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We're down to the final two weeks of the Arena Football regular season, which also means it's the final two weeks of the AFL Pick 'Em game. In a league in which unpredictability runs rampant, each remaining game takes on great significance. One upset or a few thrilling finishes could ultimately mean the difference between winning your group and ultimately falling short of your goal.
Many AFL teams are still jostling for playoff positioning or fighting for their postseason lives as Week 16 beckons. There will also be games between lower-echelon teams trying to end their seasons on a positive note. So the final two weeks promise to bring us lots of excitement, but also much unrest, as we watch pivotal matchups played out with high intensity. Keep in mind that a handful of teams with losing records are still entertaining postseason aspirations, so most games will have a lot at stake this week.
In Week 15, I was able to launch into first place in my private group, as I now have 81 correct selections. I also remain two correct selections removed from first place in the very large Fantasy Editorial group. I'm not nervous as the final weeks begin, and you should not be, either. As I have said before, if you are knowledgeable about the league and make the most well-informed selections possible, you'll have a great chance to win your group. All you can do is make the best picks possible, and realize you can't control what happens on the field once your selections are set. Keep in mind that the same upsets and close results that frustrate you often dent the results of other entries in your group, so the luck usually balances out in the end.
My picks are in CAPS.
Friday, June 13
NEW ORLEANS VOODOO (8-6) at Orlando Predators (8-7): Neither team has played well recently, but this matchup has great postseason importance for both sides. It's certainly a prime example of how many games won't be easy to pick over the final two weeks. The VooDoo have lost three consecutive road games and four of five overall. The Preds have also lost four of their past five and three in a row. Orlando remains in playoff contention mainly because of its success earlier in the season. New Orleans has now all but officially lost all hope of winning the Southern Division, but can still clinch a playoff berth with a win this week. For Orlando, a win this week, combined with a Tampa Bay loss over the final two games, can lock up a playoff berth. That will be no easy task against New Orleans. The offense sputtered last week against New York in critical situations, but quarterback Danny Wimprine is still capable of the big game, and the defense, while vulnerable, can force key turnovers as it has been doing for much of the season.
Saturday, June 14
KANSAS CITY BRIGADE (3-11) at Los Angeles Avengers (4-10): The Brigade are coming off the second-worst loss in franchise history, a 73-34 loss to Arizona. Former NFL quarterback Quincy Carter was unimpressive in his Brigade debut, throwing a pair of interceptions and losing a key fumble. Kansas City turned the ball over five times and the offensive line was terrible, allowing two sacks and five tackles for a loss. Still, the Brigade can make the postseason if they win their final two games, and no team in the AFL might be playing worse than the Avengers. Los Angeles has lost four in a row and could not stop Utah last week, surrendering 65 points. The Brigade have come up with some decent performances recently and will prevail here.
GRAND RAPIDS RAMPAGE (4-10) at Columbus Destroyers (3-11): With a win here and a Los Angeles loss, which is very possible, the Rampage can clinch a playoff berth this week. Riding the momentum of an 84-point outburst last week against Colorado, the Rampage should get the job done. The 37 points scored in the second quarter were the second-most in league history. Quarterback James MacPherson had the game of his life, throwing for a franchise-record 10 touchdowns and rushing for another score, in what might have been the best single-game performance by any quarterback in 2008. Columbus scored only 34 points in a loss to Georgia last week, and you can expect to see local hero Justin Zwick take over at quarterback sometime during this week's game, even if Matt Nagy starts.
Chicago Rush (10-4) at GEORGIA FORCE (9-5): The Rush have lost two of their past three games and now travel to face the hottest team in the league. Chicago is coming off a 65-44 loss to Cleveland, and suddenly the luster that surrounded quarterback Russ Michna has worn off. The Rush can still clinch home-field advantage throughout the American Conference playoffs with a win and a San Jose loss, but that seems to be a tall task against Georgia. The Force will be looking to clinch the Southern Division title and a first-round bye with their seventh straight win. Georgia is coming off a 21-point victory over Columbus and will be looking to make a statement by knocking off one of the league's perceived "elite" teams.
Cleveland Gladiators (8-6) at PHILADELPHIA SOUL (11-3): The Gladiators are still very much alive for a postseason berth after trashing the Rush by 21. However, the Soul are back on track and are looking to clinch the Eastern Division title and home-field advantage throughout the American Conference playoffs with a win and a Dallas loss. The Soul came into last week's game having lost three of four, but righted their ship with a 71-64 win over Dallas, giving them a season sweep of the series against their top conference rival. Starting quarterback Tony Graziani returned, but was knocked out of the game in the second quarter. Backup Matt D'Orazio came to the rescue again, throwing five touchdown passes and rushing for another score. Graziani is questionable for this week, but D'Orazio should lead another key win on the road to a possible ArenaBowl berth.
New York Dragons (8-6) at DALLAS DESPERADOS (11-3): The Dragons are in position to clinch a playoff berth with a win and some help, but the Despos will no doubt be in a nasty mood after their loss to Philadelphia, which culminated with a controversial touchdown reception by Soul receiver Chris Jackson that many on Dallas thought was a drop. The loss was the second in four games for the Despos, who lost their grip on the Eastern Division. Clint Dolezel threw just four touchdown passes, but led Dallas to seven offensive touchdowns. He will engage in a heated battle with Aaron Garcia, who is playing at an elite level right now. The New York defense is also very sturdy but won't be able to hold off Dolezel when it counts, as this game could go down to the final seconds.
TAMPA BAY STORM (7-7) at San Jose Sabercats (9-5): San Jose can clinch the Western Division championship and a first-round bye with a win and an Arizona loss, but that might be too much to accomplish against the likes of the Storm. The 'Cats have won four in a row and six of seven, yet they have beat only one team with a winning record during that stretch. The Storm have won four of their past five, their only defeat being a one-point loss to the red-hot Force. The Storm are one game removed from a National Conference playoff berth and are coming off a 10-point win over Orlando. Brett Dietz threw a franchise-record eight touchdown passes and will lead the Storm to another key victory this week.
Monday, June 16
Colorado Crush (4-10) at ARIZONA RATTLERS (8-6): This appears to be the easiest pick of the week, although we never know anything for sure in the AFL. Colorado, one of the biggest disappointments in the league, has dropped five in a row and allowed a season-high 84 points to Grand Rapids last week. Arizona has turned its outlook around with four consecutive victories and is now a serious postseason contender. Last week, the Rattlers whipped Kansas City by 39 and continued to roll behind third-string quarterback Matthew Sauk, who threw seven touchdown passes. Arizona has wrapped up the third playoff spot in the American Conference but still has a shot at the second seed, so the Rattlers will play with a lot of purpose.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.