We are now halfway through the season, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still locked in tight battles. The only team that has really separated themselves from the rest of the league are the Orlando Apollos. The Steve Spurrier-coached team is 5-0 and leading the league in every major statistical category on the offensive side of the ball. Heading into the second half of the season this week, we’ll see further storylines continue to develop, while the playoff picture will start to clear up.
Memphis Express(1-4) v. Salt Lake Stallions(1-4)
The game that features each conference’s respective bottom feeders this week, could produce the most exciting game of the week. Memphis has been close in a few games this year led by that stingy defense and old school style of play. The biggest problem the Memphis defense has faced has been it’s own offense; the defense has received little to no support from the offense and the defense can’t stay off the field. The quarterback switch to Zach Mettenberger has paid off thus far for the Express, as they have seen an increase in offensive productivity. The biggest issue with the offense is the offensive scheme employed by the offensive coordinator; the offense is very one dimensional. On the other side of the coin are the Stallions. The 1-4 record that they currently have isn’t an accurate representation of how good they’ve played. In week one, they were exposed after the Josh Woodrum injury and in week 2, without Woodrum, the offense couldn’t move the ball. This offense needs help on offense from it’s receivers. One of the more “talented” bunch of wideouts in the league in the preseason, only Diemornay Pierson-El has showed up during the regular season. If this team wants to contend and make a push for a playoff spot, they need to turn it around against Memphis.
Prediction: Stallions 27-23
Arizona Hotshots(2-3) v. Orlando Apollos(5-0)
One of the biggest storylines that has developed in the recent weeks is the poor play of the Arizona Hotshots. After starting the season as the “favorites” to win the AAF Championship and rattling off two consecutive victories, the Hotshots have free fallen with three straight losses including a loss to the bottom feeder Atlanta Legends team. The Hotshots defense has become one of the worst in the league and the offense, which still has the best running back stable by my opinion, has become ineffective. They outscored San Antonio last week 25-3 in the second half, but after four turnovers, they were in a 26-0 at the half. Wolford needs to continue pushing the ball downfield and the coaching staff needs to continue to rotate and use all three talented backs they have, otherwise it’s going to be a long and disappointing second half to the season. The Orlando Apollos, on the other hand, have continued to improve on an already impressive roster. Each week they go into the game, handle their business and walk with an unblemished record. Garrett Gilbert is the mid-season MVP and Charles Johnson has established himself as the best WR in the AAF. If this team has a hole in it’s armor, it comes on the defensive side of the ball. Reaser is the only defensive back that has stood out in the secondary and it’s been exposed a few times. They’ll need to tighten that up as the target continues to grow on their back if they want to stay undefeated.
Prediction: Apollos 36-23
San Antonio Commanders(3-2) v. Atlanta Legends(2-3)
The most intriguing game on the slate this weekend is the tough as nails Commanders against the surprising Atlanta Legends. The Commanders have been riddled with an up and down season. Prior to the 29 point explosion on offense last week, the Commanders had only 1 game scoring over 15 points(a loss to the Apollos). Last week, after starting the game and going into halftime winning 26-0, they were outscored in the second half 25-3 and almost lost the game. Quarterback Logan Woodside’s play has steadily improved each week, but decision making ability is starting to come into question. Woodside has thrown 2 or more interceptions in three games this season. The Commanders need a steady ground game to compliment the best wide receiving corps in the league. They also need more explosive plays from WR Greg Ward, Jr. in order to make a playoff push. The Legends on the other hand is quite the impressive story. After starting the season 0-3 and looking like the world’s worst dumpster fire, a switch a quarterback has seem to be the fire the Legends needed. QB Aaron Murray has proved the spark the offense was looking for in the first three games and the Legends have now won two straight. The defense has been the Legends’ biggest asset and that will continue to show today. If the Legends want to continue for a playoff push, they need their WRs to show up. They are tied for the league lead in drops and only one WR is averaging over 40 yards a game. Murray and Tarean Folston can only do so much.
Prediction: Commanders 20-16
Birmingham Iron(3-2) v. San Diego Fleet(3-2)
This game I’ve labeled this week’s “contender or pretender” game. The Iron, similar to the Hotshots, were looking one of the AAF powerhouses just two weeks ago. They started 3-0 behind “run it down your throat” run game and hard nosed, tough as nails defense. CB Jamar Summers for the Iron, is in talks for defensive player of the year, but he needs help now. The Iron benched starting quarterback Luis Perez in favor of the more athletic “dual-threat” QB in Keith Price. Price was able to move the ball better but did most of his damage with his legs last week. In order to score against the number two defense this week, Price will have to make plays using his arm. The Iron are tied with the Legends for most drops in the league. If the Iron want to prove that they are, in fact, a contender, a convincing victory against the Fleet this week will strengthen their case. The San Diego Fleet have been an interesting team since the start of the season. They lost their first round protected QB pick in Josh Johnson to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, they benched starter Mike Bercovici for Philip Nelson halfway through the game in week one and now, Nelson is out for the rest of the regular season and they turned the reins back over to Bercovici. Last week, Bercovici showcased his arm and athletic ability in a last second win over the Stallions. He needs to limit his mistakes and continue to make good decisions in order to keep the Fleet in contention as the best team in the West. Ja’Quan Gardner needs more touches on offense and DB Kameron Kelly is a rising star on a defense that is already the second best defense in the AAF.
Prediction: Fleet 29-20
FB: Michael Washington