By Thomas Paterniti
Editor’s note: A couple of nights ago, this flashed across my desk, totally out of the blue. The legendary Thomas Paterniti had penned his experienced thoughts and was keen to share them with the community. This has opened up an exciting opportunity. For this week, TPat’s Rankings will be a seperate entity – a little added extra if you will – however he has agreed to join the Power Rankings team going forwards. TPat brings his knowledge of the game to us and we couldn’t be happier. The Power Rankings just got even better. Everything you read from this point on is pure Paterniti.
Spoiler Alert: I didn’t just copy down the standings.
1.) Tallahassee Pride (0-0)
The season starts off one week later for the Tallahassee Pride, but with back-to-back trips to the SFL Championship game, they remain the team to beat this season until they lose, which is something they don’t exactly do during the regular season. They open with a tough opponent in Sioux Falls followed by a rematch of the championship game at home against Alaska. They’re no doubt hoping to exorcise their playoff demons early with a win and continue their dominance by establishing free agent pickup AJ Francis on the ground, veteran Christian Christiansen through the air, and that fearsome pass rush led by Hunter Norwood and Taqwuan Hale. This team is on a mission and they have all the pieces in place to go the distance. No one is looking forward to meeting the Pride on the field in Season 12.
2.) Mexico City Aztecs (1-0)
After dismantling a Skyhawks team that made the playoffs last season 49-21, the Aztecs have officially put the league on notice. The score would have been even more lopsided if not for back-to-back pick-6s by Carolina at the end of the first half to keep the game close for a while. Ray Bentley was a workhorse with 24 carries for 99 yards and a TD, while Matt Willson put up 249 yards through the air and added an astonishing 5 TDs. Any time a coaching staff of the caliber of Ramos and Matt Willson put up 49 on offense and only allow 7 on defense, look out. The scary thing is that they made some mistakes; in other words, there is still room for improvement. Without a doubt this is a team that is poised to go all the way this season.
3.) Baltimore Vultures (1-0)
The Vultures did what many believed could not be done: they went into Alaska and beat the Storm on their own turf. Not bad for a team that returns most of its core from last season and will be looking to pick up where they left off on both offense and defense. HB T-ROY Gaines showed why he is a workhorse and a burgeoning star with 32 carries for 163 yards, while QB Mike Dazzo put up 221 through the air, most of that to newcomer WR Bishop Warfield, who snagged 6 balls for 115 yards and 2 TDs. On defense, the Vultures intercepted QB Ron Cockren 3 times, and held the Storm to only 20 rushing yards and 10 points. With the toughest schedule in the SFL based on last season’s records, it remains to be seen whether Baltimore can keep up their momentum and get enough wins to make the playoffs. They look like a scary team, but the hit parade keeps coming for them as they face a hot team next in Las Vegas that is coming off of a last second win in dramatic fashion against Sioux Falls.
4.) Alaska Storm (0-1)
A loss to the Vultures at home is a setback, but should not distract from the caliber of this organization and their reputation for excellence. Baltimore’s win was shocking for the very reason that Alaska seemingly never loses, and no doubt Max Paul and his staff will get the Storm back on track sooner rather than later. The run game was a weak point as the staff adjusted to adding RB Robert Merrill to FB Jason Williams in the backfield, however Ron Cockren showed flashes of his usual greatness despite 3 interceptions, and the real star of the game for this Alaska team was free agent pickup DE Kevin Bane, who registered 4 sacks. Pairing him with all-everything-DT-moved-to-DE Alex Dominguez makes this defense incredibly frightening for any opponent. Don’t overlook Alaska; they’re down, but definitely not out.
5.) Chicago Wildcats (1-0)
Chicago had an opportunity to make a big statement week one in their matchup against Queen City, the most consistently great team in SFL history, and they took every advantage of this opportunity by beating the Corsairs 17-10. Like Baltimore, Chicago is a team that started with younger players last season and seems to have picked up right where they left off in terms of growth and development, both on and off the field. With a very solid nucleus of veterans mixed with some newcomers, they’re looking to take the next step this season. Their next challenge will come immediately, as they face a very formidable Mexico City team that could embarrass them if they are not totally locked in.
6.) Queen City Corsairs (0-1)
Overreaction Tuesday would place the Corsairs much lower in the standings, but as ardent watchers of the SFL for many seasons, we know better. We know that Erik Barkley will tweak and adjust, and that the Corsairs will be right back where they always are, in the playoffs threatening to win it all. QB AJ Caswell and HB Ash Odom bring experience to an offense that has added several new pieces in WRs Chris Curtis and JKJ III. The defense is as solid as ever with most of last year’s squad returning. Queen City has a put-up-or-shut-up matchup with Vancouver next week which will tell us a lot more about where each team is at.
