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By Cliff Grizzly  and Matthew Slinn

Images by Jonny Law

The Slate

Keys to Victory

Las Vegas Fury (4-5) @ Atlanta Swarm (4-5)

Las Vegas

Las Vegas comes into this game seeking to defeat the reigning champs and fight their way into the playoffs. Atlanta has only lost one game at home this season, so expect them to show up ready to play. The first key to victory for any team going up against the Swarm is slowing down the passing attack. Bryant Dynasty is well on his way to being a household name in the league, but at times has struggled to not turn the ball over. Rhett Sawyer needs to show up and continue climbing the all-time sack ranks, as protecting Dynasty has been an issue for Atlanta the majority of Season 15. Keep receivers Chisholm and Falco locked down on the outside. BDG Hollewood has only carried the ball 20 times in one game this season, but has 10+ receptions out of the backfield in every game but two, so watch for the swing routes out of the backfield.

Atlanta

This will be a big step towards continuing a playoff run for Atlanta. One of several teams with a 4-5 record, the Swarm need a win to separate themselves from the pack. The Fury love to pass the ball, and only average 60 yards a game on the ground. Trust your front seven to make plays and stuff the run. They have 4 star receivers to cover, so don’t get caught biting on play action. Stay disciplined in coverage. On offense, give Dynasty time to throw. The Atlanta receivers are hard to cover, so they should be able to find some openings. Just keep an eye out for Max Jackson roaming in the defensive backfield – he can ruin a quarterback’s day in a hurry.

Mexico City Aztecs (5-4) @ Tulsa Desperados (3-6)

Mexico City

Well, well , well…things really didn’t go to plan for Mexico City last weekend against the Lone Star Glory and now they look like getting dragged into the pit of teams close to .500. The Willson – Daggs connection was present as always but the supporting cast (including the defense) weren’t at the races. That will have to change to secure a victory against a Tulsa team that could provide a shock with dangerous players like Gabriel Manning and Khoury Jones. Speaking of those two receivers, Mexico City will need to make sure they keep close tabs on them and bump them out of the game. Manning has been inconsistent but Jefferey Daggs, Han Tyumi and the rest of the Aztecs secondary have also struggled a bit this season. Tighten the passing defence up. Offensively, not much needs to change. Phoenix Jones should see more touches 2 weeks removed form his game-ending injury, but keep riding the Daggs train. It doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.

Tulsa

Tulsa have been a frsutrating team to follow this season, and I can imagine that frustration is shared by players and fans alike. They have a good roster, who play elite football when firing on all cylinders. The Desperados have spent too many games a cylinder down, however. There is talent in this team and I want to see Tulsa drink from that pool this weekend. Look for Gabriel Manning just as much as you have been (we all know Deacon Nickens is a gunslinger) but feed Sonzo Robinson a whole lot more. Robinson is the highest paid power back in the league, and when he lowers his shoulder, he can be devastating. Tulsa need to make the most of their investment and give Robinson the chance to smash through a young Aztec defensive line. On the other side of the ball, things have been much steadier. The Desperados have a capable defense, so should be able to shut down Mexico City enough to give the offence a chance. Focus in on Daggs and make Mexico City beat you another way.

Fort Worth Toros (3-6) @ Louisiana Revolution (8-1)

Fort Worth

Every time someone plays Louisiana, it’s a big opportunity to make a statement. Fort Worth will need to tighten up their defense this week if they hope to pull off an upset on the road. Reggie Streeter will be very active out of the backfield, so make sure someone is always assigned to keeping eyes on him. Last week, Pichler got hot and couldn’t be stopped. There hasn’t been a more important week to step up the pass rush on passing downs. Stop the run game on 1st and 2nd down, and send the pressure on 3rd. This will be a tough match up, but a standout performance by the d-line will give the Toros a chance to come out on top.

