A quick breakdown of some of the Week 17 games in the Arena Football League:
Columbus (3-12) at Cleveland (8-7)
This looks like a lopsided game that favors Cleveland, but as poor as Columbus' record is, the Destroyers play a lot of close games. Still, they always have a puncher's chance with solid QB Matt Nagy. Meanwhile, Cleveland, coming off a heartbreaking loss at Philadelphia, is a team that can play with anybody when clicking. The Gladiators continue to be underrated offensively with QB Raymond Philyaw and while they lack a big name franchise receiver, they play with more explosiveness than their talent level indicates. They are also getting good pass protection and have the best run game in the AFL, led by fullback Marlion Jackson, which really helps them in the red zone. If the Gladiators have a real weakness it's a secondary that does not match-up well, especially versus elite receivers in man to man situations. Nagy is excellent at finding those matchups and rarely makes bad decisions. Cleveland has more versatility and explosiveness on offense and the Gladiators know they're in the playoffs if they win, so expect them to play well.
Grand Rapids (5-10) at New Orleans (8-7)
The winner of this game is in the playoffs, while the loser can still get in with a little help. Grand Rapids has a very innovative offense that shows flashes of brilliance, but just not enough consistency. But the Rampage is now getting excellent production in the kick return game from Chris Martin and even their so-so defense is starting to make some key stops. That makes them a dangerous opponent. The Rampage would like to make this an up-tempo, high-scoring game because they are more explosive offensively than the VooDoo. But to be successful, they'll need better pass protection against the most aggressive defense in the league and this matchup against the aggressive VooDoo pass rush will be a big key to this game. If they hurry QB James MacPherson, it can lead to big plays by a gambling VooDoo secondary. The VooDoo need to regain some offensive consistency and receiver better play from QB Danny Wimprine (especially on third and fourth down conversions), but you have to like the potential of their defense to take this game over at home and propel them into the playoffs.
Los Angeles (5-10) at Tampa Bay (7-8)
Surprisingly, Los Angeles is still in the playoff hunt, but winning at Tampa Bay won't be easy. The Storm are eliminated from the playoffs, but this is a proud franchise and will play hard. Los Angeles finally played a competitive game on defense, even if it was versus a mediocre Kansas City offense, and actually showed a little resiliency. But the reality is that the Avengers are near the bottom of the league in pass defense and scoring defense and Tampa Bay is capable of putting up a lot of points. QB Brett Dietz is coming off a 10-TD game last week against a good San Jose pass defense, so he could have a field day against L.A. The Avengers also have huge problems in pass protection, which leads to a lot of their QB mistakes, and Tampa Bay has a solid pass rush. Tampa Bay wins when it plays mistake-free offensive football and when it creates pressure and turnovers defensively. Those goals are attainable versus Los Angeles. If the Storm play hard, they will beat the Avengers, but if they are uninspired and ready to go home Los Angeles could pull
off the upset.
Kansas City (3-12) at Colorado (5-10)
We did not expect a lot from Kansas City this season with questions at QB, but Colorado has clearly underachieved. Still the Crush can make the playoffs with a win. There are some concerns here, though. They have an anemic pass offense and QB John Dutton has been inconsistent. Now they also have injury problems at receiver, with Brad Pyatt and Chad Owens out for the season. That leaves Ben Nelson and Willie McQuinnie to make plays in the passing game. The Crush give immobile Dutton good pass protection, but he still doesn't make enough big plays. But on the plus side for Colorado, he's facing a Kansas City defense that lacks explosive playmakers and might have already packed it in mentally. It will be interesting to see how hard the Brigade play. Defensively, Colorado has one great playmaker, DB Rashad Floyd. He can take almost any receiver out of the game, but he doesn't get enough help by the other DBs. Kansas City's offense under QB Quincy Carter is mediocre and it is hard to imagine it putting up a lot of points. The Crush should win this game.
Utah (5-10) at Arizona (8-7)
At midseason, both of these teams were unlikely playoff candidates, but they have played well in the last month and Arizona is in the playoffs and Utah is one win -- or a loss and a little help -- away from the postseason. Right now Utah is that team that nobody wants to play and it has arguably the most dangerous offense in the league led by QB Joe Germaine. The Blaze are coming off a bye week, so they should be well rested and well prepared. They still have a lot of defensive deficiencies, but when their offense is clicking they only have to play adequate defense to stay competitive. They face an Arizona offense that is not overly explosive, but is creative and QB Matt Sauk has brought a lot more consistency. The Rattlers have had a leaky offensive line in the past, but the pass protection has been much better in the last month and faces a Utah pass rush that doesn't provide a lot of pressure. On defense, Arizona does not have an explosive pass rush and that exposes a secondary that doesn't make a lot of big plays, but does play with good discipline. Germaine should have time to throw and identify matchups and that should lead to good production. If Utah makes this a high-scoring game, it could steal a win.
Georgia (10-5) at San Jose (10-5)
It will be very interesting to see the approach each team takes in this game with not a lot on the line in terms of playoffs. San Jose seems to play its best football late in the season every year and is always playoff ready. Both teams have already clinched their divisions with a first round bye, but both San Jose still has a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and a Chicago loss. This is an intriguing matchup between a prolific Georgia No.2-ranked pass offense that protects QB Chris Greisen well (only five sacks allowed) versus an aggressive San Jose defense that leads the league with 29 sacks. That will be a great battle in the trenches. San Jose has an explosive offense of their own, led by QB Mark Grieb and a deep receiving corps, but it turns the ball over a little more than it should. It is a a high risk, high reward offense. Georgia has a talented defense with a solid pass rush and if it pressures Grieb, it could lead to turnovers and that could be the difference in this game. Still, San Jose just doesn't lose in this kind of situation late in the season.
Philadelphia (12-3) at New York (8-7)
Despite the fact they are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. this will be a tough game for the Soul against a New York team fighting for its playoff life. Soul QB Matt D'Orazio continues to play well and pressures defenses with not only his passing accuracy, but also his mobility. He is a dangerous guy in the red zone. He has a great receiver in Chris Jackson, who is almost unstoppable, but the Dragons defense is one of the most aggressive in the AFL with a ferocious pass rush. That allows a gambling secondary to jump routes and make big plays (18 sacks and 23 interceptions). Philadelphia cannot afford to get sloppy and turn the ball over and give Dragons QB Aaron Garcia additional offensive possessions. Even though his offense is not overly explosive, Garcia is capable of putting together a big game. Philadelphia has a solid veteran defense with big play capabilities and the New York O-line must play well to give Garcia time to make these plays. This game should go down to the wire with the Soul coming out ahead.
Dallas (12-3) @ Chicago (10-5)
(ESPN2, ESPN360.com, 4 p.m. ET)
These are two of the marquee franchises in the AFL and it wouldn't be shocking to see a rematch between them in ArenaBowl XXII in July. You get the feeling that the Rush are not hitting on all cylinders right now and Dallas has also looked like a mortal team in the last few weeks, especially on offense. The Desperados really need this game and if they win and Philadelphia loses at New York, they vault to the No. 1 seed in the National Conference and get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That is a lot to play for. Dallas wins by being smart and they have a lot of explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. QB Clint Dolezel calls his own plays and makes excellent decisions, but he faces a Chicago defense that leads the league in scoring defense and pass defense. This could come down to a battle in the trenches between two good pass rushes and two good offensive lines that protect their QBs well. Whichever pass rush creates the best pressure will allow its secondary -- and both Dallas and Chicago have very aggressive DBs and are good in man to man schemes -- to jump routes and make big plays. Something seems to be missing for the Rush and this just has the feel of a close Dallas road win.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.