Wednesday, May 28, 2008
AFL Pick 'Em Week 14 preview
By Scott Engel
Last week, I lamented the fate of AFL Pick 'Em players everywhere, especially myself, as the Dallas Desperados dropped a home decision to the Arizona Rattlers in Week 12. Yet that frustration was minuscule compared to what we would feel in Week 13. All sorts of emotions ran through me, and other participants, as we watched last week's slate of games unfold. I personally cannot recall a set of results that has ever produced a combination of shock, denial, disappointment and other negative feelings to the level I felt them in Week 13. I've been playing this game since we launched it, and this was the most stunning week ever, period.
The Arizona-Dallas upset was nothing compared to the pair of upsets we saw in Week 13. Two of the league's worst teams knocked off two of the best. Philadelphia was skidding recently, yet their home loss to Kansas City was an upset of epic proportions. We're talking the NFL equivalent of the 2007 Chiefs knocking off the Cowboys in Dallas (sorry, Philly fans, to use the Dallas analogy there, but it works from the perspective of a four-win team beating a 13-win ballclub in their house). Yet that may not have been the biggest shocker of the week. Utah outlasting Chicago now qualifies as the most unlikely result of the season. Also, just for good measure, to further frustrate us AFL Pick 'Em players, the Columbus Destroyers, another "weak sister," got off the mat to blindside the New York Dragons. Three bewildering miracles in one week, with the Kansas City and Utah wins being more surprising than the Florida Marlins selling out a homestand.
So, after my worst week of the season, with only three correct selections, I bravely charge back into the fray, knowing many other participants were done in by similar fates last week. In my personal group, where no one scored more than four correct picks in Week 13, I remain one correct selection out of first place. In the very large Fantasy Editorial group, I remain only two correct selections removed from the top spot. The past two weeks, we've all seen first-hand that our luck may turn against us, but unpredictability wreaks havoc with all players, and a good knowledge base is what will still put you on the top of your group at the end. Unpredictable results also lead to parity in many groups and ensure no one entry can run away with the lead.
Week 14 Selections
My picks are in CAPS
Friday, May 30
Columbus Destroyers (3-9) at NEW ORLEANS VOODOO (7-5): Prepare yourself for another possible upset here, as the Destroyers snapped a five-game losing streak last week, while New Orleans has fallen from early-season grace with three consecutive losses. Still, I can't bring myself to go with Columbus here because the VooDoo are simply the better team, and this is their opportunity to right the ship against a lesser opponent. New Orleans' offense has sputtered recently, with only 105 points in their past three games, including a season-low 29 in last week's loss to Georgia. Quarterback Danny Wimprine, the AFL equivalent of Derek Anderson until a few weeks ago, has cooled off and threw only three touchdown passes last week. Yet the defense is still playing well and has allowed only 82 points in the past two games. The Destroyers scored only 43 against New York last week and don't have enough weaponry to pull out a win on the road in New Orleans when it counts, even if the game remains close.
Saturday, May 31
Tampa Bay Storm (6-6) at GEORGIA FORCE (7-5): This is the toughest choice of the week, as both teams are playing very well after some early-season troubles. Tampa Bay has won three in a row and four of five as they rekindle memories of their 2007 turnaround. Last week, the Storm knocked off the Gladiators, 58-48, further proving they can top the league's better teams as they drive towards the postseason. The defense held one of the league's better quarterbacks, Raymond Philyaw, to only three touchdown passes, while Storm quarterback Brett Dietz threw six touchdown passes with no interceptions. The Force, however, are the hottest team in the league right now, with four consecutive wins, all against contending teams. The Force downed the VooDoo for the second time in four games last week and are now just a half-game behind Orlando for the Southern Division lead. The defense allowed a season-best 29 points to the VooDoo last week and stopped New Orleans on its final three possessions. Quarterback Chris Greisen threw four touchdown passes, ran for another score, and is one of the top field generals in the AFL right now.
