A quick breakdown of the Week 7 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Friday, April 13
San Jose (3-2) at New Orleans (3-3)
San Jose is starting to play up to the level we expected, while New Orleans is starting to come back to the pack after a great start. San Jose is getting great production and decision making from QB Mark Grieb, and he has three quality targets in WRs Ben Nelson, James Roe and Rodney Wright (who is also an excellent kick-return specialist). The SaberCats are good in the red zone and can run the ball and control the clock late. They also have a defense that can create turnovers, led by excellent DBs Clevan Thomas and Omarr Smith. New Orleans was out-physicaled in its loss to Tampa Bay last week and QB Andy Kelly was knocked out of the game with a concussion. His status for this week is unknown. Backup Steve Bellasari really struggled (four interceptions). If Kelly can't play, the VooDoo will struggle to score against a good defense that can shut them down.
Los Angeles (3-2) at Utah (4-2)
This could be a very entertaining offensive shootout between two potent (and smart) passing attacks. Avengers QB Sonny Cumbie versus Utah's Joe Germaine is a great matchup, but the difference here is that Los Angeles actually knows how to play a little defense. The Avengers create turnovers, don't give up a lot of big plays and have a great player in DB Damen Wheeler. His matchup with Utah WR Siaha Burley could be the key to the game because the complementary Blaze receivers are not necessarily game breakers. Utah relies on outscoring opponents because its defense just doesn't make many big plays. Los Angeles can put three quality wide receivers on the field and also can run the ball with FB Lonnie Ford. Utah has no answer for either. While LA might be the better team, Germaine should have a big game and Utah's offense at home could be too much for the Avengers' defense.
Saturday, April 14
Austin (2-4) at Columbus (2-3)
Both teams are coming off last-second thrillers, but each had a different result. Austin edged explosive Utah, while Columbus couldn't hold a 30-point lead against Dallas in a devastating loss. Austin is starting to hit its offensive stride. QB Adrian McPherson is becoming more consistent as a passer and his mobility and scrambling add another element for defenses to worry about. The problem is that the Destroyers still don't make enough defensive stops, and their special teams continue to be inconsistent. Columbus is getting solid production from QB Matt Nagy, and WR/KR Damien Groce could have a big game on special teams versus the Wranglers. This game will come down to which defense can make a couple of key stops and which QB can play a mistake-free game.
Tampa Bay (1-5) at Orlando (2-3)
Tampa Bay got an excellent defensive effort and a solid game by QB Stoney Case in an unexpected win over New Orleans. Orlando used the bye week to not only get healthy, but also tweak an underachieving offense. The Storm ran the ball very effectively versus New Orleans and has fought through a tough start to the season. These rivals know each other well and while Orlando routed the Storm in Week 1, they might be different teams now. The Predators have been hit hard by injuries and inconsistent quarterback play, and they are not making the big defensive stops we are used to seeing. Both teams have playmakers on both sides of the ball and are capable of big numbers in the passing game. Pass protection will be critical because both teams can rush the quarterback. You get the feeling Tampa is ready to put a win streak together.
Grand Rapids (2-3) at Kansas City (3-2)
The Rampage finally got QB Chad Salisbury back from a concussion, which led to a win over New York last week, while improving Kansas City got a good performance from QB Raymond Philyaw in a blowout win over hapless Las Vegas. Grand Rapids has a great playmaker in WR Timon Marshall, who also can produce big plays as a kick returner, but they don't have a great group of complementary receivers. Kansas City matches up very well on defense, especially in the secondary. It should be able to handle the Rampage passing game with single coverage schemes, but the Brigade must stop Marshall. Both of these defenses can get to the quarterback, make key stops and create turnovers. Both secondaries might try to get physical and disrupt the timing of the passing game, but the Brigade are a little more explosive.
Nashville (2-4) at Arizona (1-5)
After looking like they were starting to right the ship in Week 5 wins, these teams reverted to form in Week 6. Both played sloppy on defense, which led to disappointing losses and makes this almost a must-win game for each. Nashville had 13 penalties in its loss to Chicago. Meanwhile, the Kats, while trying to play physical, lost their composure. They must play with more discipline this week. Nashville will try to run the ball versus Arizona, but the one thing the Rattlers do well is stop the run. However, Nashville will have no problem moving the ball through the air versus a defense that gives up a lot of big plays. Arizona wins when it can outlast its opponent by continuing to score, but the Rattlers struggle to make quality defensive stops. Although Nashville is young, the Kats have good playmakers on defense to match up. If Kats QB Jeff Smoker doesn't turn the ball over, he can lead his team to a good road win. But Arizona QB Sherdrick Bonner is also capable of taking over a game.
Sunday, April 15
Colorado (3-3) at New York (1-4)
Both teams are coming off lopsided losses and neither is playing with much confidence. Although Colorado is perceived to be the much better team, the New York offense is the dominating unit right now. Crush QB John Dutton was benched last week, while Dragons QB Rohan Davey put up solid numbers. Davey has a much better and deeper receiving corps than Colorado, led by Mike Horacek. Colorado, on the other hand, can't get the ball enough to WR Damian Harrell, can't convert on third down and has no rushing attack to slow the game down. New York also is terrible on third down conversions and takes itself out of games with penalties and turnovers. Neither team is playing good defense, but the mobility Davey should be the difference. He can scramble, break down the Colorado defense and make enough big plays to win at home.
Las Vegas (1-5) at Georgia (4-2)
These teams have totally different mindsets entering this game. Las Vegas released QB Shaun King this week after being blown out by Kansas City. They are a disaster on both sides of the ball. Georgia is coming off a huge road win at Philadelphia, and its confidence is at an all-time high. The Force is an excellent defensive team with a solid pass rush and a secondary that is very good at playing zone and closing on the ball. It looks nearly impossible for Las Vegas to move the ball on offense against Georgia, no matter who is at quarterback. The Force offense is a nightmare matchup for a Gladiator defense that lacks a quality pass rush and enough cover defensive backs to handle the best receiver trio in the AFL -- Troy Bergeron, Chris Jackson and Derek Lee. With time to throw, Force QB Chris Greisen should have a huge day versus Las Vegas.
Note: An in-depth breakdown of Monday night game between Philadelphia (5-1) and Dallas (6-0) (ESPN2, ESPN360, 8 p.m. ET) will run Friday.
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