7.) New Orleans Pharaohs (1-0)
In one of several statement games this week, New Orleans went into Houston and beat them largely on the back of QB Xander Gold, who astonishingly went 31 for 34 passing for 286 yards and 3 TDs. Incredibly, in 34 passing attempts he threw 2 picks and one incompletion. The ball only hit the ground once all night – that’s probably an SFL record. In any case, against a playoff team from last season with a proven staff, the Pharaohs took control of the game early and never let go. If they can continue to get efficient performances out of Xander Gold and stay balanced with HB Logan Jack, they should roll against Atlanta next week, at least provided that they don’t look past them to their big showdown against Queen City in two weeks.
8.) Las Vegas Fury (1-0)
Like the Pharaohs, Las Vegas beat a perennial playoff team in the Sparrows in a thriller of a game that featured big plays in the passing game and several lead changes. In dramatic fashion, the Sparrows drove down to the Fury’s 20 yard line with 15 seconds remaining, only to miss a game-tying FG. Las Vegas will face a big test this week against the Vultures, but they have the offensive firepower to put up points and the defensive personnel to hold Mike Dazzo and the Vultures’ running attack in check. If they can get Baltimore out of the ground-and-pound game they love to run, they have a chance at another big win against a playoff team from last season.
9.) Vancouver Legion (1-0)
As lopsided as a 38-17 win looks, it was actually even more lopsided than the score would indicate as the Legion led 38-3 with 6:00 min remaining in the game before taking their foot off the gas. Vancouver put together a masterful game plan that generated 399 yards of total offense and 8 turnovers on defense. Admittedly, it is difficult at this point in the season to evaluate this win because Atlanta was forced by their own offseason decisions to field a roster that was way under the cap and in general looked hapless on the field. However, Vancouver did what is not as easy as it appears, they beat down a bad team the way they were supposed to. If they continue to play with this type of dominance, it will certainly serve as evidence that Andy Hamilton and the Legion have taken that next step this season and moved into elite company within the league.
10.) Sioux Falls Sparrows (0-1)
Sioux Falls played a tough game against a very talented and balanced Las Vegas team and lost in devastating fashion on a missed FG with 15 seconds to go. That is the bad news. The good news is that it’s only week 1, Jacen McGee and AJ Levye have a long track record of success, and all the pieces are in place for yet another playoff run for the Sparrows. With over 300 passing yards and over 100 rushing yards, the Sparrows have to believe that just a tweak here and there to cut down on turnovers will place them right back in the hunt. Unfortunately for them, they have a brutal three game stretch upcoming against Tallahassee, Baltimore, and Alaska, but they get two of those games at home, so they will be looking to their crowd to help them survive the upcoming gauntlet.
11.) Houston Hyenas (0-1)
Houston lost a tough game to New Orleans where their offense just never seemed able to get going and was repeatedly forced to settle for FGs rather than TDs. They will certainly have to improve in that area this week and work to get their run game going, but if they can manage this, they have a favorable matchup next week against Carolina and they will be looking to climb back into the thick of things with a win on the road.
12.) Tulsa Desperados (1-0)
Like Vancouver, Tulsa did what they were supposed to do, they beat a bad team by a significant margin, and no less than their rival OKC. Unlike Vancouver however, this game was much closer than it appeared, tied 3-3 at halftime and 10-10 near the end of the 3rd quarter before they finally started pulling away. Do you chalk these early struggles against an undermanned Renegades team up to the rivalry, or to a concerning performance by the Desperados? Only time will tell. In any case, Tulsa has a very manageable four game stretch against Dallas, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Atlanta, and could really cement themselves as a playoff contender if they can come away with three or more wins in the coming month.
13.) Denver Nightwings (1-0)
Denver went into the newly-rebranded Indianapolis Spitfires stadium and stunned them with a game-winning FG with only one second left in a game in which Indianapolis outgained them through both the air and on the ground. But Denver hung around and played turnover free football, and that was the difference in the game. Like Tulsa, Denver has a very manageable slate of four games upcoming in London, San Francisco, Dallas, and St. Louis. If they continue their solid play, they could easily move themselves into solid playoff contention, which is without a doubt the next step on owner-and-coach Jeremy Vega’s mind.
14.) St. Louis Gladiators (1-0)
St. Louis held on against a tenacious Dallas team and pulled out a win in what must feel like a huge relief from the struggles of the previous season. Perhaps overlooked in the win is the incredible offensive performance the Gladiators put together, with 358 yards through the air and 111 on the ground. With that kind of firepower and upcoming games against OKC and London, the sky is the limit for the Gladiators if they can minimize mistakes and consistently turn their offensive production into points.
