co-authored by Mahmoud Ajlouni
If Week 1 of the SFL’s tenth season was all about visiting teams pilfering victories, Week 2 showed that ‘home advantage’ does hold a place within modern football. Out of the nine games played this week, seven of them were clinched by the team at home, three of them venturing into the ‘blowout’ category. The 12th man was in full voice this week and it showed.
Week 2 also proved that success isn’t guaranteed in this league, and sustaining that success is even harder. Three quarters of the teams who populated the Season 9 conference finals are now 0-2 and you could argue that none of them have deserved anything more based on their performances. The two teams that were expansion teams last year seem to be suffering the fabled ‘sophomore slump’, whilst last year’s champions have been a victim of two close losses to tough Eastern Conference opponents.
On the flip side of this, the four Season 10 expansion teams have all shown promise, with three of the group winning at least one of their games (I know San Francisco are still on a goose egg, but I can’t argue that they haven’t shown promise).
Now onto the meat and bones of this article: the matchups. Last week, we structured our thoughts team-by-team. However, after some extremely useful and concise feedback from the community, we have decided to go with a ‘matchup by matchup’ order. This should help make it easier for you to find your team and any other squads you are interested in looking at. Myself and Mahmoud have covered four games each, with the ‘Game of the Week’ commanding both our insights.
Brief outline of structure:
• Road Team vs Home Team
• What we noticed about the Road Team
• What we noticed about the Home Team
• What to look out for in Week 3 for the Road Team
• What to look out for in Week 3 for the Home Team
There are some mouth-watering games lined up for Week 2 with Atlanta @ Tallahassee winning the fan vote and filling the ‘Sunday Night’ slot (it has to be noted that this was the second week in a row for The Pride). Teams tasted defeat for the first, others victory. A magnificent seven squads were even celebrating back-to-back victories. Week 2 has set up the mid-season slog perfectly, and I couldn’t be more intrigued. Anyway, I’m up first, and the matchup I’m going to start with is…
Mexico City Aztecs @ Carolina Skyhawks
The Mexico City Aztecs stood toe-to-toe with Carolina for four rough and tumble quarters. To the naked eye, the game looked even and the stats back this up…except one. The Skyhawks had over 10 minutes more possession time than Mexico City. I don’t care who you are, with that kind of disparity you aren’t going to win. The fact that the Aztecs had the chance to sneak a win at the end is a minor miracle. The main cause of this difference was AJ Francis’ ability to gain a first down for Carolina when it mattered. As good as Ray Bentley is, he doesn’t seem to have that in him this season – so far at least. Mexico City went 36% on 3rd down. That number needs to increase if the Aztecs want to turn these close defeats into narrow victories. That’s mostly on you, Ray Bentley.
Carolina will be ecstatic that they were able to pull off a victory against the reigning champs so early in the season, especially with a 1-11 season looming over their heads. Mark Biddix was efficient (18 of 21 for 139 yards), and AJ Francis continues to look like a talent worth noting (201 yards rushing on the day). The defense looked relatively solid and Giovanni Bolt had a great return on an interception of Matt Willson. The story isn’t all glitz and glamour though. Carolina’s pass defense looked beatable against Tallahassee and, whilst improved, it still looked shaky vs the Aztecs. The two star cornerbacks have struggled to lock down opposition receivers and for me, the main reason is the lack of pressure the front seven are applying. Not one contracted player for the Skyhawks got close to taking down the quarterback and I worry that they will be exposed by the best signal callers in the East.
Next week, Mexico City embark on another road trip to the old enemy, Chicago. I can’t see them doing anything other than leaning on Ray Bentley again for production in this one. I still expect him to be heading the SFL in rushing yards at the end of Week 3. Chicago has one of the best pass defenses in the league, and Matt Willson isn’t in the kind of form where he can show up and take over a game. Look for KL Barrett to have a mighty tussle with the Wildcats’ secondary as a sideshow.
Carolina will be spending their third week of the season on foreign shores as they face off against London. Similar to Mexico City with Bentley, look for Carolina to continue to overload AJ Francis with work in both the running and passing game. Biddix will want to remain consistently accurate, although he will need to show more of a killer instinct against a stingy London defense who are 1st in the SFL against the pass. The defense will also need to step up as stopping workhorse back, Spencer Mair, won’t be a walk in the park. Outside linebacker, Phil Hall, is going to be huge this week for the Skyhawks.
Oklahoma City Renegades @ Sioux Falls Sparrows
Oklahoma City must be a frustrating team to watch for its fans. Against Sioux Falls, they had more passing yards, a higher 3rd down percentage, 4 minutes more time in possession, yet they still lost, 24-13. On the scoreboard, that’s not even close. They just can’t seem to get in that endzone! Wide receivers, Steven Bush and Deezer Powell, had 20 catches between them for well over 200 yards. Neither of them managed to score a six-pointer. The only man to cross the plane was tight end Jalen Hurt, who does look like he’s in the hunt for the best big man pass catcher in the league. It seems like The Renegades are the best team in the SFL between the 20’s, with quarterback Deacon Nickens, happy to throw upwards of 50 passes per game, but that brand of play doesn’t get you points. Oklahoma City weren’t clinical enough vs The Sparrows. They need to tighten the screws on that offense.
