Written by Cliff Grizzly and Matthew Slinn
Images by Jonny Law
Keys to Victory
Portland Fleet (2-9) @ Fort Worth Toros (4-7)
Don’t be fooled. Portland will be fighting tooth and nail to win this one. Not only does three wins sound much better than two (especially with one on the road) but this is a rivalry game. Whether they like it or not, Portland have a natural rivalry with Fort Worth as they are the two Season 15 expansion teams. This will be a piece of history within this league and it could well be a trivia question in years to come: who won the first game between Portland and Fort Worth? The Fleet want to be the answer to that question. So, how do they do it? I guess the answer to that question is simple yet so very difficult at the same time. Portland need to stop Jason Williams getting loose, keep the ball in long drives when they have it and make sure they always return from the opposition half with points. On paper – simple. In reality? Extremely difficult.
Much like their opponents, Fort Worth will not be taking this game lightly. A win over Portland may not be a marquee victory like the ones over Sioux Falls and Louisiana, but if the Toros want to contend for playoff seedings next season, these are the games they must win every time. The best teams win against the teams that they should beat – this is Fort Worth’s chance to prove that and get to a respectable 5-7. A lot is going for Fort Worth here – they play at home, the defence is already elite and Portland’s offense is about as sharp as a butter knife. But, confidence is often a killer in this game, so Nacho Sicario needs to equip his team properly with the right mentality. Get Jason Williams pounding the rock early and shut down Matt South with the excellent secondary. This victory won’t take rocket science, just concentration.
London Knights (2-9) @ Carolina Skyhawks (4-7)
Playing for pride at this point in Season 15, London has to decide whether they want to close out with a winning effort, or just lie down. They will have a good opportunity to end with a win against Carolina, who also hasn’t been very impressive this season. The Skyhawks have a talented team, but when you have the worst turnover differential in the SFL, victories are hard to come by. Winning this week will depend not only on the Knights ability to force turnovers, but maintaining possession for long periods of time. The best way to keep an opponent out of the end zone – don’t let them have the ball very often. London will have to play great defense and force Carolina in as many 3-and-out offensive possessions as they possibly can.
Ending the season against London is a good chance to go out on a high note. Don’t expect London to come in and lay down, however. Angus McClaine has big play potential, and has some talented receivers to throw the ball to. Carolina’s biggest challenge will be avoiding the quick passes to the outside, and keeping the rushing attempts to 3 yards or less. London’s rush defense has actually been decent this season, so a heavy dose of Prasad and company will be key.
Lone Star Glory (6-5) @ Chicago Wildcats (4-7)
Lone Star will be playing against Chicago this week who has been playing, for lack of a better word, dreadfully as of late. The Glory need to be fired up and put on an impressive showing to lock their spot in the playoffs. Chicago has allowed a minimum of 27 points per game in their last four appearances, while also not scoring more than 20. The Wildcats’ offensive line has been allowing ET King to be sacked a lot, so this is a good week for the d-line to stand out and put up big numbers. Rushing their four d-linemen alone should be good enough to pressure King, which will also free up linebackers to drop back and stop the short passing game. Robert Johnson also has had dwindling numbers lately. His longest rush in the past three games is 11 yards. With all that being said, Chicago may go for broke in their final game of season 15 and look to hit receivers down the field. Respect their playmakers and this should be a good game for the Glory.
Poor Chicago. After winning 4 four out of their first 5 games of the season, they have since lost six straight games. Four of those losses were by double digits. It’s hard to say that they haven’t just hung it up for season 15, but hopefully for the Wildcats they will come into this final game with some passion and end the season on a high note. Quarterback, ET King, has been sacked 21 times in their last five games and has only thrown five touchdowns since this losing streak began. He threw 14 td’s in their first five games where they won four games. It seems as though Chicago needs to get him back on track this week if they want to win against a tough team.