Louisiana

Love em’ or hate em’, Louisiana is a tough football team. Despite a slow start last week, the Revolution mounted a huge comeback led by their star QB, Johnny Pichler. Fort Worth will be bringing the second best pass defense (statistically) in the SFL to play this week, so game plan around that. Reggie Streeter has put up MVP numbers this season, and the Revolution should attempt to get him going again this week with the rushing attempts and receptions out of the backfield. The Toros run a well-balanced offense, led by Xander Gold and Jason Williams, who are both very capable play-makers. At WR, Stephen Hacker has scored at least one touchdown in 6 straight games. Don’t allow him to get behind the defense. Keep a safety over the top of him to help your corners in man coverage.

Denver Nightwings (8-1) @ Chicago Wildcats (4-5)

Denver

A lot of people are giving Louisiana the nod as to who is the best team in Season 15. The only way to change their minds is to keep winning. Chicago is a team who has, seemingly, fallen off the wagon. Two weeks ago, quarterback ET King was sacked 12 times. That’s a huge number of sacks for a team to give up in one game. They have some weaknesses on the offensive line and Denver should look to exploit them. Send 4, 5, even 6 pass rushers on passing downs and force King to make quick decisions before he takes more sacks. The Wildcats have allowed 40+ points in back to back weeks, and their defense is looking beat down as the season wraps up. Their defense is led by some solid veteran linebackers, Denver should seek to get McChesney 20+ carries again this week after rushing for 213 yards a week ago. An effective rushing game will open your offense to hit Jones and Keel down the field, who have had a drop-off in production recently.

Chicago

The Wildcats have lost 4 games in a row and need to turn it around quickly if they hope to make the playoffs. The leaders and veterans in this organization must light a fire under their squad and get back to winning ways. Keep 7 or 8 defenders in the box early and don’t allow McChesney to rip off big chunks of yards. Denver utilized their tight end effectively a week ago, so jamming him off the line and paying him extra attention would be a good idea. The Nightwings have multiple weapons at receiver, but they have recently been using the run game and short passing game to score points. Stopping the run will be a huge key to victory.

Carolina Skyhawks (4-5) @ Houston Hyenas (4-5)

Carolina

Going into Houston this week, Carolina will be looking to repeat last week’s performance where they had a 33-14 victory over Arizona. Of all the league’s quarterbacks who have started all 9 games in Season 15, Sully Richardson is leading in both pass attempts and completion percentage…pretty impressive. However, the Skyhawks are only averaging 6.9 yards per reception. Houston’s defense hasn’t been great against the pass, so Carolina should maintain that air-raid style offense and force them to stop it. The attention will more than likely be on Prasad, so the other receivers should get plenty of looks. The Hyenas had a huge game rushing last week, and is one of the best running teams in the league on a consistent basis. Make sure and focus your defense on Warren Murray out of the backfield.

Houston

Warren Murray and the o-line should be feeling real good after last week’s performance where the Hyenas ran for over 200 yards on 23 attempts. If you look at their record, Houston has much more success winning games when Murray has picked up over 100 yards. This is going to be a key to victory once again against Carolina. They should seek to run the ball early between the tackles and force Carolina to respect Murray’s abilities, then start airing it out to D.R. Sim and company. Carolina will more than likely be throwing the ball a lot. Their run game has been below average all season, so the Hyenas will need to keep some extra men in coverage.

Lone Star Glory (5-4) @ Queen City (3-6)

Lone Star

Lone Star are a team reaching a rich vein of form at the exact correct time. Last week’s demolition of the much-fancied Mexico City Aztecs was a testament to the young franchise’s development this season and they now have another perfect opportunity to cement a playoff berth with victory at the Corsairs. This is by no means a formality though and the Glory may need to outperform last week if they are to come away with the W. First things first – get the run game going. Ike McBride and Cameron Collier have really gathered steam the last couple of games, so aim to out-rush Queen City. Get into short yardage situations regularly and offer the dual threat of banging it up the middle with the FB or passing thee Hammer and Axis – Axis’ former slot receiver acumen should see him open short. None of this is relevant though if Lone Star can’t stymie the Corsairs passing attack. AJ Caswell has thrown a lot of interceptions this season, but he is still very precise if given time. Be aggressive on the defensive line and tight in coverage.

