(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty Images)
Welcome to Week Eight. Four more games will bring us one step closer to a finalized playoff bracket. Some teams can all but clinch their spot in the postseason, and some teams can all but clinch their early admission into the offseason.
Four games, one key to each, and two bonuses. Let’s go:
Orlando @ Memphis
Apollos Run Game vs. Express Run Defense
This game looks like a mismatch on paper. The 6-1 Apollos battling the 2-5 Express. But, don’t forget, Memphis kept it close the first time these two teams met back in Week 3, falling 21-17 in Orlando. The Apollos were powered by their run game in that matchup, and I expect them to heavily lean on it again in this one.
Orlando ranks second in the Alliance, averaging 136.3 rush yards per game. Meanwhile, Memphis’ run defense ranks dead last, allowing 127.4 yards per game on the ground. The Apollos have been held under 100 rushing yards just twice all season, and boast two of the top four running backs in the AAF, in terms of rush yards: D’Ernest Johnson and De’Veon Smith. The Express defense, on the other hand, are responsible for the most rush yards allowed in a single game this season, giving up an astounding 209 on the ground in Week Three against Arizona.
In the first matchup, Orlando rushed for two touchdowns and their top yardage output of the season: 183 yards. They gashed the Express defensive front to the tune of 6.1 yards per carry, and notched 11 first downs on the ground. Look for more of the same in Week Eight.
San Diego @ Salt Lake
Stallions Pass Rush vs. Fleet Pass Protection
Salt Lake’s pass rush has been, by far, the most dominant unit in the league. They lead the league in sacks, averaging 3.4 a game, and have an incredible 13 sacks in the last two weeks. What’s more: there have only been three defenses to record more than five sacks in a game. Salt Lake’s defense is responsible for two of those three. Dominant.
They also boast the best pass rusher in the league, Karter Schult. Schult leads the Alliance in tackles for loss, with 12, and has five more than any other player. He also leads the league in sacks, with seven, and is second in quarterback hits, with 19.
On the flip side, San Diego’s offensive line has been a pain point all season long. They allow the second most sacks of any unit, giving up 2.7 per game, and they’re one of three teams to allow more than five sacks in a single game. I fully expect the Stallions defensive front to pin their ears back and get after Mike Bercovici.
Bonus: This game could be tight, every point matters. San Diego is abysmal on two-point conversion attempts: 23.5%. That’s second to last. Salt Lake, however, ranks second (57.1%).
Atlanta @ Birmingham
Iron QB Luis Perez vs. Atlanta Secondary
After a brief benching in Week Five, Luis Perez is back under center for the Iron, and he’s back to airing it out. He leads the Alliance in air yards, with 2,155 on the season, and in pass attempts, with 234, 15 more than anyone else. His receivers haven’t been the most reliable, but that hasn’t stopped Perez from taking chances. Those chances have lead to six interceptions, though.
He’ll be going up against the top pass defense in the Alliance: the Legends. Atlanta gives up just 172.0 yards per game through the air, and is just one of two secondaries to allow under 200 pass yards per game. The Legends are also the only team to intercept a pass in six of the seven games, so if Perez decides to keep putting the football in peril, Atlanta’s going to make him pay, even after the loss of stud safety Tyson Graham, Jr.
For what it’s worth, in Week Two, the Legends held Perez to just 160 yards, zero touchdowns and a pick.
Arizona @ San Antonio
Commanders 3rd Down Offense vs. Hotshots 3rd Down Defense
San Antonio converts 41.6% of its third down conversions, good for the second highest mark in the Alliance. They are one of just three teams to convert 50% or better of their third down conversions in two different games. The Commanders also boast two of the toughest covers in the league on third down: Mekale McKay out wide and Trey Williams out of the backfield.
They’ll go up against the Hotshots league-worst third down defense. They allow a 41.6% (kinda weird, both marks are 41.6%) conversion rate on third down, and are one of just two teams to allow their opponents to convert 50% or more of their third downs in multiple games.
Back in Week Five, San Antonio converted five of 11 third down attempts on the Arizona defense.
Bonus, again: This game could also be tight, like the Fleet/Stallions clash. And again, two-point conversions are going to make a big difference. Arizona is the best in the Alliance when it comes to tacking on the two: 61.1% and a league-best 11 successful tries. San Antonio ranks just sixth, converting just a one-third of their attempts (33.3%).
Three Final Keys in Week Eight: