My take on the game;
This is going to be an old school back alley brawl between who other than the Brooklyn Brawlers and the Las Vegas Rounders. Yes the elephant in the room is that Brooklyn doesn't have the sexy high rated starters, but, in true Brawler fashion the punch you don't see is the one that knocks you out. Before I continue, let's be clear about one thing, the Brawlers are stacked at backup. They might not come out gun blazing but expect a 2nd half Counter punch from Brooklyn with that type of depth. Believe me, that depth is the reason I'm writing about the bowl instead of playing in it.
Now with the Defending Champs, they are gambling on a repeat and betting big on Mcknight to to beat the house against the leagues top Defense. He has the weapons in Gmerek and Vanags to do it but will he go all in or crap out like last time. So if Vegas is going to repeat they will need a big game from Mcknight and Gmerek something they didn't get when they met in week 12.
Here's their lines in that game;
Las Vegas Att Comp Yards Sk/ TD LG Int Rate
Harvey McKnight 34 13 202 2/12 0 39 1 46.4
Las Vegas Att Yards Avg LG 10+ TD
RB Alonzo Gmerek 10 34 3.40 9 0 1
Brooklyn Defense 13 pass defenses, 2 sacks, 6 hurries/qb ko's
Wild Card Stat of the game;
TOP Brk = 37.06 Lvs = 22.54
This box score clearly shows that Brooklyn's smothering defense, (13 pass defenses WTF) coupled with their prodding offense, is a force to be reckoned with.
Now for my prediction, I'm going with a 28-24 Brooklyn win It will be 24-21 going into the 4th, Staat will have a game winning Drive late to win it.
Apologies for not getting something posted for the Conference games-- boy they were exciting though.
Las Vegas (-2) vs Brooklyn - There's something to be said about the parity in the CFL-- the last "dynasty" we've seen is the Durham Bulldogs who were the best team in the early 40's (winning the championship 2040, 42, and 43). They continued to be a dominant team until 2047 and the Bulldogs decided to move on from QB Daquan Allen after a leg injury sidelined the young star.
We've had several "good" teams vie for the title and it's hard to say that there's been a dynasty since. Tennessee, Alaska, Omaha, Shreveport... all of these teams have been good, even great, but the dominance really hasn't been there. Along came Las Vegas and I could be convinced to call the Rounders a dynasty if they pull this one out. Though they've counted themselves in the upper echelon for a number of years, it seems GM TurfToe has the makings of a dynasty at last.
The perennial top 5 defense was enough to make the postseason, but the team needed more. Stud skill players just don't make it to the late first round so they picked up the phone and made the call-- 3 first round picks and one second round pick for 1.1 in 2053... QB Harvey McKnight. In his six seasons, McKnight has only had one with a losing record. He cemented himself as a starter and future hall of famer right away, but even then it wasn't enough to break through. So what did GM TurfToe do next? He pulled the trigger and traded another three first round picks for RB Alonzo Gmerek. Though he ended up falling to the second round and missed significant time his rookie season, the young player's contributions brought the Rounders their first ring in the 2050's and the opportunity for a second.
No other city and franchise is more familiar with gambling and sometimes these risks do pay off. That brings us here to today... with potentially the next dynasty facing off against an even bigger Cinderella story than the Detroit Vampires last season.
The Brawlers lost DE Wade Springer and TE Bryan Burns this offseason and most analysts saw the team as just a minor inconvenience for the playoff bound elites. They'd only made a playoff appearance once since 2047 and they just lost their two best players! Turns out a team can absolutely be more than the sum of its parts and that has never been more true than with the 2058 Brawlers. Outside of their fullback Marvin Buckley, it's hard to say that any of their players would rank in the top 10 at their position and yet this is the consensus best defensive unit in the league.
The two teams have played before-- a 13-10 BKN victory on the road in week 13-- but both teams have had their fair share of injuries since. BKN may be without starting LT Phillip Johnson and leading rusher RB Glen Boyer. LB Donnie Gillespie and DE Malachi Johnstone will certainly not be suiting up for LVS and nickel CB D.J. Strzelczyk could be playing at less than 100%. All of these players (except Gillespie) put in serious work the last time they played and I expect other players to have to step up. RB Chase Shannon carried the ball about as often as Boyer though he wasn't nearly as efficient or efffective. He'll be warm coming into this game. If LT Johnson can't go, we could see rookie LT Tevin Rogers... I think the Brawlers will try about as hard as they can to make sure Johnson is in the game and a competitor like Johnson will try as hard as he can to play.
