By Ray Bentley, Christian Pundt, and Zack Sandlin
With the playoffs just around the corner, the beat team would like to take this opportunity to catalog what we believe would be the most interesting matchups entering this season’s dance. While no guarantee any of these end up happening, we certainly hope they will. Whether this be because of an epic clash earlier this season, a unique clash of styles, or just two heavyweights meeting up, we put together a top ten list of what should be the most interesting possible matchups this April.
1. Denver vs. Alaska
As of Week 12, this would be your Championship Matchup given that the Storm and the Nightwings are the #2 and #1 seeds, respectively. The Denver Nightwings opened things up with an impressive eight-game winning streak, earning them plenty of bragging rights, especially as former undefeated champion Alaska suffered their first loss in fifteen games to begin the SFL’s 12th season. However, even though the Storm would be playing away from home for the second time in their three championship appearances, this writer feels like we would be watching a repeat of the NFL’s previous championship game: the veteran champions against a hot new team who was hard to stop… until suddenly, they weren’t. Alaska’s three losses have decreased in deficit from 13 to 1 point. Denver’s first loss was a 13 point deficit; their second was 24. Sophomore owner / Head Coach Jeremy Vega will have to make sure his star running back Jarrod McChesney is able to overcome one of the best run defenses in the league, who, with players like Alex Dominguez and Kevin Bane, have only allowed 5 rushing touchdowns all season long. Meanwhile, Denver secondary stars Nicholas Warner and Mike Sawchuck are going to have to put a stop to a formidable Storm offense captained by former Championship MVP Ron Cockren. If the Nightwings are able to stand up to the test that the Alaska Storm present to them and prevail, this could be one for the history books.
2. Dallas vs. Baltimore
A crafty veteran and a surprising rookie standout. Who wouldn’t want to see that matchup? Dazzo and his vultures have been fun to watch all season as they have played very well down the stretch. Dallas has been one of the surprise teams this year as they have put together a somewhat impressive resume going into the end of the season. We can’t forget about the Vultures defense though, as they have been rather stellar this year. These teams have not met yet, but a battle between a top defense and top offense should be exciting to watch.
3. Dallas vs. New Orleans
MVP candidates would clash in the matchup as Deezer Powell, Xander Gold, and Zack Sandlin step onto the same playing field for the first time. That alone is reason enough to watch this game. New Orleans has had some ups and downs this season, but they look to do some shaking and moving in their second year behind the arm of Xander Gold and the hands/feet of Deezer Powell as they go into the playoffs. Dallas looks to make a deep postseason run as they have reached the playoffs for the first time in a while on the strength of their rookie workhorse Zack Sandlin, who has impressed this year with his performances this season. Dallas’ defense has really stepped up towards the end of the season as well but they’re strength still lies in their offensive production. This game is sure to be a barn burner.
4. Denver vs. New Orleans
Two of the three teams that have really broken out this year? Yes please. This one is filled with a pair of young star head coaches who have a young team rallying behind them. Xander Gold vs. Josh Miller. Logan Jack vs. Jarrod McChesney. Deezer Powell vs. Jockamo Jones. Aaron Arrington vs. BJ Armstrong. Tank Bennett vs. Nicholas Warner. The list goes on and on. This would be two exciting, energetic teams that are ready for some experience in the bloodbath. New Orleans crushed Denver earlier this season in a primetime game, but the Nightwings would have the upperhand next time around as the likely team with home field advantage the whole way, the top record, and being red hot after not facing the London Knights the weak before.
5. Tallahassee vs. Alaska
No! Don’t go anywhere! Sit back down, sit back down, I promise you this time we’re in for the game of the season. A championship game with the Storm and Pride doesn’t look like it’s too in-the-cards this year, but a quarter or semifinal is absolutely a possibility. Why would we want to see a third matchup? The answer is simple. Even though there would still be a test ahead of both teams looking to prove themselves as the Simulation Football League’s best this season, the history between these two in the playoffs and this season alone would have the game crackling with energy long before the first ball was booted. Alaska’s five postseason trips have resulted in two titles, and, as fans of the SFL know, both have come at the hands of the Tallahassee Pride. If that wasn’t enough, we finally saw the Christian Christiansen’s Pride square off against Max Paul’s Storm in the regular season twice.In their first game, Alaska took their 3rd win over Tallahassee, but in their second, the Pride finally took down the Storm. With Storm defensive standout Kevin Bane playing across the field from his former locker-room compatriots like Ken Gossett and Greyson Willis, and newly minted Pride stars like A.J. Francis and Sir Chappell taking on the likes of Evan Carroll, Ryan Davidson, and Jason Williams, this game is 100% Must-See-TV (or PC or whatever… however you can watch it. Just watch it). Though it wouldn’t be with the title on the line, knocking the Storm out of the postseason would almost feel good enough for the Pride to suffice.
