The first week is over and the results are in. Jason, J.B., and I are tied for first with a 3-1 record while T.K. lags behind at 2-2.
We all correctly predicted that Orlando would beat Atlanta, but none of us could guess the blowout it was. Matt Simms didn’t look good, but Garrett Gilbert and the Apollos offense looked really good.
The only other game everybody was right about was the Arizona and Salt Lake game. One of the better games of the weekend, Arizona showed their stuff against a pretty solid Salt Lake team.
T.K. was the only one that was wrong about who would win in the Birmingham vs. Memphis game. But none of us guessed that Christian Hackenberg wouldn’t be able to put up a single point. The Memphis defense played well but Luis Perez played better.
And we all guessed San Diego would win this past weekend. We were all wrong. The Fleet’s offensive line problem proved too much for them to overcome. San Antonio’s defense looked really strong and terrorized the Fleet, but the Commander’s offense looked sub par.
Another slate of games and there is another set of predictions from us here at the East Village Times.
Zachary Gartin: (3-1)
J.B. (TAFKAFS): (3-1)
T.K. (TAFKAFS) (2-2)
Atlanta Legends (0-1) at San Diego Fleet (0-1)
Zachary Gartin (ZG)
San Diego 25-Atlanta 10
San Diego should win this game. They have a good defense and an offense with potential. If the offensive line keeps Phillip Nelson (or whoever is in at quarterback for San Diego), the Fleet should be able to get more then six points on offense. Defensively, the Fleet looked great in week one, holding the Commanders to 15 points. They were good against the run and rushing the passer, so their lack of skill at the defensive back position shouldn’t be exploited. And the Legends don’t have the skill at quarterback or wide receiver to exploit that defensive back group. Matt Simms couldn’t get comfortable against the Apollo’s defense, so I expect him to be just as uncomfortable when Damontre Moore is consistently in his face. Also, that defense looked terrible against the Apollos and I don’t think they are going to look good today unless Kevin Coyle makes some big changes.
Key Matchup: Mike Martz vs. his own running game.
The Fleet’s running back group ran the ball very well against the Commanders, but they only ran it 16 times. It’s well known that Martz loves to throw the ball, but if he wants his offense to be successful, he needs to run the football and rely on it to open up the pass.
Jason Mobbs (JM)
San Diego 28-Atlanta 18
Neither of these teams lit the scoreboard up last week and I mean that literally. Between the two of them, they scored 12 points on four Field Goals. Obviously, there were higher expectations and Mike Martz will be out to prove what his offense can do in the Fleet’s first home game. I’m sure Atlanta will be hoping to do the same. I give the advantage to San Diego. Their front seven looked really strong and they also generated some turnovers. The Legends were anything but Legendary on offense. San Diego fans are hungry for football and if they show out as they have in the past, SDCCU will be rocking, providing a great home field advantage.
Key Matchup: RB Ja’Quan Gardner vs. DB Tyson Graham Jr.
San Diego 25-Atlanta 12
Philip Nelson came in and nearly led a game-tying drive, if not for a spectacular interception from Commanders’ cornerback Zack Sanchez (Sanchez then got up and threw the ball out the back of the end zone for a would-be safety… check our Twitter feed). Nelson may very well be Martz’ preferred option, having coached Nelson in the Senior Bowl previously. Despite giving up 40 points, Atlanta’s defense wasn’t bad. The quarterback play could hurt their chances at a victory though. Woodside is better than Simms or Murray and the Fleet held the Commanders signal-caller to 50% completion.
Key Matchup: DE Damontre Moore vs OT John Kling
Moore terrorized Woodside on the right side all night. Looking to see how he fares against the gigantic RT for the Legends, John Kling. Kling is listed at 6’8″ and 323. Moore is much lighter at around 260. Speed moves might kill Kling and have the Legends quarterbacks running for their lives. Looking forward to this matchup.