DALLAS DESPERADOS (10-2) at Cleveland Gladiators (7-5): The Despos quickly put the Arizona game behind them and rolled over Orlando in a 26-point victory last week. Will Pettis was the clear standout player of the week, as he won the weekly AFL Ironman award in an amazing all-around performance. He totaled four touchdowns, one rushing, one receiving, one kick return and one interception return, becoming the first player in league history to accomplish the feat. The defense frustrated Shane Stafford to the point where he was pulled from the game, and then backup Jake Eaton was intercepted twice. Dallas won the first meeting of the season between these two teams, 58-51 in Week 6. Clint Dolezel threw five touchdown passes with no interceptions, and outpointed Philyaw, who threw five touchdown passes with one interception. Cleveland had a three-game win streak stopped last week and will just miss the mark again this time against the Despos.
Arizona Rattlers (6-6) at ORLANDO PREDATORS (8-5): The Rattlers have won two in a row, and will not go quietly in this one. It wasn't easy, though, for Arizona to dispatch a lesser Grand Rapids team last week, as it took a 1-yard run by quarterback Jeff Smoker with 35 seconds remaining to take the lead, 52-48. The Rattlers then needed a late defensive stand near the goal line to preserve the win. Arizona set a franchise record with five rushing touchdowns, but the Preds will be well-prepared and the Rattlers may not have another big upset left in them after knocking off Dallas two weeks ago. Orlando has lost two of its past three games and needs a win to stay atop their division. The Predators committed three turnovers and allowed a pair of safeties in a 67-41 loss to Dallas last week. The Preds allowed 25 consecutive points to open the second half and Stafford was pulled in the third quarter. Orlando is not playing as well as their record indicates and is no lock in this game, but desperation to turn things around should be enough against Arizona.
Kansas City Brigade (3-9) at CHICAGO RUSH (9-3): The only thing more surprising than the results involving these teams last week might be another win for Kansas City and another loss for Chicago here. Rush head coach Mike Hohensee unsuccessfully tried to guard against a Rush letdown last week, and he's not going to let his team suffer two consecutive shocking losses. The Brigade won for the second time in four games and played their best game of the year as they earned their first road victory of 2008, 64-57 over Philadelphia. Up-and-down quarterback D. Bryant was a good game manager and threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions, but he'll have much trouble with one of the AFL's best defenses this week. Chicago will be highly motivated to dominate Brown after forcing only one turnover last week and allowing Utah quarterback Joe Germaine to keep his team in the game long enough to pull off the upset.
SAN JOSE SABERCATS (8-5) at Los Angeles Avengers (4-8): The 'Cats are brimming with confidence as they head into yet another matchup with a lesser opponent. San Jose has won three in a row and five of six, rebounding from early-season mediocrity with victories over a handful of the AFL's weaker teams. Mark Grieb is on a roll and was named the league's Offensive Player of the Week, as he threw eight touchdown passes in a 17-point victory against Colorado. The victory enabled the SaberCats to clinch their ninth consecutive playoff berth. Los Angeles still has American Conference playoff hopes, but they lost to San Jose, 70-42, in Week 9 and may absorb another ugly beating this week.
Sunday, June 1
UTAH BLAZE (3-9) at Grand Rapids Rampage (3-10): The Blaze, who were a laughingstock during the first half of the season, have won three of four and are still very much alive in the American Conference playoff race after toppling the Rush. Utah is playing better than its record indicates right now and should storm past the Rampage, who have lost four in a row. Grand Rapids quarterback James MacPherson is banged up and the Utah defense actually looked solid last week at key junctures in the 3-point victory that was capped by a late Steve Videtich field goal. The Rampage defense allowed rive rushing touchdowns last week and will now have to contend with Blaze quarterback Joe Germaine, who has played well all season. He threw five touchdown passes against Chicago, two each to Aaron Boone and J.J. McKelvey. Add in another threat, the underrated Huey Whittaker, and you have too many receiving weapons for Grand Rapids to handle.
Monday, June 2
NEW YORK DRAGONS (6-6) at Colorado Crush (4-8): the Dragons are suddenly sliding, having lost two in a row, but should be able to get back on track against the enigmatic Crush. The Destroyers' defense rose up to hold New York to 41 points and prevented the big play at key moments. Still, Aaron Garcia had a good statistical day, throwing six touchdown passes with no interceptions. The Dragons will have to work hard for the win, as their receivers struggled at times with physical coverages last week and the Colorado defensive backs can be very aggressive. Look for New York to make the needed adjustments on offense and the defense will be able to handle streaky quarterback John Dutton. He was intercepted twice and threw only two touchdown passes after halftime in last week's loss to San Jose.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.