceptions, but the defense couldn't stop Raymond Philyaw. Thankfully, the Predators can get back on track this week against the Brigade, who defeated the stumbling Destroyers last week. Kansas City has won two of its past four games but is no match for a playoff contender like Orlando. Brigade quarterback D. Bryant has played respectably overall in recent weeks and has solved the team's quarterback issues to a degree, but the Brigade offensive line will have trouble protecting him consistently this week, and he won't be able to match Stafford in leading key scoring drives.
Georgia Force (5-5) at NEW YORK DRAGONS (6-4): Both of these teams have overcome early inconsistencies and are now two of the ballclubs no other team in the AFL wants to face. The Force have won two in a row and four of their past six games as they reposition themselves as a solid contender. They have knocked off New Orleans and Philadelphia in their past two games, so there is no question Georgia has re-emerged as a team to fear. Last week's furious and memorable comeback to defeat the Soul was keyed by the combination of quarterback Chris Greisen and wide receiver Troy Bergeron. In the fourth quarter, Greisen threw two touchdown passes to Bergeron, who is one of the hottest pass-catchers in the league right now, and the quarterback ran for another score. But the Dragons have been unstoppable recently. They've won five in a row, led by a healthy Aaron Garcia and one of the league's best secondaries. Yet the only formidable opponent they have beaten during that stretch is Cleveland. Still, it can be a memorable week for Garcia, and while this game is the toughest one to call this week, he will be the focal point as he ties to reach more than one milestone. With 309 passing yards, Garcia could become the fourth player in league history to reach 40,000 for his career. He also needs four touchdown passes to become the third player in league history with 850 career scoring passes.
Monday, May 19
Los Angeles Avengers (4-7) at CHICAGO RUSH (8-2): If you want to submit Chicago is the lock of the week over Los Angeles, I can certainly see that. I certainly don't expect the Avengers to challenge for the win here, but Arizona may get blown out worse than Los Angeles. The Avengers have been one of the biggest disappointments in the AFL after looking like a preseason contender, and they have dropped three of their past four games. Last week, they lost by four points to New York, as quarterbacks Sommy Cumbie and Tim Hicks combined to throw three interceptions. Chicago, meanwhile, has firmly established itself as one of the best bets to win it all under quarterback Russ Michna. The Rush have won four in a row. Last week against Tampa Bay, Michna continued to display his versatility, throwing four touchdown passes and rushing for another two scores.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.