Playoffs at last!
Los Angeles at Denver (-3) - Just about the only similarity I can find between these two teams is that they finished the season 10-6. They are both nearing the end of their rebuilds, only reaching the post season one season each since 2050. Everything else about the teams seem completely different from roster construction to philosophy and playcalling.
We have a defensive juggernaut in DEN and the stars are a brick wall up front. One of the longer standing defensive fronts in the CFL, the trio of DE Kent Luckman, DE Tommy Branch, and NT Emmanuel Wortham absolutely smother opposing running backs. They'll have their hands full with RB Richie Arnold, but he's been more volume than efficient. TE Everett Mardling has been upgraded to probable and we may see QB Roger Bailey toss the ball a bit more often, adding a wrinkle into this game. Bailey has been quite good this season, top 6 in both average yards per catch and average yards per attempt, and now is the time for him to take the next step if Arnold doesn't find his usual success.
The relatively balanced attack for DEN isn't headlined by any big names, but an offensive line anchored by lifelong Dynomites C Damon Youngblood and LT Kelvin Vanover can make anyone look competent. They should be able to keep journeyman QB Bernard Brandon upright, but a victory will require success on the ground from RBs Malachi Duran and Jorge Raymond too.
DET and DEN share some similarities and since we faced LAS earlier, I could see the matchup going along those lines. This will be a close game, but defense wins championships and if DEN can limit Richie Arnold as well as DET did, a few good plays offensively should stamp their ticket to the next round. I'm thinking a 20-17 win for DEN, but again if the LAS coaching staff let Bailey loose we could see an upset.
Boise City (-5) at Texas - These are two teams I don't know too much about, but I've been following the San Andreas division the last few weeks out of morbid curiosity. There was a strong possibility that the division winner would be 7-9 after 16 games and that is pretty gross. Luckily TEX came away with the win against SCU and enter the playoffs at 8-8 with home field advantage. Both teams are coming off 4 game win streaks, but neither have any notable scalps in their collection. TEX did beat LVS and a SAN team missing QB Sammie England while BCI managed to sweep ORE and ALA (who was resting QB Jimmy Marischen and RB Don Washington in week 17).
For TEX, QB Kody Womble continues to struggle but RB Riddick Godfrey has been the one bright spot on the team, bulldozing through defenses for a top 5 rushing yardage finish to the regular season. The man almost looks too big to be a running back, but he's been shedding blocks from smaller defenders like water off a duck so maybe something's working. He should be able to find some success against a BCI defense that has struggled against the elite rushers in the CFL (FAR and LVS in their schedule).
For BCI, QB Wes Doser has been putting up solid numbers but the increase in team turnovers from 12 last year to 27 this year is very alarming. Doser himself accounts for 16 interceptions and 5 fumbles and he'll have to be more careful with the ball if they want to shut the door on TEX. WRs Fred Wagner and Doug Brown will need to do their part to get enough separation that an errant pass won't get picked off. Fortunately for them, the TEX secondary isn't known for being ballhawks.
TEX has done well this season to get to the playoffs, but the best team in the worst division was always unlikely to advance past this round. There's a chance if Womble can find that rookie year magic or if CB Tristan McKenzie can come up with some takeaways, but BCI to win on the road 30-17 is what I'm expecting.
Shreveport (-3) at Tennessee - Somehow both of the Eastern Conference wildcard games are division rivals and this one's a doozy. Since 2050, the record in the regular season stands at 10-6 for SHR, but most of the SHR wins were earlier on and the record nowadays is 4-4 since 2053. TEN took the one playoff meeting last year, so the theme for SHR is very much revenge.
Both teams are coming into this matchup on very different trajectories-- SHR winning their last 5/6 while TEN actually lost their last 4/6. The TEN slump has something to do with injuries to key players, namely one CB Diego Browning, but the fact that their last two games were wins is encouraging.
TEN still boasts a fiery offense revolving around star QB Alex Porto and midseason acquisition WR Phillip Picton. Porto lacked a deep threat for many seasons but no more. The consistent connection since week 5 has already topped the team's targets, but opposing teams must also prepare for a two headed RB duo in Andre Zhang and Korey Howe, both top 10 RBs in ypc. The offensive line, however, is nothing to write home about and we've seen how strong defensive play can bully the Militia.