San Diego 15-Atlanta 9
I ended up watching the Fleet game a few times over the course of the last week. Once for fun, again to look for specifics and in bits and pieces to dig up material for this column and for our TAFKAFS podcast. I saw the Fleet QB’s doing a stellar job of keeping their eyes downfield, passing up the check down. This is a trait that Martz’s quarterbacks have shown in the past. It has cost them big hits, the occasional turnover, and time on the injured list. The Legends defense will have an opportunity to get home against newly minted Fleet starting quarterback Philip Nelson. I had concerns for the Legends when they announced that head coach Brad Childress was stepping down, and again when it was announced that Michael Vick was going to step away from the team as Offensive Coordinator. It was good to see that quarterbacks coach and current offensive play-caller Rich Bartel had the team prepared. Remember, that the Legends first drive of last week’s game went for 15 plays and ended in a Younghoe Kim field goal. It looked like quarterback Matt Simms had trouble executing as the game wore on. It should concern Legends fans to hear that Matt Simms has been announced as the starter when the team faces the Fleet this week.
Key Matchup: DE Damontre Moore vs. OT John Kling
Please see above, where TK talks about Fleet defensive end Damontre Moore going against Legends Tackle John Kling. If the Legends can’t find an answer for Moore they’ll hand the Fleet their first win, and the first time a professional football team has won in San Diego since November 6th, 2016 when the Chargers beat the Titans 43-35 at Qualcomm Stadium. Remember Qualcomm?
Salt Lake Stallions (0-1) at Birmingham Iron (1-0)
Birmingham 24-Salt Lake 19
This is going to be the most competitive game in week two. Birmingham looked fantastic on defense, even if it was against Memphis and Christian Hackenberg. They held that team to less than 100 yards and a shutout. The offense wasn’t great (they ran for 86 yards at less than three yards a carry), but Luis Perez looked great at times and has all the tools to carry this offense to points. Salt Lake hung with the Arizona Hotshots for an entire half, but once Woodrum went out their offense fell apart and only scored six more points. Their defense played well in spurts but giving up 38 points to anyone is never a good thing. It worries me that Wolford torched their defensive backfield and I think Luis Perez can do much of the same. If Woodrum is back and healthy for the game, expect a shootout. If not? This could get ugly for the Stallions.
Key Matchup: Salt Lakes defensive backs vs. Birmingham wide receivers
Luis Perez looked accurate and composed against a pretty good Memphis defense even though his wide receivers had a problem with drops. If the Salt Lake defensive backs can keep tight coverage on the Birmingham receivers, they might force those receivers to drop the football some more.
Birmingham 28-Salt Lake 20
Despite getting 38 put up them by what many feels is the best offense in the AAF this season, Salt Lake still had some bright points. With an impressive stable of running backs, the Stallions were able to move the ball well on the ground and Joel Baugnon was near the top of the league in carries. That being said Birmingham pitched a shut-out at home and the Stallions, with back to back road games to start the season, will have a tough task ahead if they hope to upset the Iron. On the other side of the ball, the Iron had a few players stand out. Trent Richardson punched in a pair of touchdowns despite only averaging 2.5 yards per carry. AAF Special Teams Player of the Week Nick Novak was impressive with his leg going 4/4 on field goal attempts. Wide Receiver Quinton Patton led the AAF in receiving yardage with 107 yds with four receptions.
Key Matchup: Trent Richardson vs. Salt Lake front seven.
Birmingham 24-Salt Lake 13
The Iron Curtain looked impenetrable last weekend facing Memphis, but it was Christian Hackenberg. As of this writing, we’re still waiting on some clarity at the quarterback position from the Stallions. Woodrum exited the game with a hamstring injury and we may be seeing Matt Linehan. He didn’t look dreadful so it’s not a death sentence, but Luis Perez is legit. It’ll be a tough ask for the Stallions to hang with the Iron in Birmingham.
Key Matchup: Jonathan Massaquoi vs. Stallions OL.
Massaquoi terrorized Hackenberg all day long. Curious to see how much of that was due to offensive line play from the Express. Didn’t think Salt Lake’s line looked porous, but they were allowing some Hotshot edge rushers to pressure their quarterbacks.