The Sioux Falls Sparrows look like the least convincing out of all the undefeated teams right now. They didn’t particularly impress in a dogged win over Houston and were lucky to win by such a margin against The Renegades. One player I would like to focus on after watching the game on Saturday, is Michael Moore. Moore is going to be some player this season if current evidence is anything to go by. The man can straight up ball. He was the difference maker on Saturday, showing a good rapport with Julian Tyree and bagging a touchdown whilst also returning a kick off all the way back for six. The Sparrows won by 11 points. Michael Moore contributed 12 (14 plus kicks).
In Week 3 action, Oklahoma City travel to St. Louis to take on The Gladiators in an extremely important game for both teams. Against St. Louis, a man to look out for is defensive end, Mandrake Purp. We haven’t seen much from Purp yet this season but the highly rated edge rusher is touted for big things. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out and wrecks a quarterback’s afternoon. Ethan Alexander is a steady, safe game manager who hasn’t shown much of a killer instinct so far this season. Look for Purp to force pressure onto Alexander so that he makes the same costly mistakes as he did last season. Expect The Renegades to bring the heat in Week 3.
The Sparrows host the Atlanta Swarm this coming week and there are two things I’m going to be keeping my eye on. One of them is quarterback Julian Tyree. Tyree has disappointed me thus far and, though the season is still young, the man I thought had the best arm in the league will need to start putting in some performances befitting of his value. This resurgence could start against The Swarm. Atlanta notoriously have one of the best pass defenses in the SFL, but I’m looking for Tyree to step up to the plate and use that elite arm. He got away with being inconsistent against The Renegades – he can’t afford it against The Swarm.
San Francisco Sharks @ San Antonio Vaqueros
San Francisco had just 254 total offensive yards against The Vaqueros. 254! That’s just not gonna cut it if you want to succeed in this league, especially when 75 of them came on a long range passing play (orchestrated beautifully might I add). The point I’m trying to make is, The Sharks are lacking any offensive bite. They just don’t have the firepower to stay with the other teams. Yes, they have Gabriel Manning on the outside, and a top quality tight end, but that’s just not enough options for a young quarterback in Luyindula. This showed on Saturday, as when drives started to stall and times became pressured, Luyindula looked lost as to who to throw to. Pretty much every promising drive ended with a whimper, as San Antonio clamped down on Manning and cordoned off any chance of a successful passing attack. Let’s see if Ryan Moats can address this issue as free agency opens before Week 3.
The San Antonio Vaqueros have done exactly what I expected from them. They have carried that positive wave of momentum that started towards the end of Season 9 right through the beginning of Season 10. Looking over the game last Saturday, as much as I would love to focus on Joey Langdon, I have to give props to The Vaqueros defense. It looked absolutely rock solid for 95% of the game, only blipping when Gabriel Manning hit a long one for six. San Antonio’s defense is the real deal, with Bailey Bacca setting the tone as a destructive force on the inside. Looking over the stats, you wouldn’t even notice his name, but watching the game live you realize how much good work he did to disrupt the young Sharks thrower. If he can continue to lead by example, this defense is going to be something to behold.
The Sharks invite the Vancouver Legion to the tank for Week 3 in a meeting of two 0-2 squads. One player to look out for during this battle is THE MAN on defense, Chester Field. San Francisco have the second best rushing defense in the league and a large part of that is because of the outside linebacker. He’s a high motor, multi-tackle player who the Legion will want to stay away from, especially runningback Jonathan Sanchez. Look for Field to have another big game for the Sharks and to build on his double-digit tackle totals from last week.
Who else can I really talk about in San Antonio other than punter, Arminius Davis. When I found out the guy could kick a ball to the moon with ease, I wanted to see him play. Now that I’ve witnessed his booming punts first hand, I can’t help but say that vs Alaska, he will be the key to victory. The field position that an elite punter gives you is invaluable. Yes, Alaska has a passing attack that is dangerous beyond belief but try doing that from inside your 10 on every drive. Look for Davis to be especially on his game against Alaska. He’ll want that high-powered offence to have to beat them from DEEP.
Vancouver Legion @ London Knights
The Vancouver Legion looked fairly abysmal during Monday night’s primetime game in London. Other than a couple of nice picks by Jaquinarius Dontameteryx and Mahmoud Ajlouni respectively, there wasn’t much to shout about. The defense was always playing on a short field because the offense just couldn’t get going. The Legion had less than 200 total yards, a 22% 3rd down conversion stat and only 7 first downs. Their Week 2 performance will probably be their worst of the season and that’s the only thing I can take away from it.
