Parity is king after a great weekend of games.
We struggled with our picks this week, I ended up with the best record and still have the lead by two games. I’ve recently decided I will keep the weekly VERY BOLD predictions going, making it five predictions each week.
-Mike Bercovici and Dontez Ford connect for two touchdowns as Ford has the Fleet’s first game of 100+ receiving yards.
-Trent Richardson surprises us all and averages over 3.0 yards a carry and doesn’t score a touchdown.
-John Wolford catches fire and becomes the leagues first 400+ yard passer.
-In the Memphis-Atlanta game, there will be three turnovers… per team.
Let me hear your picks for this weeks slate of games!
Zach: 75% (12-4) (2-2)
JB (TAFKAFS): 62.5% (10-6) (1-3)
Jason: 56.25% (9-7) (1-3)
Orlando Apollos (4-0) at Birmingham Iron (3-1)
Orlando (24)-Birmingham (12)
Orlando’s offense isn’t going to have an easy day against that Birmingham defense, but Garrett Gilbert is still going to find a way. Birmingham’s offense has no momentum coming into this week and has consistently underperformed during the last three weeks. I expect more of the same against Orlando as Luis Perez has looked uncomfortable in the pocket and the Iron run game will be unable to move the rock. And I expect Orlando to be the first team to score over 20 points against the Iron as Gilbert stays consistent and guys like Akeem Hunt and D’ernest Johnson have big days. This Orlando team is just more consistent on both sides of the ball, and I expect that to show in this game. The only way Birmingham wins is if they can force Gilbert to commit some turnovers, which isn’t impossible.
Key Matchup: Jack Tocho/Jamar Summers vs. Garrett Gilbert
The Birmingham secondary is going to have to step up in a big way against Garrett Gilbert and Orlando. Gilbert is the best quarterback in the league, and for Birmingham to win they are going to have to make sure he has no openings to throw to.
Birmingham (22)-Orlando (18)
This is the week folks. How the mighty will fall. Upon the Iron Wall, the demi-god Apollos will fall. The toughest defense in the league meets the most potent offense. At home with something to prove, this Birmingham team is ready to rise to the occasion and balance the scales in the East.
Key Matchup: Trent Richardson vs. The World
Richardson once again didn’t light up the stat sheet. He did, however, have 13 touches (and three more targets) for the Iron. He also found pay dirt again. Dude can get in the endzone. Orlando will have to do their best to stop him knowing they are facing a stingy Birmingham defense.
Orlando (32)-Birmingham (16)
This will be the first ‘real’ test for the Iron. The Apollos are clearly the best team in the league, and Garrett Gilbert has been on fire at quarterback. The Apollos defense is also playing well, complementing what the team is doing offensively. The Iron have been stout defensively, but if the offense can’t keep the heat off, they’ll be exposed late in the game. In order to have a chance, the Iron offense must be able to consistently move the ball. Iron quarterback Luis Perez hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass this season. This will need to change for the Iron to have a chance.
Key Matchup: Luis Perez vs Apollos’ secondary
You should be able to tell who won this game by looking at Perez’s line after the game. If he has 250 yards and two touchdowns, the Iron will win.
Salt Lake Stallions (1-3) at San Diego Fleet (2-2)
San Diego (21)-Salt Lake (16)
Damien Mama’s health is a huge concern moving into this game for the Fleet. He suffered a high ankle sprain against the Express and without him, that offensive line struggled to open up any running lanes or protect Philip Nelson and Alex Ross. It’ll be interesting seeing how Mike Bercovici plays on Saturday and if he can make reads quickly because he will most likely be under pressure throughout the game. With Damontre Moore most likely back, I would expect him to have a big impact on San Diego’s pass rush. And even if A.J. Tarpley is out, Frank Ginda played admirably and showed he deserved more playing time as he played a major role in holding the Express to 1.8 yards a carry. The Stallions have shown a lot of balance on offense and have a smart and careful quarterback in Josh Woodrum. I would look for him to have another solid game as Salt Lake leans on the run early. But this defense has been playing very well, for the most part, getting consistent pressure and forcing turnovers. If Karter Schult can have multiple sacks and the Stallions can get their running game going at all, expect a Stallion win. But if the Fleet stops the run and protects Bercovici, this game will end up with the Fleet collecting their third win.
Key Matchup: Dontez Ford vs. Salt Lake’s safeties
Dontez Ford is going to have to get open quick and often for Mike Bercovici. Salt Lake’s Safeties haven’t been bad, but I would expect Martz to highlight Ford’s route running ability against these safeties. Bercovici will be under pressure often, so Ford being open quick will be huge for this offense.
San Diego (34)-Salt Lake (20)
At the risk of sounding like a homer (ahem, ahem, homer) the Fleet have looked really good at home. Not to mention Bercovici had what head coach Mike Martz described as a phenomenal week of practice. Salt Lake sitting at 1-3 has just not been able to get it going. Ja’Quan Gardner, who leads the AAF in rushing, will be used all over the field and I really do expect the Fleet defense to be loads better than last week with many starters, namely Damontre Moore, returning.
Key Matchup: Karter Schult vs San Diego offensive line
Schult is coming off a performance in which he was extremely disruptive. He did not register a sack but was able to amount four quarterback hits. The Fleet feel like they are really finding their stride in the protection department. We shall see.
Salt Lake (18)-San Diego (12)
Philip Nelson going down will have a lasting impact on the Fleet this season. Mike Bercovici had trouble getting through his passing progressions, and worse, holding onto the football when he was hit during his time playing earlier this year. Alex Ross wasn’t much better in relief of Nelson last week, with one interception and 3 fumbles. Worse for the Fleet, Gardner was held in check with only six yards on nine carries. Bercovici will get the starting nod this week. The Stallions couldn’t get passed the Apollos last week, losing 20-11. There are signs of life for the Stallions. DE Karter Schult wound up with four quarterback hits, and running back Branden Oliver had 71 yards on 17 carries. I think the Stallions defense will make life miserable for whichever Fleet quarterback gets into the game. The Fleet will not win this game if their quarterback’s put the ball on the ground when hit. Look for the Stallions defense to cause turnovers that lead to good field position for their offense. It all adds up to a long 4th quarter for the Fleet.
Key Matchup: Karter Schult vs Terry Poole
To have any hope, The Fleet MUST keep their quarterbacks clean. Karter Schult has been a pass-rushing beast this year. Fleet left tackle Terry Poole will need to have a good game.
Memphis Express (1-3) at Atlanta Legends (1-3)
Express (18)-Atlanta (10)
I was really hoping this game would be between two teams that would be looking for their first win. But alas, quarterback changes energized both these teams as they each got their first wins this past weekend. But what goes ignored is the play of these defenses. Memphis forced five turnovers and held the San Diego Fleet to 3.5 yards a carry. They played extremely well up front and held a team coming off of a 202-yard rushing performance to only 105 yards on the ground. The Legends held what many originally thought to be the best offense in the league to only 11 points and didn’t allow any plays longer than 26 yards. Both defenses played really well, so I’d expect a defensive battle that Memphis would win. Memphis looks to be a better team on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. But watch out for those two Atlanta safeties. Ed Reynolds Jr. and Tyson Graham Jr. are game changers and could make the game tough for Zach Mettenberger.
Key Matchup: Aaron Murray vs. Zach Mettenberger
This is too easy of a choice. Good quarterback play can change everything for a team, and whichever quarterback plays better will be picking up their second win of the season.
Express (11)-Atlanta (9)
In the battle of ineptitude, we see two struggling teams trying to gain any kind of momentum and find their way out of the AAF cellar. Memphis stole a win at home with an assist from some questionable coaching decisions by the Fleet. Atlanta delivered a knock out blow to a reeling Arizona Hotshots team on the road last week. Despite that, I am going with the better defensive team in Memphis to take home the We Don’t Suck As Bad As You Do title this week.
Key Matchup: Drew Jackson vs Atlanta running backs
Jackson was a one-man wrecking crew vs. San Diego last week. He had 13 tackles (all of them solo and four of them for a loss), one sack, four passes defended and an interception. If he can replicate that I don’t see Atlanta getting much if anything going!