Salt Lake 18-Birmingham 11
I’m optimistic that the Stallions loss to the Hotshots had more to do with the Hotshots being one of the league’s most complete teams. If that is the case then they should be able to bounce back this week against the Iron. Stallion starting quarterback Josh Woodrum left the game at halftime to be replaced by Matt Linehan. Both quarterback’s had the same rate of success. I don’t think it will matter which gets the start this week.
Key Matchup: Luis Perez vs. Stallions Defense.
We’ve been talking about Luis Perez since the QB Pick or Protect Draft. I’ve been concerned that Offensive Coordinator Steve Logan might not be up to the task of polishing a raw player to the point where he might see NFL success. I as of now take it back. Of all the quarterback’s that I saw play in the opening week, Perez seemed to be the most “NFL Ready”. Things will get harder moving forward. The Iron running game behind Trent Richardson isn’t good. The Iron will need to lean on Perez to get wins. I think the Stallions will be a good test. It will be interesting to see what happens if the Stallions get a lead and Perez needs to mount a comeback.
Arizona Hotshots (1-0) at Memphis Express (0-1)
Arizona 35-Memphis 14
This one is most likely going to be ugly. Memphis is going against the most complete team in the league with a subpar quarterback- at the helm of an offense that doesn’t have an identity. Their only saving grace is the defense they have. But it’s not any better than Salt Lake’s and they gave up 38 points to the Hotshots. John Wolford and Rashad Ross look primed to take advantage of any deficiencies in that Memphis secondary, but they may struggle to run the ball against Memphis’s front seven. While the Hotshots might struggle to run the ball, their ability through the air alone could beat Memphis. And their defensive back group is probably licking their chops at the opportunity to go against Hackenberg.
Key Matchup: Christian Hackenberg vs. Arizona defensive backs
If I am a defensive back from the Hotshots this weekend, I would be super excited for this matchup. The Hotshots have one of the best defensive back groups in the league. If Hackenberg is errant on one too many passes, it’s going to be intercepted. Hackenberg will have to be playing at his absolute best.
Arizona 34-Memphis 17
Let’s be real, no team wants to come out and lay a goose egg week one. The Memphis Express looked sluggish out the gate and will need a major shift in gears if they hope to keep up with the Arizona Hotshots and quarterback John Wolford. Exploiting the Salt Lake secondary Wolford had four touchdowns on the day and will hope to connect with Rashad Ross who had hauled in two touchdowns in his debut. With torrid quarterback play in Week one, Memphis will no doubt be out to prove to their fans they are worth the price of admission.
Key Matchup: Memphis LB DeMarquis Gates vs. AZ RB Jhurell Pressley
Arizona 28-Memphis 9
It’s hard to see how this game doesn’t get lopsided by the time the clock hits zero. Arizona looked like the best offensive unit, and while their defense wasn’t stifling, this is Christian Hackenberg we’re talking about. Hard to imagine a scenario where Arizona plays anything less than competent defense and Memphis breaks double digits. The Express defense looks good, so the game could stay close, but I think turnovers will give Arizona short fields and allow for some extra scoring.
Key Matchup: Jhurell Pressley vs. Memphis Front 7
Pressley looked spry and active despite finishing week 1 with 3.6 yards per carry. Seven carries gained 4 or more yards. Richardson didn’t make much out of his 23 carries, but as the game wore on, he was able to find more room. If Arizona gets out to an early lead, Pressley could help put this game to bed in a hurry.
Arizona 30-Memphis 9
The Hotshots took the opportunity to put the spurs to the Stallions last week, beating them 38-22. Remember how I said Luis Perez seems to be the most “NFL Ready”? Well, that might be true, but John Wolford had the best statistical performance of any AAF quarterback in week one. (18/29, 275 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) The Offense is clicking. The Express were shut out by the Iron. Christian Hackenberg was underwhelming, completing 10/23 for 87 yards and an interception. It looks like the Express are sticking with Hackenberg. Zac Stacy had a 4.8-yard average on 12 carries. It might be best for the Express to concentrate on their run game.
