Written by Matthew Slinn
Much like every other off-season that went before it, the Season 17 iteration was awash with predictions and contained so much speculation that writers could grab a rare opportunity to use the word “rife” in an article. And, much like a lot of other seasons, many of the predictions made have shown an allergy to our current reality. Let’s face it – most of the SFLs future predictions are wrong. With that thought firmly in mind, it dawned on me that there have been quite a few things that have made me raise my eyebrows this season – events that have forced me to sit up and take notice. Sometimes, I like to be proven wrong. The following list comprises of surprising things that have occurred during the first half of Season 17 in the SFL, surprising because I was probably wrong about them at the start of the season.
The North Division Have Two Undefeated Teams
I have gone on record in weeks past to say that I thought the North was a one-team division – that only the Baltimore Vultures are a team of any relevance when it comes to playoff contenders. I also doubled down on this, probably on Coach Craven’s show (shout out to him) and stated that I wouldn’t be shocked if only Baltimore made it out of the North. I gave the London Knights a slim chance, but I was concerned about the team from my home country being more hype than hope. As it is PLAINLY OBVIOUS to see…I was dead wrong. Yes, the Baltimore Vultures are as advertised. Yes, they will most likely be a strong feature come the post-season. But the rapid re-birth of the Queen City Corsairs has, as we say in jolly old England, ‘knocked me for 6’. The “rebuilding” four-time champions look more dominant than I have ever seen them – and I’ve been in the league since Season 10. After a shock road victory against the Fort Worth Toros in Week 1, the Corsairs defied more SFL logic by inflicting heavy defeats on the London Knights, Atlanta Swarm and Houston Hyenas, most recently coming out of Tulsa with a confident 24-14 win. The best victory of the bunch came in the form of a 33-31, last-minute road win over the Arizona Scorpions, most people’s favourite to take the West division crown this season. This young team, nicely constructed by GM BJ Loveless, seems to be playing without fear and it is working wonders for them. The rise of the Corsairs is not the only thing about the North that has ravaged my previous opinions – this division is COMPETATIVE. Despite being a few games back in the division race, the Knights and the DC Dragons have looked very good at times this season, knocking off tough opponents with gusto. London (3-3), have scored entertaining victories against Atlanta, Fort Worth and Jacksonville, their entertaining brand of offense making me a real fan of theirs this season, over and above my obvious ties with the franchise. DC (2-4), flew out of the blocks in Weeks 1-3, pushing Vancouver close in a thriller and showing strongly in victories over Las Vegas and Charleston. They have cooled off somewhat, but last week’s close defeat to Baltimore saw them getting back to their best. The fact that two teams remain undefeated is the biggest surprise to me from this division, but it’s more than that. I said only one team would make the playoffs from the North – now, we could well get three.
San Diego Securing Their First Win
Now, before all you Mavs fans shoot me down for the implications of that subheading, let me elaborate somewhat. I’m not surprised that you got your first win – in fact, despite the 1-5 record, I’ve seen a marked difference between Season 16 and 17, especially on offensive competitiveness. My shock came from who the defeated opponents were and the margin of victory. To tell the truth, I presumed San Diego’s maiden triumph would be over Portland or St. Louis in one of the two double-headers they play this season. And, those victories could still happen (maybe not with the form Portland are currently in, but stick with me on this). Of course, I was wrong. The San Diego Mavericks defeated Eddie Gauge’s Arizona Scorpions 19-27 in Week 5 and looked good whilst doing it. First of all, let’s get this straight. Arizona are a damn good team and have been for the past season and a half. So good, they are the favourites to take the West division and rightly so. To add more context to this, the ‘WhoYaGot’ channel on the Discord server boasted the Scorpions as 89/27 favourites. Whatever mystical ball you twenty-seven people are looking into, give me some of that because I clearly need it. The way Javier Vasquez controlled his passing game, limiting mistakes; the way Jaylin Wells took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring a TD each through the air and on the ground; the way the usually decent defense was supported by offensive production. It was great to see, especially against Ashley Jackson and those weapons she posses in her Hands…see what I did there? San Diego can still surprise me this season. They would surprise me if they didn’t take another victory and continue on this slow, yet progressive, journey.