Atlanta (20)-Express (15)
Both teams got their first wins last week, and they both took similar paths to get there. For the Express, Wide Receiver Coach Bobby Blizzard took over play-calling duties. That and the choice to insert Zach Mettenberger over Christian Hackenberg sparked the offense to 26 points. The impressive part to me was the 11 points they put up in the 4th quarter in a come from behind win over the Fleet. The Legends brought in Ken Zampese to be their Offensive Coordinator and play caller last week. That and an injury to starting quarterback Matt Simms hand allowed Aaron Murray to get into the game. Murray responded, going 20/33, for 2,54yds passing with no interceptions. Both teams play solid defense. Visiting teams in the AAF are 6-10 so far this season. The Legends are the home team, so I gave them the nod.
Key Matchup: Aaron Murray vs Zach Mettenberger
Now that the offenses on both teams have had a taste of success, they need to strive for consistency. For the Legends, new Offensive Coordinator Ken Zampese will have an opportunity to provide the stability that the team has lacked offensively since Brad Childress left the organization in January. Mettenberger and Bobby Blizzard had good games last week. Look for that to continue this week.
San Antonio Commanders (2-2) at Arizona Hotshots (2-2)
Arizona (20)-San Antonio (18)
I think Arizona’s fall from grace stops here as quarterback John Wolford catches fire against a less than stellar San Antonio secondary. Wolford has been inconsistent as of late but has been buoyed up by a solid group of running backs like Jhurell Pressley and at times Justin Stockton. Pressley had 110 yards last week and will need to be effective to keep pressure off of Wolford. That defense hasn’t been playing bad, but their inability to force turnovers during the past three weeks has caused problems for Arizona. San Antonio has to protect the football to win offensively. Both games in which they have thrown 1+ interception in both of their losses. If Logan Woodside can protect and move the football with some level of consistency, it’ll allow the Commander defense to stifle that Hotshots offense and keep Wolford on the ground or on the sideline.
Key Matchup: San Antonio’s front seven vs. Arizona’s offensive line
The key to Wolford having a big day will be his offensive line protecting him. San Antonio has a stout front seven, so whoever controls the line of scrimmage will most likely win this game.
Arizona (19)-San Antonio (16)
Amongst the parity of the Wild West, these two teams stand alone. Ok, three teams have a 2-2 record and Salt Lake is 1-3 so it’s a ton of mediocrity all around but who’s counting? Neither of these teams looks like what we thought they might week one, then again many teams don’t either. Arizona and San Antonio have both suffered from quarterbackitis keeping them from putting many points on the board the last couple weeks. Both teams do have a couple of bright spots and are capable of snapping out of this funk at any time. What better time to do it than verse a division opponent though right?!
Key Matchup: Jhurell Pressley vs Kenneth Farrow II
They might not face each other on the field but both of these guys were impressive for their teams last week. Farrow with 142 yards rushing (4.7 yards a carry) adding two receptions. Pressley respectively averaged 7.9 yards a carry with 110 yards rushing including four receptions on five targets.
Arizona (32)-San Antonio (22)
The Commanders went down to Birmingham last week and gave the Iron their first loss of the year. This week’s game in Arizona will be different. The Hotshots are better than the 11 points they put up against the Legends last week. In fact, the team produced some good offensive numbers with running back Jhurell Pressley rushing for over 100 yards, and Rashad Ross getting 74 yards through the air. The problem was turning that offensive output into points on the board. It is my opinion that the Legends defense is top three in the AAF. The Commanders defense is not. Look for the Hotshots to score more points. The flip side to that coin is that the Hotshots defense isn’t as good as the Iron. So the Commanders should be able to get into their offense and have some success. Look for Kenneth Farrow to come down a bit from his 142-yard output this week. I don’t think he’ll get the 30 carries he got against the Iron, but he should still be effective. Logan Woodside and Mekale McKay will need to connect often.
Key Matchup: Rashad Ross vs. the Commanders secondary
Big plays early could be key for the Hotshots. If John Wolford can get the ball downfield to Rashad Ross, it will put pressure on the Commanders offense to respond. The Commanders are better when Farrow can carry the load offensively. If he can’t, then Woodside will be on the spot.
My names Zachary Gartin. I’m a college kid going to school in Newberg, Oregon. When I’m not writing about the San Diego Fleet, I’m usually training for football or playing Xbox. Follow me @The_Sideline10