Tuesday, August 02, 2011

AFL Playoffs: First Round Recap

It was a great weekend of playoff action, not that the media really wanted us to know. Being that they are on the NFL Network this year instead of ESPN, only one game was aired - the rest were online. Also, that one that was aired got bumped because of the NFL lockout ending, and it wasn't shown until midnight Saturday.

Even so, the games went on. Half the teams advanced, half the teams went home, and everyone ended up where they should have.

Dallas Vigilantes at Chicago Rush

Just a few weeks ago, these two teams met up to determine who got home field advantage in the first round. Winning this, Chicago got a double bonus: First, they got to play at home, and second, they knew that they'd just beaten this same team two games earlier. Even though Michna was still injured, they knew that they could do it with Raterink anyway.

In the beginning, Dallas was maintaining a slight lead in the give-and-take between the teams, thanks to an early field goal. Starting in the second half, Chicago started to assert their dominance on the field before coming back with 13 unanswered points in the third.

Throughout the game, both quarterbacks retained respectable numbers, getting over 250 yards, 6 touchdowns and completing about 2/3 of their passes. Also, neither QB got picked during the game. Even with a slight edge in rushing for Dallas, the teams were evenly matched.

So who won in the end? For that, I want you to think back to what I said after we played Dallas. I said it then, and I'll say it now: Clint Dolezel is a go big or go home kinda guy. I can respect that, but I don't have to agree with it. At the end of this game, they had a chance to kick a close field goal and tie the game, or they could go for a touchdown on 4th and win. Guess which he did?

Guess who gets to play next week.

Arizona Rattlers vs Spokane Shock

One of this season's dominant teams faced off against the defending Arena Bowl champs in a game that really felt like an, "Alright, let them play to feel good about themselves" game. The Shock barely got into the playoffs in the first place and struggled this season. At 9-9, they ended with the same record the Power did when they didn't get to go to the playoffs in a weak division. Also feeling our pain, they struggled often this year, whereas the Rattlers dominated the National Conference, and it showed on the field.

Having split the series this year against their division rivals, it still wasn't a sure thing for the Rattlers going into this game. At the beginning, it was looking ugly for both teams with a total of 5 turnovers. In many ways, it looked like Spokane had control, as they capitalized on their turnovers and their QB Rowley put up much better numbers than Davila - but the Rattlers came back with a slow and steady attack that has carried them through the season.

The old rule of turnovers losing games reared its head for Spokane, because in the end, Rowley threw 4 picks where Davila only threw two. In the end, it was 62-33 Arizona, completely wiping that struggling first half out of anyone's minds.

Arizona advances to play Chicago next week at home.

Jacksonville Sharks vs the Orlando Predators.

This game was meant to be ugly from the beginning. Both teams hate each other on many levels, and when they met last year - with Jacksonville top-seeded then as well - the Preds sent them packing. However, the outcome wasn't surprising given their series history this year.

The main surprise of this game was how effective the Orlando defense was at keeping Garcia contained. He was held to less than 150 yards and only got off 19 attempts. However, in those 19 attempts, he completed 15 of them and snagged 4 touchdowns. On the other side, however, Hill blasted out over 300 yards and six TDs, four of them going to the unmatchable Quiroga and TT Toliver.

Jacksonville's win came on the backs of their solid, solid defense and their running game. Their D forced a fumble as well as stopping the Preds 5 times on 3rd downs and 2 out of 3 4ths. Their rushing game accounted for 3 touchdowns, which is a rare feat between top-flight teams - and these both are.

In the end, the Sharks win their first playoff game, the Preds lose to them for the third time this season, the rivalry gets really ugly and the Preds wish a (publicly) fond farewell to their Coach O'Hara. This last part is a bit of a bummer for me, as I dug his style. It was ballsy, in your face, it got them to the playoffs and beat the crap out of us.

Regardless - The Sharks stick around for another week.

Georgia Force vs the Cleveland Gladiators.

Oh, balls - who really cares? Both these teams beat us and we didn't get to go to the playoffs because of them.  In a perfect world, they all would have gotten food poisoning before the game and drew straws to see which team got to get beat up by the Sharks next week.

After a promising first half full of scoring and turnovers, the Glads looked to be sitting pretty. However, after that, the Force shut them down. Off-again-on-again Rocco showed his colors by getting just beat all over the place in the second half, and he was kept off the board until the forth when Cleveland mounted a strong, but ultimately unsuccessful comeback. I say "Cleveland" and not "Rocco," because he got some bench time and a fresh Dutton came in.

He lit the field up with the old standbys of Bergeron and Redd, and put up over a hundred yards. Again, it wasn't enough. With the O line letting Rocco get hit so many times that he lost his cool - not to mention a goose egg for a score in the third - this game ended 50-41.

Not a lot more can be said about this game except that the better team won. When we played the Force, they were a solid team that sent us home. When we played Cleveland, it was split 50/50. They only made it into the playoffs because we fell apart at the end of the season. This isn't really a comment on either team - I think we would have lost in this round had we gone. However, it still points up the fact that, when Cleveland is good, they're great. When they're bad, they fall apart. With rare exceptions like the Philly game, it's not the defense that falls apart, though - it's the offense. They slack and let Rocco get hit, and once that pressure comes, he can't function any more.

Good luck in Jacksonville next week, Force.

Next Week:

Arizona vs Chicago: As much as I've always liked Chicago – after all, they're my non-Power team – I don't think they have a chance. They'll have a slight one if Michna makes it back, but it's still slim. I called it a while back that I saw Arizona and Jacksonville playing for the title, and I don't see any reason to change that opinion.

Arizona is a solid, reliable team with a proven track record. Whereas Jacksonville dominated most of the season, then slacked, then came back, Arizona has been sure and steady. This is their time. Chicago handed them one of their few loses this season, but it was only by a point and Arizona is the better team on many fronts. Adding to this, Chicago has a reputation of choking that would make Peyton Manning blush. The fact that they got past week one is a big accomplishment.

Jacksonville vs Georgia: A few weeks ago, I would have given this one to the Sharks, no questions asked. But after losing to the Sabercats, and going one for four in their last games, anything is possible. All through the season, the American South was a tough division, and the Force only finished 3 games behind their rivals.

However, I'm going to go with my old standby of history. Jacksonville swept the series between these two teams, and probably will again. 

To beat the drum some more: Jacksonville will square off against Arizona in two weeks.

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