SHR will attempt to answer with a balanced attack of their own led by veteran QB Archie Blanchard who replaced a retiring Brantley Gilmore this season. The aging playcaller is just a stopgap for the franchise but has done well in taking them to the postseason behind an elite offensive line that does much of the heavy lifting for the squad. Blanchard doesn't favor any one particular target, splitting passes between WRs Geoff Warren and Josh Stanton equally, with Blaine Curtis taking more of the possession role.
It will be interesting to see if TEN's stingy secondary can shut them down, but in their two matchups in 2057, that wasn't the case. In both meetings, SHR looked the more dominant team, and that does not bode well for the division champs. In many ways, the two teams field offenses that implement similar concepts and it will be down to execution. The key for TEN will be to shore up a defense that allowed 36 points to DET, DVY, and SHR in the later half of the season. For SHR, as long as they can perform as consistently as they have during the regular season, they should pull out the win.
Ignoring my own personal bias from the DET TEN match, I favor SHR to win by a sizeable margin here, possibly 33-24 or somewhere along those lines. There are ample opportunities for TEN in this matchup, but SHR's FS Efrain Tate is likely going to help with coverage on WR Picton and curb the Militia's strength.
Iowa City at Detroit (-3)
1-2 last week brings us to 7-8 through 5 weeks... Hopefully I can get back to plus money before the season is over. The playoff race is getting real close with Shreveport winning over Tennessee, Iowa City winning at Detroit, and Oregon beating Alaska.
Three games that have some serious playoff implications:
Boston (-2) at Fargo - It's a good thing that the Sodbusters play indoors because it's supposed to be -2 degrees this week. BOS is no stranger to cold, but I think they'll be put out by FAR's rushing attack. BOS statistically has a pretty good rushing defense, but the few times they've faced truly strong ground and pound teams, they've wilted. TEN, BRK, and SHR were able to chew up yardage on the ground and RB Fulton is as good, if not better, than any of those rushers.
QB Klingbiel is back, but without a few of his talented receivers, the ball will likely find its way into RB Barker's hands and that may actually limit the offense. FAR has not been great defensively, but they are a team that isn't afraid to gamble and a few key stops should be enough. Their biggest enemy is their own carelessness (or just being unlucky) with the ball. The talent level in this game is off the charts from both teams, but I give FAR one last shot at keeping their playoff aspirations alive. BOS is also in such a good position at this point of the season that their goal is likely to stay healthy for the post season. 33-24 FAR.
Texas at San Antonio (-8) - TEX and DVY both have the same record in San Andreas and the division record is giving TEX the lead in this playoff race. TEX has the harder matchup in week 17 against SCU, so this game against SAN is massive. SAN is also playing for a WC spot and though a few things need to go their way for that to happen, they absolutely must win here.
Dropping last week's game against NOS just about kills their playoff aspirations, but the loss of QB Sammie England in the 4th quarter really shuts the door. The team is very talented still, but undrafted rookie QB Abraham Dumas is just not ready. The one thing that might lessen the drop off is the fact that SAN's gameplans have been very conservative and Dumas might be able to complete the same safe throws. I don't think that'll be enough against a reasonably solid squad in TEX and there's huge value on taking the points or even playing the outright upset. 26-20 TEX, but watch RB Lovallo drag the team across the finish line kicking and screaming...
Los Angeles at Detroit (-5) - Not a lot I can say about the DET loss to IWC other than some pretty big miscues costing us the game. The team played very well, but rare turnovers for DET were a bit too much to overcome. FS Luis Anthony is questionable to play and C Emtman is doubtful and these are some pretty big pieces.
LAS is mostly healthy, but injuries to TE Mardling and QB Bailey could put the game at even footing. It's hard to tell how badly Bailey's leg hurts though, since he stayed in the game vs CLE and played the entirety of the game against HON. In any case, LAS' success this season hasn't been due to their passing play, but rather their immensely powerful linemen-- RT Jacob Ellison is a giant of a man at 6-7 334lbs and with RG Perez at 6-5 332 lbs helping open up rushing lanes, it's no wonder RB Richie Arnold has had another prolific season. How they match up against NT Schindlbeck and the DET DLine will be the key to this game. The Vampires rely on a bend but don't break philosophy, giving up substantial yardage in games but very few points and pouncing on opportunities to snatch the ball.