Atlanta Swarm (6-5) @ Queen City Corsairs (4-7)
The Swarm have had about 4 ‘must-win’ games in a row to end the season, and this week is no exception. Bryant Dynasty has helped the former champions stumble to a 6-5 record and they sit with one toe in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Swarm, they face one of the toughest match-ups this week in the entire SFL as they travel to the always dangerous, Queen City Corsairs. Atlanta were unconvincing last weekend at home to the lowly Chicago Wildcats, so this game is by no means a foregone conclusion. If the Swarm want to hit the post-season, they need to exploit QCC’s defensive weaknesses – the running game. BDG Hollewood has been catching the ball on swing passes and quick outs all season. Week 12 is time to unleash him on the ground. The Corsairs have one of the worst rush defences in the SFL, so use that to your advantage. Queen City will score points – Atlanta need to go blow for blow with them. .
Queen City are playing for pride in Week 12. Now there is a statement I didn’t think I would be saying at the start of the season. The repeat champions have had their most unsuccessful season in recent memory, as the standard of the SFL increases and they recover from losing Nacho Sicario and Stephen Hacker to expansion. All this aside, the Corsairs are still an extremely dangerous team, especially at home. If they can put it all together vs Atlanta, they would really end the season on a high and ruin the Swarm’s playoff party. There is only one change QCC need to make going into this game. Shut down BDG Hollewood. We all know he is capable of breaking a big game and when he does that, 3 TDs usually follow. The Corsairs are going to pass the ball well against the Swarm and defend the pass fairly successfully too. The key lies in stopping BDG. Force Dynasty to drop back and into the clutches of Jeff Duffy.
Las Vegas Fury (4-7) @ Mexico City Aztecs (7-4)
Mexico City has typically been a pass heavy offense this season, but in the last two games, their pass attempt numbers have dropped. They still managed to win those two games. Their main weapon is still tight end Mike Daggs, who has scored at least one touchdown in every game of Season 15 but two. When the Aztecs get the ball near the red zone, the Fury must key in on Daggs and keep him out of the end zone. When it comes to running the football, Las Vegas will find some serious struggles against this stout run defense. They must rely on Ramen and his crew to carve up the secondary. They also must keep an extra blocker in the backfield, or one of those big-play front four will be wreaking havoc in a hurry.
Mexico City will need to be prepared to slow down that signature heavy passing attack from Las Vegas in order to finish their regular season looking like a potential championship contender. Only ranking second in rush defense to Denver, the Aztecs should have little difficulty nullifying any attempt the Fury might make at establishing a mix-up of game plans and actually leaning on the run. As long as the Fury don’t find a lot of gaping holes in the coverage, Mexico City should be able to hold Las Vegas from scoring too often. The young d-line needs to flourish this week and produce some pressure on Ramen as well. On offense, as long as Rhett Sawyer is paid extra attention from the offensive line and QB Matt Willson keeps his eyes on the star defensive backs, the Aztecs should be able to find some openings and put up a solid amount of points.
St. Louis Gladiators (5-6) @ Sioux Falls Sparrows (8-3)
This is do or die for the St. Louis Gladiators. Get the win, and if other results go your way, you’re in the playoffs with a respectable scalp in Sioux Falls to boot. Fail, and you’re out of the playoffs, 1 season removed from the playoff team headed up by Louisiana QB, Jonny Pichler. So, can STL take victory in this contest? It’s going to be mightily tough. St. Louis’ weakness (their offense) is going up against Sioux Falls’ underrated strength (their defense) so the writing on the wall looks ominously bad. But, we all know Sioux Falls like to play an up front, grinding style which could suit the Gladiators down to the ground. St. Louis might not necessarily need a raft of points to take victory here – just enough points. Gladiators, batten down the hatches, hold the Sparrows to minimal gains and get that leg of Amy Schillizzi working.
This contest isn’t as crucial to the Sparrows as it is to the Gladiators but it is still a game Sioux Falls will want to win – and win comfortably. The Sparrows will want to go back to their tried and trusted formula. A formula consisting of running Colin Hart into the ground and playing suffocating defence. My advice? Don’t fix what isn’t broken. The Sparrows have the second best rushing offence in the SFL, and despite the Gladiators playing excellent defence this season, they struggle mostly against the run. Pound the ball with your fullback and let Hart hit the big runs to the outside. Defensively, as most teams will want to have done this season, hurry Javier Vasquez. The rookie has had an up and down first season in the league and has struggled to move the ball when pressured. I expect the Sparrows to be in his face the entire game.
Tulsa Desperados (3-8) @ Denver Nightwings (10-1)
It’s hard to come into your last game of the season knowing your playoff chances are out the window. But, Tulsa needs to find motivation in knowing that they have a chance to beat the number one ranked team and end on a very high note. The only team to defeat Denver this season has been Baltimore, and they found most of their success passing the ball. There’s no reason not to take some extra chances this week. Tulsa should send deep passes Gabriel Manning’s direction several times and hope he manages to pull a few down for big gains. The Nightwings’ offense is a well-oiled machine, but slowing down their run game will be a good start in order to get ahead. Scoring early on a big play would be a huge step in the right direction for Tulsa.
The top team in season 15 can’t afford to “take a week off” if they want to hold their top spot. With a loss against Tulsa, Louisiana will jump them in the rankings if they manage to defeat Florida. Realistically, there’s no blaring reason why Denver should fall short in their final regular season appearance. Not much needs to be said about strategy, other than the Nightwings simply must continue doing what they do best. Tulsa has one man, in particular, who is capable of hurting any opposing defense: Gabriel Manning. He’ll be receiving the ball numerous times at both wide receiver and as a returner. Besides slowing down Sonzo Robinson out of the backfield, Manning will be the main man to focus on in week 12. Also, Denver needs to make sure and get some blockers on DJ Majesty, or he can make some big plays against the run game.
Houston Hyenas (6-5) @ Vancouver Legion (6-5)
This week, Houston will be facing off a fellow 6-5 team with a lot of pride on the line. Having won 3 straight games against weaker competition, the Hyenas will need to continue riding their momentum against a tough team in Vancouver. Here’s an impressive stat, Warren Murray has rushed for over 200 yards three weeks in a row, two of those games for over 260 yards. It seems as though Houston has figured out their winning strategy… run the football with Murray. Kentez Johnson simply needs to play smart and avoid turning the ball over when the Hyenas are rushing so effectively. Vancouver has also been finding great success on the ground lately with Robert Redford. Vancouver doesn’t find success by relying on just one weapon, however. Tom Pepper passing to Brett Killian can also be tough to stop. If Vancouver finds a mismatch with whoever is lined up in front of Killian, expect to have a long day. Keep extra help over the top of him at all times.
This is a big game for Vancouver. Houston comes into this week after three impressive victories, so putting a halt to their momentum will be a test. The proven method for stopping Houston, as of late, has been slowing down Warren Murray. This will be vital for Vancouver’s defense. Houston has given up an average of 290 yards a game through the air, so the Legion can likely find success behind the arm of Tom Pepper. Not many cornerbacks can keep up with Brett Killian, so look for him to have another big week.
Charleston Predators (5-6) @ Jacksonville Kings (7-4)
My math may be wrong, but should the Predators win this game, they would be a shoe-in to occupy one of the last playoff spots at 6-6. Win this game and the tough schedule becomes a strength, not a weakness. The Predators kept their season alive in Week 11, dispatching the red hot Florida Storm, who had beaten the Kings the week prior. Match-ups dictate that this is very much a possible victory for the Predators, however sense tells us that nobody should expect to roll into Jacksonville and come out with the victory. For a start, Charleston need to play excellent defence, which to their credit, they have done all season. The Predators have one of the stingiest defences in the SFL and have been very good all-round without truly excelling in one area. The Kings are unpredictable though. You don’t know week to week whether they will hit you over the top with Ken Gossett or slip the ball to Jared Willis and let him continue his great season on the ground. If Charleston want to make it to the playoffs, it starts here. This is a playoff game for the Predators.