Queen City

This has been a questionable season so far for a team of Queen City’s standards. We all knew one of the defacto ‘top teams’ would falter eventually, but the Corsairs could still save their season if they win out. That unlikely run starts this weekend at home to the Lone Star Glory. Lone Star are riding high right now, so getting out in front early and holding that lead will be crucial to slowing them down. Stack that box and stop the dual-threat of McBride and Collier – we know Jeff Duffy will get to the QB at least twice, so force Ace Fenech to throw the ball. Conversely, give Jett Zero more chances to improve on his paltry stats for the season. Zero has regressed this season after transferring from FB, but he can still be effective, even if it just as a way to set up play-action. The QCC O-line (on paper) is one of the strongest in the league, and they need to give Caswell time. The Glory force turnovers butt they also give up a fair amount of passing yards. Use this fact to your advantage.

Vancouver Legion (4-5) @ Arizona Scorpions (4-5)

Vancouver

In the past two weeks, Vancouver has looked like one of the top teams in the SFL. Despite losing a close one last week to top 5 ranked Sioux Falls, the Legion played a great game. One of the main ingredients to their effective offense has been leaning on Robert Redford. He’s carried the ball at least 30 times the past two games and has looked phenomenal. Vancouver should be looking for more success on the ground against Arizona, whose defense has been very average against the run in Season 15. The Scorpions do present some threats in the defensive backfield, and throwing deep consistently against them could lead to turnovers. Arizona’s QB, Ashley Jackson, has struggled as of late, throwing 10 interceptions compared to 1 touchdown. They also haven’t surpassed 100 yards rushing in three weeks. Make sure and keep Moses wrapped up before he can get going, and the defense should have a good day at the office.

Arizona

Arizona has got to find some success offensively this week. They’re throwing way too many picks lately to win on a consistent basis. One way to fix that issue; force Vancouver to stop the run. Moses has shown the ability to have big games on the ground, especially earlier in the season when they were 3-1. Maybe defenses have adapted to that attack, but Arizona needs to look at what earned them some early season victories and go back to it. Vancouver has been using RB Redford a lot lately, and have been finding success. Make sure he doesn’t have room to break through the defense early in the game. Focus on keeping Brett Killian as inactive as possible. The less he touches the ball, the better off your defense will be.

Charleston Predators (4-5) @ Portland Fleet (1-8)

Charleston

Quite possibly the best 4-5 team in the SFL, Charleston are fighting for their playoff lives this weekend on the road at Portland. Confidence may be high considering the Fleet’s record, however I would air on the side of caution. The Predators offence hasn’t exactly been world-beating and Portland’s strength is their D. The main key for this Charleston side is to not get drawn into a low-scoring dogfight – use the blue print Florida followed last week on their way to a shut out victory. Play aggressively, use the passing game to stretch the young Portland secondary and blow the top off the scoreboard. Easy, right?

Portland

It has been tough going for Portland this season, but their commitment to earning victories still remains. The Fleet are a team full of talent that are two seasons away from being the finished article, but they can definitely score a W this week, especially at home. Portland need to regain that aggression and endeavor they played with in the 4th quarter against Houston and the game at home vs Denver. Expect the opposition to play away from your best players at LB, so get that secondary chomping at the bit for a pick or two. Offensively, be better in the red zone. It’s no secret that the Fleet have really struggled to cross the whitewash into the end zone this season. Look for Connor Weston and allow him to compete with his cornerback – he will win the majority of the time.

London Knights (2-7) @ St. Louis Gladiators (4-5)

London

Here’s a wild key to victory for London: wear the all-black uniforms every week. They won two games back to back in those black uniforms. Call it superstition, but hey, whatever works. The Knights were looking like they finally had something special going until they hit a brick wall last week against the rushing game of Houston. After seeing that performance, expect St. Louis to try and copy that style of offense. The Gladiators won’t be as dangerous on the ground, but RB Martinez has had some big games rushing this season against weaker defenses. Your pass rush will be a huge key this week, as their rookie QB has taken a lot of punishment all season long. Send the pressure and don’t let them have time to sit back and hit their young receivers.