6. Tallahassee vs. Dallas
A rematch of two heavy hitters of the SFL this year. These two teams have met once before during the regular season. Tallahassee came away with a 7-point victory in a nail-biter of a game that truly came down to the final seconds to determine the winner. Seems like each time these two teams meet excitement is guaranteed. Looking back at last season, Dallas was able to come back from a large halftime deficit to upset the then undefeated Pride going into the final games of the year. This year’s matchup was only decided by one score, that one score being a rather ridiculous punt return touchdown. Who knows what the next game might hold?
7. New Orleans vs. Alaska
Talk about a clash of generations! This would be one of the most star-studded possible showdowns in the entire league. On one hand we’ll have the two-time defending champions in Max Paul’s Alaska Storm. He would take such future All Stars as Ron Cockren, Optimus Cline, Alex Dominguez and Kevin Bane into this season’s breakout team in the Big Easy. Aaron Arrington had risen the ranks and has roots in the TJ Cags (of which Paul also originates) and Duane Schindler coaching trees, where he carries top-of-the-line talent and names in former #1 overall pick and OPOY-frontrunner Xander Gold, along with the top WR in the league Deezer Powell and one of those best young running backs around in Logan Jack.
8. Mexico City vs. Alaska
Earlier this season the Storm fell the Aztecs 34-29. The game probably wasn’t as close as the score indicated as Alaska paced Mexico City for much of the game and was up multiple scores at halftime. Don’t t let that or Mexico City’s colder stretch down the second half of the season fool you. These are two heavyweights playing some of their best football and in some of the most unique ways possible. Alaska has transitioned from an all out passing team in the past couple seasons to one that has two ballcarriers that tallied up 37 carries week 11 versus the San Francisco Sharks, while still seeing high level and efficient play from Ron Cockren. They are mirrored by Ramos Lynn’s unit, which is the most explosive offensive team they have had since they were located in Sante Fe. Both sides still play excellent, physical defense that has spectacular front seven and secondary play. There’s good reason to expect this should be an awesome game if they meet again.
9. Denver vs. Sioux Falls
This one is an intriguing matchup. Denver has, even if they have not been downright outstanding for much of the season, been great in the first half and very good in the second half. Meanwhile Sioux Falls has absolutely clawed themselves out of a hole they started the season in to win six straight and prime themselves for a quarterfinals birth. The interesting piece here is the RB vs. LB matchup on both ends. Jarrod McChesney has been among the league’s elite backs this season, but he hasn’t seen a duo quite like Nick Fargo and Alex Parker. Each have played at a very high level this season, while Nick Fargo is certainly in the mix for the DPOY race. In a very parallel manner, Colin Hart has been one of the most underrated backs in the entire league, where he put over 300 yards on a struggling Las Vegas defense. The Nightwings second layer is nothing like the Fury’s, where they have been a study front and haven’t given much ground behind the sturdy play of UDFA linebacker Mike Sawchuk. This one likely comes down to which RB can outperform the other and which front seven blinks first.
10. London vs. Dallas
Two teams that are red-hot coming into the end of the season with their star rookies being a large reason for their respective successes this year. RB Zack Sandlin has turned a Dallas team that rarely ran the ball into a team that is to be feared through the air and on the ground. And he was initially scouted as a LB. RB Reggie Streeter has been deadly in all offensive phases as the Knights have used him well in the passing and rushing attack. Streeter was viewed as the best RB in this past year’s draft and was former teammates with Sandlin on their Rookie Showcase team. Oh, and did I mention that London has one of the most elite rush defenses in the league this year?