Written by ‘The Inside Man’, Images by J.R Lawless
After the amazing response to the first edition of the S15 Season Previews, the author of these pieces hit me up and couldn’t help but gloat about it. Seeing himself as somewhat of an oracle, our Inside Man is bordering on cocky about his predictions for the season and feels like he will get at least an 85% success rate. Personally, I want to see some credentials to add weight to his opinions, but they are yet to materialise in his pursuit of anonymity. Today, we look at the international teams: one from across the pond, the others situated at either side of the US. How do these ‘foreign’ squads stack up against the USA’s best?
Steering the Ship
Owner – Liam Crowter
Team President – Angus Maclaine
General Manager – Tanner
Director of Communications – Benji Mattson
Assistant Director of Communications– Jeff Gagne
Head Coach– Liam Crowter
Defensive Assistant – Tanner Hendrix
On paper, the Knights have the second easiest schedule in the entire SFL. Again, and I will keep reiterating this, no game in the SFL is easy and often, weighting schedule strength based on the previous season can be a falsehood. You never know which teams will emerge and which will fall. Having said that, I think the Knights will have a much better time than they did last season, based on this group of games. The opening 6 games are actually pretty darn tough, with the road to home ratio set at 4:2. Travelling to Tulsa, Louisiana, Denver and Atlanta is really going to test this young team, however, these stern, early-season tests can only breed confidence for the back-end, especially if they perform well. I can see London running Tulsa close on opening weekend and the Week 2 game against Louisiana REALLY stands out as a potential rivalry starter. One thing that sticks in my mind also is the fact that London always seems to perform well against Denver, no matter what kind of season they are having: this could be one of the upsets of the season.
The lower reaches of the season look more forgiving, with a double whammy against Carolina the juiciest part to look forward to. The ‘Fish and Chips’ Bowl is always an instant classic too, and I expect that game to be down to the wire between teams looking to stay in the playoff hunt. Baltimore at home is a very tough game, but Houston and Arizona will be matches which the Knights should look to win. All in all, it’s going to be another hard road for the British, but a more successful one than the spring.
Game to Watch: Week 2 @ LOU
The Locker Room
The last couple of seasons have seen a period of huge change over in London. Many of the long-time stalwarts that were the faces of the franchise (Slinn Shady, Jeff Melinyshyn, Nathan Blake) parted ways with the Knights and returned across the Atlantic. Season 14’s roster seemed a little unsure of itself: packed with star quality yet lacking a particular personality or strong direction. However, Season 15 seems to have brought with it an upgraded, more stable locker room, and London will be all the better for it. Gone are the huge contracts of Gabriel Manning and Jason Williams, gone is the uneasy feeling within the locker room. The Knights have managed to retain quite a few pieces, including most of the defence, which struggled last season but should do much better now they have had a full off-season to gel and become a tighter unit. Rookie upgrades come in the form of late-round picks Erik Surrett and Zach Turner (both who benefitted from a boost in value) and one of my favourite picks of the entire draft, Jeff Gagne. Gagne will likely be the linebacker for the future in London, teaming up with the brilliantly named Tellymac Scarbro to support a four-pronged defensive line unit that includes possibly the best DT in the league, William Davidson. The defensive numbers should see improvement this season, especially against the run. Securing Tanner Hendrix at cornerback will also give them more of a chance in pass coverage.
Offensively, the Knights weren’t too bad last season, sitting somewhere in the middle of the league in most categories, however with star power the likes of Manning and ‘Thrilliams’ brought, that wasn’t good enough. Now that they have moved to Tulsa and Fort Worth respectively, London seems to have addressed those sizeable holes with a more balanced and interesting approach. The passing game could certainly improve across the field, with MacLaine’s increased SFL experience and a trio of new weapons for him to throw to. Rookies, Fox Highwind and Dustin Zeck could really make a nice tandem this season, giving MacLaine two reliable targets behind now #1 receiver, Vin Calia. Benji Mattson and Iggy Swift also add ballast to the attack, with receiving HB Robert Merril being the icing on the cake. Merrill’s signing really made some waves this off-season, and his winning mentality coming over from Florida could really help the Knights make it over the hump. The lacking offensive line may be a worry for some, but with Dayton Rhodes giving the QB a second tight end to play with, in my mind that issue is somewhat mitigated.
