“It’s almost here.”
I have to keep telling myself this as the Alliance of American Football inches closer and closer. We at East Village Times have been covering the San Diego Fleet since before training camp began and have been waiting for this moment… No, not the Flip-off. Game Picks.
That’s right. Jason Mobbs, J.B. and T.K. from TAFKAFS (The Audioblog Formerly Known As Fleet Speak), and I will be giving out weekly game picks for all of the AAF games.
Along with us predicting the winner and the score of each game, each of us will explain why we made the pick and identify a key match-up from each game. That key matchup could be anything from one team’s offensive line versus the others defensive line to an ongoing quarterback battle. (We are looking at you Memphis.)
I will also keep a record of each of our picks and post them along with the next weeks’ selections. As the season moves from week to week, you can decide who’s predictions you believe based on our records.
So, without further ado, welcome to East Village Times inaugural game picks.
JB (TAFKAFS): (0-0)
TK (TAFKAFS) (0-0)
San Diego Fleet at San Antonio Commanders
Zachary Gartin (ZG)
San Diego 31-San Antonio 24
This is gonna be a tough first game for the Fleet. The one thing San Antonio looks like they can do is rush the passer, and that’s one of the things San Diego struggled to stop in the preseason game. San Diego’s offensive line actually looked good in the second half of the preseason game though. They only gave up one sack in the second half, compared to six in the first. San Diego’s ability to defend the run will be on display against San Antonio’s run-first offense, forcing the Commanders to beat them through the air. And if it’s an offense against an offense, I think San Diego will win.
Key Matchup: Fleet Pass Rush vs. San Antonio O-Line. San Diego has to cause problems at the line of scrimmage to cover up some deficiencies on the backend. If San Diego can force San Antonio to be one-dimensional, the Fleet should come away with a victory.
Jason Mobbs (JM)
San Diego 28-San Antonio 20
Look for Mike Martz to utilize an array of pass catchers keeping the San Antonio Commanders off balance and off guard. The depth of the Fleet’s linebacker talent will force San Antonio to abandon the run allowing a suspect Fleet secondary to prove its worth early in the season.
Key Matchup: San Diego QB Michael Bercovici vs San Antonio’s secondary. Bercovici has struggled with interceptions since college. If it is not something he can correct, it is possible he won’t be the starter for long.
San Diego 28-San Antonio 17
If San Antonio’s roster is accurate, they have four defensive linemen. What? I’ll be very impressed if they don’t get run on heavily, regularly, and effectively. I think the Fleet’s offensive line struggles in the preseason game versus the Apollo’s pass rush will not be as much of an issue as San Diego looks to run early and often to wear down the thin Commander front.
Key Matchup: Fleet OL vs Commanders DL. Maybe these guys are the absolute cream of the crop? Coach Riley and DC Jim Grobe think they can stand up to the challenge without much rotation. Looking to see how the quartet of Winston Craig (DT), and DL’s Arthur Miley, Matt Godin, and Joey Mbu stand up to the San Diego run blocking.
San Diego 36-San Antonio 33
Fleet QB Mike Bercovici spent a good part of the scrimmage getting up from the turf after the Commanders sacked him eight times. Those eight sacks created five fumbles and two turnovers for the Commanders. In addition, Bercovici threw three interceptions. The final score Apollos 31, Fleet 28 could have been much more lopsided. Watch how the Fleet OL handles the pass rush of Commanders’ LB Shaan Washington. Washington had two sacks in their scrimmage against the Legends. Dontez Ford had 10 catches for 100 yards and one TD. The Commanders will want to pay attention to where he lines up.
Key Matchup: The Commanders need to find a way to keep the Fleet offense off the field. In their scrimmage against the Apollos, the Fleet ran 83 offensive plays to 47 for the Apollos. The difference in the game turned out to be 20 points off of five Fleet turnovers. The Commanders shouldn’t plan on that happening again.
Atlanta Legends at Orlando Apollos
Orlando 30- Atlanta 12
Orlando is probably going to be one of the best teams in the AAF. Orlando showed in the preseason game that they have a steady offense that is paired with an aggressive defense. Atlanta showed a few signs of life on offense against San Antonio during their preseason game, but expect much of the same as their defense will struggle to get pressure on Garrett Gilbert and the Apollos offense.
Key Matchup: Atlanta’s run game vs. Orlando’s front seven. Orlando might have the best front seven in the league. If Atlanta can’t get anything going on the ground, it’ll be a really long day for whoever is throwing the ball for Atlanta.
Orlando 34-Atlanta 17
Orlando could prove to be one of the top squads in the league. They are balanced on offense and really get after the QB on defense. Atlanta meanwhile mustered a mere 11 points in their pre-season game vs San Antonio. They did manage to spread the ball around in the passing game despite only getting in the endzone once on a goalline plunge from running back Denard Robinson.
Key Matchup: The battle between two polar opposite head coaches. Steve Spurrier renowned for his offensive aerial attacks vs Kevin Coyle who has made his name on the defensive side of the ball for both the LSU Tigers and Cincinnati Bengals.
Orlando 33-Atlanta 15
Based on what we saw from the San Diego vs. Orlando preseason matchup, the Apollos’ defense is really good. Then again, it could be a case of early jitters from the Fleet, and more specifically Bercovici, who did everything in his power to give the ball to Spurrier’s squad. I’ll be looking to see if Orlando can sustain defensive pressure and force turnovers against Atlanta. The offense might be a work in progress under Vick.
Key Matchup: Matt Simms v Aaron Murray. Simms looks to be the starter, but I don’t know if he’s good enough or the right fit for this offense. In the preseason match against San Antonio, Murray was inserted late in the first quarter and played a decent stretch. He also looks a better fit as far as Vick’s running-style offense is concerned. Can Simms play well enough to hold off Murray’s favorable skill set?
Orlando 26-Atlanta 20
I have questions about both of these teams. The Apollos won their scrimmage against the Fleet, despite allowing 36 more offensive plays than they ran themselves. Remember the five turnovers the Apollos got against the Fleet? The Legend didn’t turn the ball over once vs the Commanders. Will the Apollos defense recreate the pressure they showed vs the Fleet against the Legends?
Key Matchup: This is Offensive Coordinator Michael Vick’s first time calling plays. He needs to show that he can call a game that generates points. In the scrimmage, his team managed 11 first downs and 11 points. Apollos Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders has 40 years of coaching experience up and down the defensive side of the ball. We’re going to learn a lot about both teams in this game.
Memphis Express at Birmingham Iron
Birmingham 24- Memphis 18
This is a tough game to make a pick for. Neither of these teams played very well in their respective preseason game, struggling on both sides of the ball. I like Luis Perez and his ability to direct an offense, so I think he can lead Birmingham to a late win over Memphis. Expect a lot of running in this game, as each team will look to the run early if the QB’s can’t settle in.
Key Matchup: Christian Hackenberg vs. Zach Mettenberger. Reports are showing the Hackenberg will be the starter for Memphis in week one. It’ll be interesting how much of a leash he is given with Zach Mettenberger waiting behind him.
Birmingham 17-Memphis 13
Somebody has to win this game. Both of these teams I think will end up in the cellar of the league. Neither found any continuity in their preseason matchups scoring or keeping their opponents from doing so. Expect the futility to continue in a game that will make the recent super bowl seem exciting.
Key Matchup: Both teams vs the Scoreboard. Let’s just hope somebody lucks into a touchdown!
Memphis 29-Birmingham 19
Okay, fine. You caught me. I spent all my time researching the Fleet and none on the other seven rosters. I am looking forward to the completely new final score possibilities with the two-point conversions. I’m excited to see how the flamed-out ex-NFLers Christian Hackenbaconcheeseburger, Zac Stacy and Trent Richardson do. If you ask me, it won’t be pretty.