After a slight stutter coming down the stretch, Jacksonville steadied the ship last week with an excellent win at Fort Worth, the team who bumped off Louisiana a week previous to that. Without saying anythting else, if Jacksonville play like that this weekend, they will win. The Kings, as usual, have one of the most talented rosters and front offices in the SFL, so seeing them at 7-4 could almost be seen as a slightly disappointing season. This weekend, expect plenty of sacks, tackles for loss and a turnover or two. This Kings defence, despite being occasionally leaky on the scoreboard, gets after the quarterback and forces mistakes. As far as I can tell, they have the most sacks in the SFL and a decent amount of takeaways behind it. We know that Christian Christiansen should score points and Jared Willis is great, so the key ot victory here is the Kings’ D. Pressure TD Drew, stop Swearingen from hitting the end zone and force Charleston to hit 3 points instead of 7. Do that and this could get ugly.
Louisiana Revolution (9-2) @ Florida Storm (6-5)
If the Revolution wants to be ranked number 1 going into the playoffs, they will need to win this week and pray for a Denver loss. Regardless of playoff implications, Louisiana is in for a tough day against Florida. The Storm have turned their season completely around since the first three weeks and have been playing well. The Florida coaching staff has proven that they know how to win games, so Louisiana can expect a well-prepped team. Reggie Streeter needs to have a good day. The Storm have shown some weaknesses against the run, though they have improved. The center of that Storm defense can be exposed, so some rushing attempts right down the middle should be in the game plan. The defensive backs for Florida are also capable of taking deep passes away, so Pichler should look to hit his targets on some shorter routes and take advantage of the Storms’ young linebacker core in coverage.
Going up against Louisiana has been a tough task for everybody in season 15, but Florida will be relying on their championship-level coaching staff and veteran players to upset the number two team in the SFL. Ron Cockren can’t afford to throw multiple interceptions this week like he did in the loss to Charleston a week ago. The Storm needs to find a way to balance out the offensive attack, because Louisiana leads the league in forced turnovers in season 15, and could potentially give a one dimensional Storm offense a lot of trouble. On defense, the rookie linebackers are going to have to play lights out football. The Revolution are the most effective rushing team this season, so Florida should plan for a lot of Reggie Streeter rushing attempts. The legendary “big sexy” Dominguez also needs to have a great game and force Pichler into making bad decisions.
Arizona Scorpions (5-6) @ Baltimore Vultures (8-3)
Baltimore is going to be a tough matchup for Arizona, even though they are coming off a huge win against Sioux Falls. They managed to pull off a victory after runningback DJ Moses rushed for over 175 yards. The Scorpions will need to attempt and match those numbers on the ground, but Baltimore’s defense has been solid this year. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Arizona can find that same success that led them to a win a week ago. The primary key to victory, however, will be slowing down TRoy Gaines. The three losses Baltimore has suffered in season 15 have come when Gaines was held to 82 yards or less. Though Baltimore has a very dangerous passing attack, stopping the run will force Wigmore and crew to become one dimensional and take chances.
The Vultures come into week 12 with a very impressive record and are currently sitting in one of the top spots going into the playoffs. Jack Wigmore has done a wonderful job replacing Dazzo, and Baltimore has continued to win games. Going back and looking at Arizona’s season 15 stats, they have allowed 16 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is towards the bottom in league rankings. The Vultures should look to mix up their offensive attack, but once it gets to the redzone, punch it in with TRoy Gaines. Arizona quarterback Ashley Jackson struggled last week, but they still managed to defeat the talented Sparrows. If they bring the same offensive scheme into weeks 12, Baltimore will need to put an extra defender in the box and contain DJ Moses.