I can’t really tell whether The London Knights played unbelievably well in their first home game in franchise history or if they profited from a poor Vancouver performance. In the end, I’d probably say it’s a mix of the two. One thing I can be certain of though, is that The Knights defense is legit. Vancouver are not a bad offensive team and London squeezed the life out of them from the opening whistle to game end. If the front seven weren’t causing pressure, the secondary was making plays (a Jeffrey Daggs pick being a particular highlight). As a reward, London’s pass defense now sits atop the SFL. Not bad for an expansion team coming out of Week 2.
Vancouver’s next game is on the road against The Sharks. Despite the unholy amount of travelling they have had to do over the past couple of weeks, this has to be a game they are looking to win. Yes, everybody keeps banging on about how the Legion went 0-4 last year yet made it all the way to the Conference Finals, but does lightning strike twice? For me, this game is a must win if Vancouver wants to make it back to the playoffs without biting their nails late season. Tom Pepper needs to step up, Jonathan Sanchez needs to try and find a way around Chester Fields’ warm embrace, and the defense needs to double Gabriel Manning wherever he goes. The one focus for the Legion heading into this week: improve everywhere.
London have the privilege of staying in ‘God’s Country’ for the second week running as they host the Carolina Skyhawks. Obviously, the main focus for success against Carolina will be to stop AJ Francis. Stop him and you force the Skyhawks to beat you in other ways, something they haven’t shown they can do yet. Another man who will be hoping to get more production out of Week 3 will be running back, Spencer Mair. Mair played a solid game against Vancouver, coming up big when his team needed him, but he hasn’t shown yet that he is worth the second highest contract in the league. When you look at what Ash Odom is doing in Queen City, Mair needs to step up, and one good team to do it against is Carolina whose rush defense was exposed last week by Ray Bentley. Look for the ‘Knightmair’ to prove his worth in Week 3.
Dallas Ruffnecks @ Queen City Corsairs
The Ruffnecks defense continues to struggle allowing too many points scored and staying out on the field for too long. The offense has yet to reach it’s full potential yet with Macc Wavy Jr. and Prince Escobar.
Queen City shows their dominance in all aspects, as they had a pick six, and onside kick return touchdown.
Dallas heads to Houston to take on the Hyenas who have been struggling on offense, but have a very stingy defense. Expect this to be another low-scoring match.
St. Louis Gladiators @ Indianapolis Red Devils
The Gladiators could not perform the way they did against Chicago. The offense was suffocated by the Red Devils defense and they only managed to score one touchdown, which came near the final whistle.
Indianapolis continues to exceed expectations as they have now risen to a top-tier team thanks to an explosive offense and a shutdown defense led by Vetack & Co. The secondary has been lights out, as they have not given up anything big so far this season.
St. Louis hosts a lowly Oklahoma City Renegades team who can’t find any answers. Their offense must produce to help lift a burden off the defense,.
The Red Devils face the first real test of their young history as they head to Tulsa to take on the beast Desperados who have risen early as a juggernaut. Look for a defensive slugfest in this one.
Tulsa Desperados @ Chicago Wildcats
Tulsa has continued to show why they should be the best team in the league. They defeated the Eastern Conference Champs in a defensive slugfest forcing 3 turnovers
Chicago has fell in a post-championship slump and had no answers to the Desperados only scoring once.
Tulsa hosts the fired up Red Devils another rolling expansion team who’s explosive offense takes on a shutdown defense led by Charles Ball.
Chicago looks for revenge and their first win of the new season as they host the S9 Champs, the Aztecs. Look for some offensive highlight reels in this one.
Alaska Storm @ Houston Hyenas
Alaska’s defense continued to show why they are the best, allowing 0 points in Houston. They were all over the Hyenas and allowed nothing to go past them.
The Hyenas offensive struggles continue to haunt them again as they were held scoreless. Their stingy defense is what has kept them in the past 2 games.
As long as the Storm’s defense is shutting down opponents, their success will continue as they host another unbeaten team, the San Antonio Vaqueros.
Houston needs to be able to produce something against the Dallas Ruffnecks who are also struggling, but on the defensive side. This may turn out who can play the better game and last for all 4 quarters.
Atlanta Swarm @ Tallahassee Pride
Atlanta’s secondary struggled to keep the dual threat of Wilson/Gosset in check and had problems of pressuring Christensen.
Tallahassee dominated on both aspects of the ball. Johnson racked up 4.5 sacks and the rest of the D-line put the heat on DaMar Woods. The offense was clicking on all gears from the start of the game.
Atlanta heads to Sioux Falls and looks to play spoiler against a team that’s relying on a tough defense and mediocre offense. Expect some more adjustments to help guard against the pass.
The Pride host the challenging Corsairs who are coming off a rout against the Ruffnecks. This could turn into a shootout so it might have to be the defenses that step up to win this game for their teams.
A look ahead to Week 3
The third week of the SFL schedule has the potential to be the best one yet. Free agent signings, teams potentially changing their builds, and ultra competitive matchups make me excited for an absolute barnburner this weekend.
Each game could go down to the wire, and as we know, in football, 1 yard can make all the difference. Make sure you ‘tune in’ next week to read mine and Mahmoud’s thoughts on what transpired and what is likely to come. We hope you enjoyed reading the article once more. Thank you.
Until next time…