St. Louis

The level of competition shouldn’t be as intense this week, but don’t expect London to just roll over. They’ve shown the ability to win games in Season 15, despite having a lot of flaws to capitalize on. Run the ball this week. Houston absolutely torched London on the ground last week. Seek to find similar success with Kairo Martinez and he could have his biggest game of the season. The London offense has some weapons, but struggles to use them consistently. Wide receivers Highwind and Calia are their go-to guys, so put your best coverage guys in their face off the line. London QB Angus MaClaine only completed 50% of his passes last week. Study the game film to see how Houston caused him such struggle and copy it.

Sioux Falls Sparrows (7-2) @ Baltimore Vultures (7-2)

Sioux Falls

Phew! That was a close victory last week for the Sparrows. Vancouver gave them all they could handle and it could prove to be perfect preparation for a huge game this weekend in Baltimore. We all know what Sioux Falls are going to do and why break from that style of play? It has worked for 7 games this season, so don’t break what doesn’t need fixing. Whilst improved recently, Baltimore’s D hasn’t been perfect this season, so put it under pressure with possibly the best power back in the league, Colin Hart. Hart has a rare mix of speed and strength, so work that horse until the ground tears up. Another thing we all know is the quality of the Sparrows’ defence (bar the Fort Worth game). Sioux Falls need to turn this match into a war of attrition – squeeze the life out of the Vultures offence and smash their defence in the mouth. It’s easier said than done, but Sioux Falls know how to win.

Baltimore

This is a real test for Baltimore. Yes, the schedule has been tough up to know and they are going against a team who has gained most of their victories against teams with losing records, but the Sparrows are legit. As I’ve previously said, Sioux Falls are going to be predictable – so the Vultures need to counter with unpredictability. Defensively, contain Hart. That should be Plan A. There doesn’t need to be a Plan B. Offensively, take the Sioux Falls defense on. Be aggressive, get the ball to Ivory Ervin and Mac Chima and score touchdowns. Teams could bbe forgiven for playing conservatively against such a swarming defense, but I would go the opposite way. Wigmore has shown a mature head on young shoulders, so give him the chance to beat one of the league’s premier defenses.

Jacksonville Kings (6-3) @ Florida Storm (4-5)

Jacksonville

The final portion of the Kings’ schedule is sneakily tough, and itt all starts with a rivalry game against the vastly improving Florida Storm. Jacksonville couldn’t produce for the full 60 minutes against Louisiana last week and a 4-quarter performance will be needed in this tricky game with their neighbors. The first change I would like to see from last weekend is to use Jared Willis a lot more. Willis has been excellent this seaso, contributing heavily the the Top 5 rushing attack that Jacksonville posses. Couple that with the weak rushing D in Florida and you have a recipe for success. Take the ball out of Christiansen’s hands and release the pressure on him. He is a quality QB but that 5 INT performance can’t be good for any player’s confidence. Defensively, do what you doo best and get to the QB. We know that Ron Cockren will make mistakes if pressured – make this priority #1.

Florida

I’m really liking what we’re all seeing form Florida recently and this very important game is entirely winnable on their current form. The previous meeting between these two ended in a solid victory for the Kings (27-7) so Max Paul and his team will be looking for revenge. It is also the perfect way to help secure a playoff seeding – victory over a team with Jacksonville’s record could be crucial. So how do the Storm beat Jacksonville? Well, turn it into a defensive battle. Florida don’t have the explosive offense that Louisiana do, so don’t expect to score more than 30. JW Doyle isn’t Reggie Streeter, so experienced receivers Cline and Comeau will need to make life easy for Cockren, who may be harassed all game by Jacksonville’s defensive line. Florida have one of the best receiving corps in the SFL, so utilize them and make sure to always come away from enemy territory with some points. Kicker, Ethan Sneed could be the difference maker in this one.