Player to Watch: Robert Merrill, Running Back Best Draft Pick: Jeff Gagne, Linebacker
As with last season, London’s main problem will be defensive fragility and turnovers going against them. Until they can improve dramatically in those areas, they won’t be able to take advantage of the perceived ‘easier’ schedule. However, this is not the same squad as Season 14, and with Tanner Hendrix adding his mind to assist Crowter on the defensive side of the ball, I can see at least 5 wins for this upstart team. I can’t say that they will make the playoffs, but expect to be waiting a lot of weeks before London is mathematically eliminated.
Predicted Record – 5-7
Upon publishing of this article, London lost in a very tight game @ Tulsa.
Steering the Ship
Owner/HC/GM: Andy Hamilton
Head of Communications: Marc Lopez
Much like the aforementioned London Knights, the schedule gods have been kind to the Vancouver Legion, especially considering how deep they went in the playoffs last time out. The Legion head into Season 15 with the joint-15th toughest slate of games, with the first 6 games presenting the hardest going. A Week 1 trip to Jacksonville is a real baptism of fire for a new-look Legion squad, and will really show how prepped they are to return to the playoffs. A duo of home games versus the newly formed Lone Star Glory and the hotly-tipped Florida Storm follows the opening week, and the Legion will be hoping to come out of those games with at least one victory to their name – Week 2 against LSG sees Andy Hamilton go up against some former players and a former coach. After brutal road trips to Baltimore and Queen City, the Legion should enter the middle stretch looking to secure some victories in what appear to be winnable games.
Home games against Portland, Carolina and Houston give Vancouver a real chance to thrive in the late season and could give them an advantage over other teams fighting for playoff positions with tougher schedules. The Legion may need to rely on victories in these home games as the trip to Sioux Falls already seems like a foregone conclusion and games against Louisiana and Arizona may prove to be tougher than they would have been in Season 14. Overall, Vancouver should be fairly pleased with their schedule, especially considering some would expect them to go 5-1 at home.
Game to Watch: Week 2 vs LSG
The Locker Room
As is the norm north of the border, the action was aplenty this off-season. The mass exodus of talent to the Lone Star Glory left the Legion staff with many holes to fill, a challenge which they have lived up to, for the most part, signing some nice names in the draft as well as a few marquee free agents. The ‘ironically’ largest hole that was left on the roster was at halfback, with ‘Top 20’ player Sudo Nakai leaving the squad for what seems like retirement. Enter, Robert Redford. R-squared proved to be potentially the biggest signing of the off-season, bringing with him a wealth of experience and many a season near the top of the running charts. If the Legion can get him rolling in tandem with Season 14’s great passing attack, expect the offence to not lose a step. I like Nick Finch as the third wide receiver to back up Pratchard and Killian, and the offensive line has also been given a boost after the draft.
The defence is the side of the ball that Vancouver needs to improve if they want to be holding a ring at season’s end. On a positive note, they have been able to keep the meat of it together, whilst adding names such as Deandre Washington and Michael Percoco during the off-season. The front seven should still perform well with Lee Adama and Washington leading the unit, however pass defence is really where things need to get better. Owner, Andy Hamilton seems to have addressed this by making Vancouver one of the only teams to carry 6 stars in the secondary (3 CB’s, 3 S’s). Veteran presence Drew Hamilton comes in at strong safety alongside Marc Lopez and Maajor Key, with Kyler Murray and Dean Maddox finishing off a vastly experienced last line. Expect Vancouver to have a better defence this season, at least lifting them to the middle of the pack.
Player to Watch: Robert Redford, Running Back Best Draft Pick: Mike Coverson, Defensive End
Vancouver has a great roster on paper and experienced staff. I can’t help feeling like production may drop off somewhat from last season though. Despite being a quality running back, Redford is going to have to get used to a new system and an offence that may not lean on him as much as Vegas did during his time there. These new pieces will take time to gel and i believe the Legion may suffer this season as a result. It’s true, they could easily sneak into the playoffs and prove me completely wrong, however, I just can’t quite see it happening. Look for Vancvoucer, if it can keep its players, to be a juggernaut in Season 16.
Predicted Record – 5-7
Upon publishing of this article, the Legion lost on a last-minute FG @ Jacksonville.