In many ways, the two teams are similarly built with DET trading offensive line prowess for stars at the skill positions and island-type corners for linebacking depth. I predict a very close game that I hope DET will win, but I doubt they will cover. 30-27 DET, with TE Voinovich being able to punish the attention that LAS will be forced to direct towards WR Von Wyss.
2-1 last week, only Fargo with the let down... not really sure what's up with them but they are league worst in turnovers so I guess they need to just be better.
Anyway, on to week 15 with an eye on teams I don't typically look at:
Las Vegas (-10) at Tuscon - I'm not sure what's going on here, but TUC has been playing very well in the last 4 weeks. 2 wins and 2 extremely close losses, one of them against DET are a stark contrast to their 9 earlier games where they looked the weakest team in the CFL. This appears to coincide with a heavier reliance on first overall pick, rookie RB Duane Johnson. Though he has gotten the lion's share of the carries and done efficient work, the team as a whole is towards the lower end of the league run/pass split. It's a bit strange since QB Jim O'Neill has shown a bit of regression in his sophomore year, but perhaps the GM sverngold has recognized that now.
LVS has risen to the top of the Ring of Fire division with HON turning into a dumpster fire, but I think they're still somewhat mediocre and you can see that in their opponents' record of 78-91. They're not playing very good teams, but you can only play the guys on your schedule and at least they're winning. I've said a lot about their defensive front and I think that the good run of form for TUC will end here as the insanely talented duo of Johnstone and Anagnostis will shut down Johnson and really get after O'Neill. 24-10 LVS, LVS to cover the -10.
San Antonio (-5) at New Orleans - SAN gets an "easier" matchup on their quest for a WC spot this week and I'm a little suspicious about this spread. Yeah, it's a road game, but it's in the same time zone and quite a few fans from SAN will probably be in the stands. QB Sammie England and RB Ethan Lovallo lead a conservative, but efficient, offense. They rarely turn the ball over and the team is very consistent as a result-- beating the teams that they should, but losing to the elite teams and sometimes quite badly.
I think if they were to be a little more aggressive and throw downfield more often, they'd be a very exciting team to watch. Their receivers are getting a bit long in the tooth however, and Lovallo has been their most consistent target as a result. That being said, NOS is a team that is struggling mightily and hasn't been able to find many wins this season. Every facet of their game needs retooling in the offseason and SAN shouldn't have any problems winning and covering here. 33-21 SAN.
Death Valley (-2) at Santa Cruz - No other way to put this really, the San Andres division is an absolute mess. No team has a winning record and it's looking like the division champ will have at best an 8-8 record. That being said, there appears to be some value here. DVY has pulled out huge wins against both FAR and TEN and they look poised to notch another win here.
SCU has fallen into hard times recently, posting consecutive losing seasonos since 2053 when QB Brayden Dunn was drafted and the team changed ownership. Dunn's QBR has never been higher than during his rookie season and his deteriorating play is still a mystery. I think other teams have figured out that he loves throwing to WR Graham George and the secondaries have keyed in. In the past two seasons, George was top 10 in targets, but posted some of the lowest catch percentages in that same group.
I expect DVY to use their top ranked secondary and blanket George from kickoff and force SCU to explore other targets. QB Buckley is 7-4 against SCU and I think it'll be 8-4 after this week. 27-21 DVY, though this division is an absolute fiesta and really anything can happen.
Spot on week 13, boys, we went 3-0. Brings us to 4-5 through 3 weeks, but that's not bad... it's a marathon, not a sprint.
That said, 3 games to look at this week:
Alaska @ Omaha (-7) - This line looks way off... Alaska is another top flight squad at 9-3 and one that is more or less healthy. CB Brendan Chillar is still questionable and unlikely to play, having sat out since their week 6 BYE, but the ALA secondary has been just fine without him. Though ALA hasn't been pummeling opponents recently, they're still coming out on top against quality teams like FAR, DEN, and BOI.
Veteran QB Jimmy Marischen is still playing at a very high level, but this his worst season statistically (excluding his rookie campaign) and I suspect it might be the retirement of T Lonnie Heckathorn. Take away one of the pillars of that offensive line and slot in two new players and there's bound to be slip-ups. I expect Alaska to stay within the number, sustaining long drives with an efficient run behind Don Washington and deep passes to one of the most talented receiving corps in the CFL. 36-30 OMA, though this game is close to meaningless for both squads, as neither are really in any danger of losing their playoff spot. Bet with caution!