Key Matchup: Rashad Ross vs. Memphis defensive backs
Rashad Ross had five receptions for over 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Stallions. The Hotshots move him around a bit, but he can usually be found lining up in the slot. Look for the Express to try and work the defensive side of the matchup to avoid putting a linebacker in coverage against him. In any event, the Express will need to slow him down in order to have a chance against the Hotshots this week.
Orlando Apollos (1-0) at San Antonio Commanders (1-0)
Orlando 26-San Antonio 18
This is going to be a good game… Through three quarters. San Antonio has a good defense that constantly gives a variety of different looks and should be able to bother Garrett Gilbert all game. It’s the offense I am worried about. They struggled against the Fleet and Woodside had to deal with pressure all day and threw two interceptions. There run game wasn’t fantastic but it got the job done. The Apollos defense is going to force you to make mistakes and they are great at causing turnovers, which they will do against the Commanders. And the offense will take advantage of those turnovers and turn them into points. The Apollos have the best offensive line in the league and it will show against the Commanders.
Key Matchup: Orlando’s Offensive Line vs. San Antonio’s pass rush
These two are probably some of the best groups in the league, and it will be great to watch them go against each other. The winner of this matchup wins the game most likely.
San Antonio 26-Orlando 22
Both of these teams took home a win in week one however they couldn’t have been more opposite in the way they did it. Orlando absolutely dominated Atlanta while the Commanders eeked out a win against the Fleet. If they want to get another win at home this week San Antonio will have to protect the ball. Orlando had three interceptions in week one. Commanders Quarterback Logan Woodside not only threw two interceptions but also was unable to find the end zone. One of his picks came on a touchdown attempt in the end zone. Apollos linebacker Terrence Garvin was a one-man wrecking crew amassing eight tackles and two interceptions.
Key Matchup: Orlando LB Terrence Garvin vs. San Antonio Offense
Orlando 25-San Antonio 18
Apollos Offense versus Commanders Defense. We’ve seen Orlando handle business and create turnovers, and capitalize off those turnovers. Woodside doesn’t look bad, and he didn’t make you feel uneasy, but he doesn’t excite you either. Mekale McKay and Greg Ward Jr. will have some work to do. I said before that San Antonio needs to give Ward at least one pass each game. They gave him one against San Diego and it was inches from being a beautiful touchdown. Not sure if the Commanders can do enough to keep up with the Apollo offense, but if they don’t turn the ball over, they could win a close one.
Key Matchup: Apollos Running Backs vs. Commanders front seven
San Antonio opted to build their roster around speed and versatility, keeping only four defensive lineman and 10 linebackers. They appeared to line up with only two defensive linemen on the field most of the time against San Diego and it was effective in getting to Bercovici. But Ja’Quan Gardner broke off some big runs. The duo of Akeem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson ran with impunity on Atlanta, and the Apollo linemen blocked well. The Apollos can control the game if San Antonio doesn’t respect the run.
Orlando 32-San Antonio 15
I think you need to take the 40 points the Apollos put up against the Legends into some kind of perspective. 15 of those points came off two Legends interceptions, including a pick-six by linebacker Terence Garvin. Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert had an adequate performance, 15/25, 227 yards, and two touchdowns. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that what in the moment looked like a good Commanders defense was actually below average Fleet quarterback play. There were holes in the Commanders pass coverage that Mike Bercovici and Philip Nelson didn’t see. The Commanders defense did provide all of us with the AAF highlight of the year to date when linebacker Shaan Washington sacked Bercovici, causing his helmet to pop straight up in the air.
Key Matchup: RT Quinterrius Eatmon vs. LB Shaan Washington
Garrett Gilbert has shown that he can operate the offense efficiently. To beat them, the Commanders pass rush will have to knock him off his game. I’m looking for Shaan Washington to try and repeat his first-week performance. To get to Gilbert he’ll need to go around or through Apollos right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon.