Another week, another set of middle class football on tap from the Alliance of American Football. This week features some division matchups that hold plenty of playoff implications. Each team remains in the race for the postseason.
Orlando Apollos (4-0) @ Birmingham Iron (3-1): 03/09 – 2:00 PM ET on TNT
This matchup features not only the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, but the two best records in the entire Alliance.
The Orlando Apollos
The top team in the league does not lack firepower. They are the only remaining team with an undefeated record and they look to stay that way in Birmingham.
The Apollos have the league’s top quarterback in Garrett Gilbert and they are not afraid to rely on him. He has thrown a remarkable six touchdowns without an interception. The only other starting quarterback without an interception is the Express’ Zach Mettenberger, who was named the team’s full-time starter just last week. As a former Carolina Panther, Gilbert has proven with a league-leading 1,071 yards that he should be in consideration for at least a backup job in the NFL. As the main beneficiary of Gilbert’s play, Charles Johnson leads the league in receiving yards and the two have formed nice chemistry over the first half of the season. Birmingham DB’s have their work cut out for them.
The Birmingham Iron
The Iron boast a tough defense that will hang with the Apollos’ star-offense. After four games this season, the Iron have only allowed 33 points. Former Pittsburgh Steeler and UConn Husky CB Jamar Summers has two interceptions on the season thus far, good for second in the league. LB Beniquez Brown and DL Jeremy Faulk make it hard to run on the Iron, so the Apollos will have to focus mainly on peppering Charles Johnson and his teammate, former New York Jet, Jalin Marshall.
I think the Apollos gain the edge when looking at the Iron’s offense. The Iron’s defense has been blessing the offense with field position all season and that shows with former NFL bust Trent Richardson’s league-leading seven touchdowns put against his meager 67 attempts for 160 yards. QB Luis Perez is second in the league in passing with 797 yards, but he hardly separates himself from the pack. Perez has yet to pass for a touchdown and has thrown interceptions. The Iron have not been in a shootout yet this season and they will need an air attack to keep up with the Apollos’ offense.
My prediction: Orlando takes it 26-14. I know it seems tough going on the road against Birmingham’s D but they simply won’t keep up with Garrett Gilbert by using the ground and pound.
Salt Lake Stallions (1-3) @ San Diego Fleet (2-2): 03/09 – 8:00 PM ET on NFL Network
The Stallions travel to San Diego to remain relevant in the Western Conference, while the Fleet looks to pull off a win without their starting quarterback.
The Salt Lake Stallions
At a record of 1-3, the Stallions look less than impressive at the bottom of the Western Conference. It is hard to tell what exactly this team is however, because they have had some tough matchups thus far. After the first couple weeks of the season, the Arizona Hotshots, Birmingham Iron and Orlando Apollos were at the top of the league hierarchy. They also are the three teams sitting in the Stallions’ loss column. Once the Hotshots went on the road to Salt Lake however, the Stallions managed to split the season series and come away with a win.
In my opinion, they are a dark horse candidate (no pun intended) to lock in a playoff spot in the Western conference. The key to success is a healthy Josh Woodrum. Under center, Woodrum has 48 completions for 442 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. After suffering a hamstring early in the season, Woodrum hopes to improve Salt Lake’s poor third and fourth down conversion status. Last week against the Orlando Apollos, the Stallions converted just one third down out of nine attempts.
The San Diego Fleet
The San Diego Fleet turn back to QB Mike Bercovici, who started the first week of the season, after it was announced that Philip Nelson’s shoulder injury will keep him out for potentially the rest of the regular season. The Fleet gifted the Memphis Express their first win of the season last week at the hands of QB Alex Ross who came in relief for Nelson after the injury.
The Fleet have a good defense, but is it good enough to mask the quarterback carousel they are now tasked to ride? Bercovici was less than stellar in the first game of the season. Before getting benched in the fourth quarter, he was 15 of 25 with 176 yards passing with two interceptions. Ross does not seem to be their answer under center either after going for just 80 yards through the air while giving up two fumbles and an interception.
My prediction: San Diego cannot get consistent enough quarterback play and Salt Lake takes it in an unexciting 18-11 affair.
Memphis Express (1-3) @ Atlanta Legends (1-3): 03/10 – 4:00 PM ET on CBS Sports Network
The two teams sitting in the Eastern Conference basement square-off to stay in the Alliance playoff race.
The Memphis Express
The Memphis Express are no longer cursed by the second round NFL bust QB Christian Hackenberg. Zach Mettenberger took over under center for the Express and used his NFL experience to lead the team to their first win of the season over the San Diego Fleet.
The Express’ defense is a strong point for the team. It thrives off turnovers and that was shown last week while causing four against the Fleet. The key to success for the Express is getting average offensive play. Former St. Louis Ram and New York Jet Zac Stacy is a strong North-South runner and can move the sticks in short yardage situations, but the Express have struggled when only using the run. If Mettenberger can keep the offense two-dimensional, the Express can double their season wins in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Legends
The Atlanta Legends are also coming off their first win of the season, having just topped the spiraling Arizona Hotshots 14-11. The Legends’ momentum will be harder to maintain against the Express’ defense.
The story for the Legends is up and coming quarterback Aaron Murray. When former NFL quarterback Matt Simms went down with an injury, Murray came in and supplied the Legends with 20 of 33 for 254 yards passing and a team-high 54 yards on the ground. The familiar former Jacksonville Jaguar Denard Robinson handles the ground game for the Legends, but before last game the team had seen the red-zone just twice all season. If Aaron Murray proves to be the real deal then the Legends can conquer the Express this week. However, it is unclear if Murray has enough weapons around him to get pass the Express’ defense.
My prediction: Express keep rolling and cause too many turnover for the Legends to handle. After a late game surge the Legends will still fall short 22-17.
San Antonio Commanders (2-2) @ Arizona Hotshots (2-2): 03/10 – 8:00 PM ET on NFL Network
The battle to remain on top of the Western Conference.
The San Antonio Commanders
The San Antonio Commanders are coming off a grinding win over the Birmingham Iron. Their record, much like the Salt Lake Stallions, is not very indicative of what this team is really about. After splitting the season series with the San Diego Fleet, the Commanders’ other loss comes at the hands of the undefeated Orlando Apollos.
Logan Woodside has provided adequate quarterbacking for the Commanders by throwing for 735 yards and two touchdowns. He has a problem keeping the ball away from the defense however, for he has thrown five interceptions. The key piece on offense for the Commanders is running back and offensive player of the week Kenneth Farrow II. You may know him from a short stint filling in for Melvin Gordon with the San Diego Chargers. Farrow II broke the single game record for rushing yards last week by gaining 142 on 30 attempts. The defense also had a strong showing, only allowing 11 points. If they continue the combination of a solid run game and strong defense, they will succeed in Arizona.
The Arizona Hotshots
The Hotshots have been in a downward spiral since their near slip-up in Memphis week two. After coming from behind and narrowly topping the winless Memphis Express, the Arizona Hotshots went on to lose to the winless Salt Lake Stallions and the winless Atlanta Legends. The Hotshots expected to roll after a quick start to the season. Instead, they have stumbled into a 2-2 record and now look get on track with a win against the Commanders.
Running back Jhurrell Pressley has been a bright spot for the offense with 266 rushing yards on the season, which is good for third in the league. Wide receiver Rashad Ross sits second in the league with 19 catches for 295 yards and offers a second dimension to the offense. The problem is getting points on the board. Since their 38 point showing week one, the Hotshots haven’t broke 20 points in a game. They need their offense to keep pace since their defense is not consistent enough to keep teams out of their endzone.
My prediction: Arizona continues to freefall. San Antonio takes the driver’s seat in the Western Conference with a 34-14 pummeling of the Hotshots.