Brooklyn (-3) @ Fargo - How the mighty have fallen! 2056 League Champions Fargo are stuck in the doldrums of the Cavalry division at 6-6. It's not their fault, really, as injuries have struck hot and fast with just about everyone on the offense missing time during the season. RB Jeff Fulton has been sensational as usual and the fact that the squad is still in the hunt is testament to the future HOFer's greatness.
Down the home stretch, everyone looks to be getting healthy and I think it's safe to say that we can throw out the first half of the season when looking to make some bets. There were miscues against DVY last week, but QB Woodard and the boys will surely tighten that up against a BKN squad that may have gotten exposed by IWC. Look for FAR to win a statement game as they can't really afford to drop any more of these. 36-27 FAR.
Miami @ Boston (-9) - This looks like a very juicy underdog play to me as Boston's starting QB Miles Klingbiel was knocked out of last week's game with a separated shoulder. Couple that with the loss of TE Silas Wick in week 10 and we can see the cracks starting to show for a team that is, on paper, absolutely stacked.
WRs Buddy Torres and Winfred Rodriguez are still healthy and ready to shred defenses if the ball can come their way, but who will be under center? QB Klingbiel took most of the snaps in preseason and QB Emmanuel Dawson didn't look particularly good the one exhibition game he did start. I suspect it will be Dawson, but boy does their release of QB Devante Brandon in the offseason look bad now!
MIA is about as mediocre a team can be, but the rushing attack behind rookie Thomas Holmes has looked quite good and midseason acquisition LT Seth Shaw looks to bolster that. On the flip side their rushing defense has been pretty solid, squashing lesser rushers like RBs Richie Arnold, Trey Keith, and Don Washington, though Jeff Fulton type guys still get theirs. The jury is still out on RB Barker Thurman, but if RB Taylor Murray gets more snaps, watch out! I expect a very close game, possibly an upset here-- 22-20 BOS.
So we went 1-2 last week ATS (Baltimore won straight up but who could've predicted that??)... an improvement over the 0-3 week prior! This week's slate...
Boise City at Las Vegas (-7) - BOI is currently on the outside looking in, but they've managed to string several good weeks together. Two key defensive players in WLB Perry Owens and LDE Diego Forbes went down earlier in the season but an impressive win vs Alaska hints at a unit that is gelling much better. When clicking, the offense revolves around the passing attack to SE Fred Wagner and FL Doug Brown which opens up lanes on the ground for RB Justics Phillips, and he has been quietly efficient with the action. The defense has been rather stout on the ground, so expect Las Vegas to recognize this and utilize vertical routes for FL Mason Conley. I do believe LVS will win, but it should be a close one and the key players to watch on that side will be the DE duo of Malachi Johnstone and Chester Anagnostis and whether they can pressure BOI QB Wesley Doser.
24-20 LVS (Boise City to cover the +7)
Iowa City at Brooklyn (-6) - IWC is a team I have to pay attention to and they have succeeded where DET has failed (OMA, DUR). Consistent QB play from Timothy Joslyn has been key for them and WRs Louie Rhodes and Sedrick Van Dyke are more than happy to do their part. Unfortunately, BKN is a top flight defensive unit against passing attacks and sack magician DE Wade Springer is a huge part of that success with 11 sacks on the season. A very tidy secondary led by FS Giovanni Greer and CB Justics Luckman also limit the passes that do make it out. That being said, I think that QB Joslyn will be able to stay upright and deliver his passes and win outright in Brooklyn. 27-24 IWC (Upset of the day!)
Omaha at Shreveport (-1) - This one, I just have to have action on because we have two very good teams facing off in OMA and SHR. While OMA is #1 in just about every offensive passing metric, SHR is a top offensive team behind a more balanced attack. Historically, SHR has had the upper hand over the last few seasons (3-1-1 since 2050) but the QB position has been far more stable for OMA and I believe that will tip the scales in this matchup. OMA has never been more stacked and their latest win vs SHR might be a foreshadowing of how this rivalry will go, going forward. Limiting turnovers will also be of extreme importance as both teams can get a bit careless with the ball. DET didn't quite have the gas to go all 4 quarters with OMA, and I expect SHR will do better but 31-30 OMA in a tight game is my prediction.
Overall, 1-5 ATS since I've been writing these. Sorry in advance to teams that are getting the jinx this week!