15.) San Francisco Sharks (1-0)
San Francisco started their season off right by holding on to beat London at home, in a game that gave the league a taste of just how electrifying and intimidating that environment can be when the crowd is really fired up. Their defense forced 6 turnovers, but their offense was very one-dimensional, as they managed a mere 19 rushing yards. They face the Indianapolis Spitfire on the road next, followed by a home game against Denver, and one would imagine they will have to get their run game going if they hope to keep pace with these two very tough-minded teams.
16.) Dallas Lobos (0-1)
Dallas lost a close game to St. Louis in which they themselves put up 472 yards of offense, but gave up 469. Owner and head coach Steven Mullenax showed a real commitment to the run, giving rookie RB Zack Sandlin 14 carries for 59 yards. WRs Junior Senior III and Mike Osayi picked up right where they left off last season, and QB Jacques Luyindula, a free agent pickup from Carolina, put up an astonishing 413 passing yards and 3 TDs, but was forced to throw the ball 64 times in order to accomplish this. Whether Dallas continues to lean so heavily on their passing game or tries to balance it out in the coming weeks will be an interesting story for sure. They face a formidable Tulsa team next week that is fresh off of a win against OKC, but with the offensive firepower that the Lobos possess, it’s hard to count them out of any game.
17.) Indianapolis Spitfire (0-1)
Indianapolis lost a heartbreaker of a game to Denver at home on a last second field goal. But for an owner in James Richards looking to return his team to an offensive identity that he recognizes, there was something to like in this effort despite the outcome, as the Spitfire put up 369 yards of offense, 238 through the air and 131 on the ground. QB TD Drew was incredibly efficient, and HB Keith Swearingen looked like the workhorse back Indy had hoped he would have been last season. They host a surging Sharks team that put together a win at home with an opportunistic defense and a capable passing game. This Spitfire team will be a whole different animal, and if Richards can get Indianapolis back on track, their early season schedule is very conducive to making a playoff run.
18.) London Knights (0-1)
London fell behind 21-3 early in their game against San Francisco and battled back only to ultimately fall short 21-17. Still, in a game where they put up over 300 yards through the air and more than 100 on the ground, but turned the ball over 6 times, there has to be a sense of optimism among their coaching staff that with a few minor tweaks to curtail the turnovers, they can replicate the production without the mistakes and setbacks. London faces a slate of up-and-coming teams in Denver, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Chicago in their next four games and how they fare in these could determine whether they end up looking like a playoff contender or another season away.
19.) Oklahoma City Renegades (0-1)
On paper, Oklahoma City is at a huge talent deficit. That is what makes their scrappy performance against Tulsa all the more impressive, in which despite losing 27-10, the Renegades hung tough, tied 3-3 at halftime and 10-10 with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter before the game got away from them. They will have to maximize their offensive trio of HB JW Doyle on the ground along with QB Deacon Nickens and TE Tybeerious Bovine if they hope to pull out a few wins this season. This week they square off against a greatly improved St. Louis team that put up over 450 yards of offense last week, so they will have to step up their defense if they hope to keep the game close.
20.) Carolina Skyhawks (0-1)
Time for a game of the good, the bad, and the ugly, SFL edition. The good: Carolina is coming off a season that saw them jump into the playoffs and they have a motivated young staff with a great owner who will do whatever it takes to win. The Bad: Carolina lost most of their stars during the offseason, and with it seemingly their offensive identity as well. The Ugly: Carolina ran into a meat grinder in a New Mexico team that is hungry to return to SFL championship form. The Skyhawks were not up to this challenge and lost 49-21, in a game that would have been 49-7 if not for some 2nd quarter heroics by the defensive secondary. Their offense generated a mere 207 yards, only 17 rushing yards, and only one TD the entire game. They get no relief in the coming weeks as they face Houston and Queen City before a rematch against Mexico City to avenge this embarrassment of a game in week 5. If they can clean up some of the mistakes, perhaps they can pull off a win against Houston, grab another against Atlanta, and stay in the playoff hunt as long as possible.
21.) Atlanta Swarm (0-1)
Atlanta got absolutely obliterated by Vancouver 38-17 in a game that was not even that close, as the Swarm were down 38-3 with six minutes remaining in regulation before some late-game heroics. Vancouver forced 8 turnovers, and with a talent deficit caused by some offseason moves gone awry, the Swarm are reeling and it’s basically back to the drawing board for them. They will no doubt keep trying to make incremental improvements, and especially try to limit turnovers, in order to keep their remaining games as close as they can and possibly to steal a few here and there. With upcoming games against the Pharaohs, Aztecs and Corsairs, there’s not much to be excited about if you’re an Atlanta fan right now.
We hope you enjoyed that little extra slice of Power Rankings pie. Tune in next week as Thomas joins our team over at Beat Writer’s HQ.