After 20 weeks, the fates of six Arena Football League teams have been sealed. No postseason party invitations were to be had for those clubs. Better luck next year.
Eight teams remain in the race for the ArenaBowl trophy. The bracket looks like this:
(4) Portland Thunder at (1) Arizona Rattlers (Sunday, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN)
(3) Spokane Shock at (2) San Jose SaberCats (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN
(4) Philadelphia Soul at (1) Cleveland Gladiators (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
(3) Pittsburgh Power at (2) Orlando Predators (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN)
That (3)/(2) matchup in the American Conference is perhaps the best game of the first round. Out of all of the games this weekend, this one just might be the best chance for an upset. It’s dripping with so much intrigue.
The visiting Power went 15-3 in the regular season, second in the Eastern Division. They’re led by Tommy Grady, who went 429-for-710 passing (60.4 completion percentage) in the regular season for 4,717 yards and 115 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions.
Shaun Kauleinamoku, the rookie out of Western Oregon, caught 124 of Grady’s passes for 1,359 yards and 19 touchdowns, while Prechae Rodriguez, a former member of the Predators, snagged 85 passes for 1,138 yards and 32 touchdowns, giving him the team lead in the category. Look for both receivers to be targeted often by Grady on Sunday afternoon.
Pittsburgh is led in the running game by Tommy Taggart (167 yards and 10 touchdowns on 67 carries in the regular season.) Even Tommy Grady (17 carries for 31 yards and one touchdown in the regular season) has gotten in on the action. The short-yardage attack will be another key area of interest.
Defensively speaking, the Power are led in sacks by the duo of Jake Killeen and and Curtis Young (14.5 combined sacks.) Al Phillips and Sergio Gilliam lead in tackles (148.5 combined stops) and defensive back Virgil Gray set the Power franchise record in interceptions (11) this season.
For the South Division champion Orlando Predators (11-7 in the regular season), quarterback Bernard Morris has gone 157-for-242 (64.8 completion percentage) this season with 2,191 yards, 47 touchdowns, and just six interceptions.
Bernard has split quarterback duties with Jason Boltus (198-for-339[58.4 completion percentage], 2,711 yards, 54 TD 11 INT this season.) Boltus and Bernard have combined for 404 rushing yards and 20 TD on 92 carries in the regular year.
Greg Carr, the rookie out of Florida State, has been fabulous this season, catching 111 passes for 1,413 yards and 36 touchdowns. Fellow rookie Khalil Paden out of Northern Arizona has hauled in 76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 21 touchdowns.
On defense, the Preds are led by Earl Okine (5.5 sacks), Anthony Shutt and Tracy Belton (133.5 combined tackles) and Tanner Varner (5 INT.) Varner, out of Northern Iowa, also has 61 tackles on the year.
Another intriguing aspect of this game is the head-coaching matchup: Ron James vs. Rob Keefe. These two men were formerly on the Utah Blaze coaching staff, with James serving as the man in charge and Keefe as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Both teams have been playing at the top of their game down the stretch. If they crank their intensity up, we could be in for quite the game on Sunday afternoon.