Key Matchup: Damore’ea Stringfellow v Iron Secondary. I think this is probably my favorite name in the Alliance. Stringfellow had some solid numbers coming out of Ole Miss and then lingered on the NFL outskirts as a practice squad member for the past two seasons. He drew a team-high six targets in the preseason match with Salt Lake, but only caught one. Will he come through for the Hack Attack when it matters?
Birmingham 17-Memphis 15
It looks like Hal Mumme’s surprise resignation as OC might have some lingering effects. Scoring 15 points in the scrimmage was not the way to put anyone’s thoughts at ease. On the flip side, the Iron only put up 17 against the Hotshots. Iron QB Luis Perez is a great story. I hope he makes the same jump from the AAF that Kurt Warner did out of NFL Europe. I’m not sold that OC Steve Logan is the one to take him there. PROVE ME WRONG!
Key Matchup: I BADLY want to see the Air Raid concepts that HC Mike Singletary says he’s installing, in action on the field. I’m looking forward to watching the Hackenberg/Mettenberger show run them. I want it to succeed. If it works in the AAF, we might get the chance to watch it in Arizona next year with Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals. At this rate, though it looks like the best Defense against it, is to let the Express run it.
Salt Lake Stallions at Arizona Hotshots
Arizona 25- Salt Lake 19
Arizona is the more dynamic team here. They have a multitool quarterback in Trevor Knight and showed a balanced running game during the preseason game. Arizona’s defense also forced two turnovers and held Birmingham to 17 points. Salt Lake looked good as well, but I think they are less dynamic on offense and their defense isn’t quite as good.
Key Matchup: Joel Bouagnon vs. Hotshots running backs. In Salt Lake, Bouagnon looks to be the featured back, while Arizona looks to use a stable of backs. Whichever team has a better day running the football will probably walk away with a win.
Arizona 34-Salt Lake 24
The hottest team going into this season is the one whose name sounds it. The Arizona Hotshots are already favored to win the championship by early odds. They will definitely not have a cakewalk against the Stallions who boast a stout rushing attack.
Key Matchup: Salt Lake Running Back Joel Bouagnon vs Hot Shots Front seven. Bouagnon found pay dirt twice last week. If he can get it going and open up the play action for the Stallions they might just have a Shot vs Arizona.
Arizona 27-Salt Lake 23
It sure is looking like the West has the cream of the crop. Salt Lake and Arizona don’t get much press or have much flair, but the preseason results are promising. Both defenses look solid. Both offenses look potent. I feel a shootout is in order.
Key Matchup: Josh Woodrum v Hotshots Secondary. Woodrum is a favorite of mine, being a Ravens fan. He impressed in NFL preseason play in 2017 and turned that into a starting job with the Stallions. He’ll have his work cut out for him with the talent in Arizona’s pass defense. Rahim Moore headlines with five years and 54 NFL starts under his belt. He’s joined by fellow ex-NFLers Dexter McDougle, Sterling Moore, and Robert Nelson.
Arizona 36-Salt Lake 28
Love both of these teams. Hotspot QB Trevor Knight will have success in this league. Neuheisel doesn’t have an OC on staff, but between him and QB coach Steve Axman, they have 65 years of coaching experience. I think they’ll manage to get plays called just fine. I expect Hotshot RB John Crockett to get plenty of action as well. It looks like Denis Ericksen and the Stallions will put their offense into the hands of Josh Woodrum. It will be interesting to see how much leash each team give their signal callers. With the short season (10 games) there won’t be time to have a “down game”. I’m pulling for BJ Daniels to get a shot at some point.
Key Matchup: Stallions running game (Joel Bouagnon, Aaron Duckworth, and Terrell Newby) against the Hotshots Defense. The Stallions put up 155 yards of rushing and 2 touchdowns (both by Bouagnon) in the scrimmage. If they can keep up that kind of production in the running game they’ve got a better than even chance at beating the Hotshots.