Mexico City Aztecs
Steering the Ship
Owner – Ramos Lynn/Matt Willson
General Manager – Matthew Lee
Head Coach/OC/DC – Ramos Lynn
As seems to be trend with these ‘International’ teams, Mexico City has an advantageous schedule. The Aztecs carry the 17th heaviest slate going into this season, and many detractors will pint to this as the reason they make it to the playoffs, should they find the promised land again. Week 1 sees a home game against Season 9 Championship Game rivals, the Chicago Wildcats, which should prove to be a winnable yet competitive opener to warm the shoulders up for the season ahead. Follow that up with trips to a new-look St. Louis side and across the pond to London, and many will expect the Aztecs to be disappointed being anything other than 3-0 by this point. Home games against Louisiana and Portland populate the middle portion of the schedule, bisected by road games in Houston and Vancouver. I get the feeling many teams would bite my hand off if I offered these matchups to start the season, although I don’t think all will be plain-sailing. Road games in this league are always tricky, especially against teams with the unpredictability of London, or franchises looking to get back to winning form, such as Houston. If the Aztecs come out of this run with a positive win to loss ratio, they should be happy.
Things get a little bit more interesting later on in the season, however, I feel the road/home game split has been kind to Mexico City. The on-paper toughest games (against Baltimore, Queen City and Vegas) are all within their own stadium, presenting the best chance to go 3-0 against quality sides. Trips to the Lone Star Glory and Tulsa will prove to be tough encounters, but I know I would rather travel to a rookie team and a non-playoff organisation than have to face Baltimore in their own stadia. Some of these schedules appear tougher than they value gives them credit for. On this occasion, I think the value got it spot on.
Game to Watch: Week 11 vs QCC
The Locker Room
Historically, Mexico City has never dealt with much turnover. Part of the success of this franchise (and a reason why they always return to the playoffs) is because they are excellent at retaining their players. That phenomenon was uprooted somewhat during the Season 15 off-season. Obviously, the major talking point was the loss of Ray Bentley at HB, something that nobody could have expected as he takes some time away from the league. This has been somewhat addressed with the movement of Phoenix Jones from fullback, although this almost feels like paper over a rather large crack. It wouldn’t be fair to expect Jones to perform anywhere near the level Bentley reached, but we have had bigger surprises in this league before, and Ramos Lynn knows how to get the best out of his players. Other editions to the offence come in the forms of rookies Laura Horrell, Ace Booth and TJ Punk, with Punk expected to be an especially nice edition as he slots into tight end alongside perennial all-star, Mike Daggs. Punk should see some playing time and may even outperform expectations as defences key in on his tight end counterpart. I expect the Aztecs offence to regress a little this season, but not much. You don’t count out Matt Willson.
The bend but don’t break defence that the Aztecs played last season should continue once again, with most of the star quality and experience in the secondary. Look for free safety Jeffery Daggs to do what he does best – make plays- and expect wide receivers to struggle in general against the Aztecs’ solid cornerback corps. The linebacking group has been beefed up by the addition of K.T Horrell, who Mexico City will hope replaces the quality play of Jack Brown whom they lost to Charleston a couple of seasons ago. The main talking points from the off-season were the additions of Andre Krimm and Scott Stover on the defensive line, sizeable men with even larger personalities. The longevity of these players still remains a question, and line cohesion could suffer due to the loud voices, however, if this group galvanises, they could develop into one of the best in the league.
Player to Watch: Jeffrey Daggs, Free Safety Best Draft Pick: T.J Punk, Tight End
I predict Mexico City will take a dip in form this season. The off-season changes and the loss of a player like Ray Bentley are bound to have a knock-on effect, no matter how good the coaching is. In fact, the 6-6 predicted record is a tribute to the quality of coaching over in Mexico. Ramos Lynn is an elite mind in this league and I do expect the Aztecs to scrape a playoff spot, probably as a Wildcard. The defence may actually improve to pick up the slack from a somewhat blunted offence, and we all know Kole Varner will be there to win a game with his leg. Mexico City could well be that franchise that barely makes it but goes all the way.
Predicted Record – 6-6
Upon publishing of this article, Mexico City looked great in a victory over the Chicago Wildcats.
Well, there you have it, folks! That concludes our second edition of the Season 15 previews! Make sure you tune in next time to potentially see what the ‘Inside Man’ thinks of your team’s chances this season. Next up: The ‘High Flyers’.