The Struggles of Cam Curtis and the Fort Worth Toros
Did someone capture Cam Curtis and replace him with a random bloke off the street who has no business being on a football field? Seriously, based on the first 6 games of the season we’re gonna have to start sending out search parties. The Toros quarterback is on pace for an unprecedented drop in production from what was an extremely promising first year leading the offense. We have always known Fort Worth are a defensive team whose offense does enough to supplement an elite D, but this season Curtis’ poor play underpins the entire unit. Through the air, only four touchdowns have been scored to 13 interceptions. Stephen Hacker, historically one of the best receivers in the league, is playing OK for SFL standards but nothing to set the world alight. Robert Garrett Jr hasn’t been as effective as he usually is as one of the league’s best TE’s and even Jason Williams (who has gained a good amount of yardage this season) is down on touchdowns with 3. Fort Worth, once again, have an elite defence. They are very tough to score on, but the offense is joint last in the league in scoring. As a result, they carry a 2-4 record, sit 3rd place in the South and have made every analyst worth his salt look like they don’t know what they’re talking about – at least up to this point. Now, this is not me giving up on Fort Worth – far from it. The reason they are even on this list is because of my respect for the quality of their squad and coaching staff. Something does need to change though, and change fast. I still believe the Toros can make the playoffs. If I write another article akin to this later in the season, I hope their names aren’t on it.
A Lack of Pressure From Arizona
In Season 16, you could not shout the word ‘PRESSURE!’ before either Mark Melo or DD Sachs took down the opposing QB. They were that good. Sachs finished the season with 14 sacks coming off the edge and his even bigger-bodied partner in crime, Melo, had 15 sacks and was just as good stopping the run. They were the sting of an Arizona Scorpions defense that struggled early but came strong as the season went on. Season 17 has seen an increase in quality of play from the Scorpions defense as a whole, but Sachs and Melo haven’t been able to recreate anywhere near their personal level of production from last season. Yes, they have a couple of sacks each and yes, Melo has once against showed his ability to set the edge and hit a runner behind the line. The numbers just don’t compare to Season 16. There could be a multitude of reasons for this. Offensive lines are getting better, many QBs carry a quick release…but it’s still possible to get sacks in this league, just ask Syron Yates IV. Melo and Sachs just haven’t quite found that groove, something that I think they need to find if Arizona are going to go deep into the playoffs. Early take: Mark Melo has a rip-roaring second half of the season and finishes with double-digit sacks. You heard it here first.
The Emergence of Tom Creeg
The slot corner/box safety position has been one of increased importance over the last 4 or 5 seasons in the SFL. There was a time, when star players were limited to 12 per roster, that many teams risked only carrying a solitary star corner and leaving the rest up to the two safeties to clean up. Thankfully for defensive coaches, those days are gone and a star studded secondary is needed to stop the high-powered offenses of today’s SFL. The more important a position becomes, the more important it appears to get the right player for the job, and many teams have done this. Portland has Leo Morris, Arizona has Parker Thomas, Queen City and Louisiana have Kappa Jones and Doug Day respectively. These are all players who cover those intermediate areas better than anyone. And yet, for the first half of this season, a newer name has cropped into the SFLsphere, one that belongs to a player performing at an elite level. As the subheading makes obvious (unless you skip such things for the meat of a paragraph) Tom Creeg has ascended. Illustrated perfectly by his all-action performance against Denver during Vegas’ Vice Wars victory, Creeg has slotted into his role of box safety/slot corner like a duck to water. It clearly suits his skill set much better than the outside corner position he was drafted to play. Last season, Creeg wasn’t bad but rookie mistakes saw him get beat a little too often. Closer to the line in the heart of the defense, those weaknesses are compromised and his strengths magnified. Creeg has 37 tackles, 5 for a loss, 10 pass deflections and 3 INTs including a pick 6. Most of those statistics equal or surpass his production for the entirety of last season. This shouldn’t really come as a total surprise, given his performances for Birmingham in the SFLm, where he registered 6 sacks and earned his ‘BlitzCreeg’ nickname, but performing in the SFL is a different kettle of fish. Vegas’ season has been a stutter so far. They may have found an elite player though in Tom Creeg.