Today is the day! The twelfth Simulation Football League Championship is upon us following Easter weekend. This one looks like a true David vs. Goliath match, with the two-time defending champion Alaska Storm hosting the number two seed Denver Nightwings.
The Alaska Storm have a lot of familiar faces on this team. Max Paul is once again the man calling the shots as owner and Head Coach, with Ryan Davidson his right-hand man as General Manager. The braintrust of this team remains the exact same core that has brought the team their previous two championships – and is perhaps settling any debate about being the best to ever head a team.
Paul brings back Ron Cockren for another run. His fourth-season quarterback is just as dominant as ever, as he routinely sliced and diced defenses. By season’s end, he was arguably the best quarterback in the league and playing at the highest level of his career. His main weapons included the always-dominant Optimus Cline and the ever-underrated Jeff Comeau across from him. Both of his receivers, while not necessarily statistically dominant, have been incredibly consistent and difficult to stop. What sets this offense apart from previous versions of the Alaska is their backfield. Not only do they carry the best and only fullback in the league in Jason Williams (who essentially amounts to a high tier, but generally low volume power back), but this season they also carry a lightning to their thunder. Robert Merrill converted from being Alaska’s #2 WR to being their RB. Merrill wound up as the team’s leading rusher and as one of the league’s best receiving backs. Conversely, Williams wound up as arguably the best short-yardage back in the league and a sneaky good receiving threat on his own.
Paul has always been known as one of the best, meticulous, and creative defensive coaches in the league and that’s probably no where more illustrated than in his defensive builds. Just a season after going completely against the grain by not carrying a contracted SS, Alaska has gone back to a fully contracted secondary. Evan Carroll and Ryan Davidson man the boundary positions, while Ryan Tobin and Andrew Francis (after converting from linebacker) occupy the safety positions. This team once again has some dominant players along the defensive line. Alex Dominguez moved over from DT to right DE, while Kevin Bane holes up the left DE position. Dominguez has been an excellent edge player, but has by no means played up to his normal standards. This is likely largely due to the influx of excellent play from his new teammate Kevin Bane – who has arguably been the top defensive player in the entire league after finishing second in total sacks. Of course, this team is also complimented by the golden leg of Disco Fudd, giving them the widest range to score from any team in the league due to their kicker.
Don’t let this distract you from how Denver has a deep brass of its own. Jeremy Vega heads this turnaround team with the help of BJ Armstrong at General Manager and Michael Goodman at Offensive Coordinator. Josh Miller leads the team at quarterback as one of the most vertical passers in the league. He finished with a negative TD:INT ratio, but that has historically not been a factor in reaching the big game as we’ve seen numerous talented, but struggling, signal callers lead a powerful rushing attack all the way to the championship. As any quarterback knows, they need a talented group of perimeter to elevate their game. For Miller, that came in one of the league’s top deep threats Jockamo Jones, more effective #2 weapons Logan Keel, and one of the league’s top young tight ends in Hiapo Kinloha (this rookie has had stretches where he was outright unstoppable). That talented runner is, of course, Jarrod McChesney, who has been one of the best and most effective runners in the league, where he’s workhorsed his team all the way to the final game of the season.
This team is also loaded with its own defensive stars. Starting in the trenches, Bailey Bacca sets the tone on the front lines for the Nightwings. He hasn’t been up huge numbers but he plays an integral role creating pressure and forcing offenses to adjust on the front-end. On the second level, undrafted rookie Mike Sawchuk took over for Echo Love partway through the season en route to having one of the most productive seasons for an off-ball linebacker across the entire league, especially in second-level run support. On the back-end, the Nightwings have a star-studded secondary (with arguably bigger names than even Alaska’s vaunted unit). They carry their GM and Matthew Lee at corner, with Martie McRee and Nicholas Warner at safety. Warner, in particular, has been impressive, as he is Jeremy Vega’s answer to Kevin Bane, in that he has also been among the league’s elite players on the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, Denver is another team that carries a kicker. Rookie Kramer Jackman has been just about automatic this season and has been one of the most effective kickers in the entire league.
Alaska went through an absolute gauntlet of a schedule finishing 9-3 with impressive victories over Tallahassee, Sioux Falls, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Chicago, and Queen City. This gave them the tie-breaker for home field advantage over Denver whose most impressive victories came over Dallas, Chicago, Houston, and an absolute thrashing of Vancouver as the season wound down.
In the playoffs, Alaska had to finish their trilogies with Tallahassee and Baltimore in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The Storm were able to stifle the Pride’s rushing attack in their first round meeting to the tune of a 36-23 victory – winning the season series 2-1. In the semifinals, the Storm had vengeance on their rival Baltimore Vultures who defeated them twice in the regular season by absolutely blowing them out in a 31-17 showing that wasn’t nearly as close as the score suggested.
Denver, meanwhile, had impressive showings of their own with a 43-24 win over Sioux Falls in the quarterfinals (particularly impressive given that the Sparrows had only lost one game in the two months prior – so this team that they boat-raced was red-hot at the time of their season dismissal). In the next round, the Nightwings were able to re-exert their will by again beating the Dallas Lobos and shutting down the likely MVP Zack Sandlin in resounding fashion.
This will certainly be an interesting game and it presents some very interesting storylines we don’t normally get. At least since I’ve been in the SFL (season 9), this game is the clearest David and Goliath story that we’ve seen. It’s the Alaska Storm going for their three-peat and the Denver Nightwings who went 3-9 last season.
I’m not going to pretend like I know what gameplans each team will roll out with but let me point out some points in what could determine how this game will go:
1. Probably the biggest wildcard in this entire game is Michael Goodman. Denver’s young offensive coordinator presents the biggest advantage to the Nightwings in this entire game due to his lack of sample size. Alaska doesn’t have a huge sample size to go off of here and can’t as thoroughly gameplan for his tendencies as they would hope.
2. If Denver can get their passing game then we will be in for a wild ride. The Nightwings and Josh Miller have struggled throwing the ball for much of the season but since Goodman has entered the fray, Miller has been nearly unstoppable. If Alaska decides to sell out to stop the run (perhaps with a 4-4 alignment), and Denver anticipates this way a hard-counter, then the Storm could be in some real trouble.
3. Alaska’s offense has been virtually unstoppable for the last year and a half. I don’t anticipate Denver figuring something out the rest of the league hasn’t in that time that can bring Alaska to a grinding stop (outside of creating turnovers of course). If Alaska can keep their offense rolling, I have a really hard time seeing Denver coming up with this one.
I’m sticking to my guns and predicting a 30-19 victory for Alaska. At the end of the day, I have too much respect for what the Storm can do offensively and I don’t believe Denver can stop it in Anchorage on such short notice. On the other side of the ball, I simply don’t know what to expect from a Michael Goodman-coached team and therefore default to my belief in Alaska’s ability to generate pressure and being meticulous in their gameplanning.
Good luck to both teams involved and congratulations on such long and successful seasons.