It's the biggest game of their lives and capping a game like this is absolutely more "for fun" than for profit. The matchup is great-- I love these defensive faceoffs-- but I have to lean to the Rounders this week to repeat their championship run. I know the Brawlers won before, but this Rounders team is just too talented and too consistent to let it happen again. I also think that the Brawlers have just been punching above their weight class while the Rounders have yet to play at their ceiling. 20-16 LVS.
Best of luck to both teams!
That SHR+1 was such a bad beat... exciting games though!
We've got some really great ones coming up and since I looked at the East conference games last week, I'll do the West this time.
Los Angeles at Alaska (-3) - LAS led their WC game against ATL wire to wire and won in dominating fashion. The Wolfpack struggled to sustain long drives who went 3-and-out on over half of their possessions and QB Clements took several sacks he normally wouldn't have when the protection broke down immediately after the snap. ATL didn't have the best offensive line during the season (allowing 47 sacks) so that wasn't surprising, but props to Outlaws for attacking a banged up C Gowin and weak T Weimer.
The Kodiaks have been the tragedy of the CFL two years running now-- an injury knocking QB Marischen out in the conference match and now a serious ACL tear in week 14. This is now his fourth season in a row with a late injury and we have to ask "just how much longer is this going to last?" I don't want this post to be a eulogy for the guy, but he's 35 with two rings and still the winningest active QB in the CFL. Journeyman QB Hanks will be stepping into some uncomfortably big shoes this week.
To make things worse, COVID-58 has been making the rounds in Alaska and early reports indicate that startinng tackles Ted Simien and Nicholas Cartwright might not be 100%. A slew of other rookies and roleplayers could also miss time. We saw what these two teams looked like at full strength in week 10 but the best we saw from QB Hanks was a passable showing for one half of a football game vs SEA. This is going to be a tall order without serious contributions from WRs Farley and Jennings.
The Outlaws are at 100% and unfortunately, that'll be plenty to take down a decimated Kodiaks team. I'll call it at 30-10 LAS and hopefully we'll see ol' Jimmy again in 2059.
Fargo at Las Vegas (-4) - FAR scraped by division rivals ELP last week in an ugly, grinding affair that came down to a, there's really no other way to say this, QB Sullivan choke in the fourth quarter. FAR is a pretty good team, don't get me wrong, but GM Ushikawa had to have sacrificed something to the football gods to have the ball bounce their way this heavily... On what would be the turning point of the game, TE Gowan wasn't expecting any looks and didn't have his head turned to Sullivan. Rookie CB Zimmerman, who had done basically nothing all season, came away with the play of the game by jumping a bread and butter dig route to the TE. I really thought ELP was going to win the game even after that, but they collapsed after the momentum swing. Next year they will do better.
Then when you look at the big picture, DE Johnstone and QB Marischen both being out on the conference favorites means this race is wide open. That doesn't mean this'll be easy, but both future HOF locks were transcendent talents and this week won't be the same without them. The Sodbusters are a little hurt with LBs Blake Sutter, Timothy Andersen and CB Calvin Nixon potentially not at 100%-- but they're expected to suit up. RB Holtzer is the key for the Sodbusters this week as he must alleviate the oppressive LVS pass rush every time he's on the field. I know WRs Crabtree and Fence are supremely talented, but if Woodard can't get his feet set they have no chance.
I haven't written too much about the Rounders and there's really not too much to say... the team was able to bring back the majority of their championship lineup and they've been taking care of business behind a healthy RB Gmerek. With less pressure on his shoulders, QB McKnight nearly matched his stellar 2057 season and looks primed to repeat. It's really nice to see teams not stricken by the Bowl curse (see: DET) and the Rounders really haven't missed a step, even during a stretch in the middle of the season where just about everyone on defense missed time. The defense is even good against the run now, a weakness in 2057 and I think they really are the best team in the league right now.
This game is hard to call and I kinda want to see FAR pull off the upset, but realistically the Rounders are just too talented and too consistent to let that happen. Two players to watch: rookie WR McSwain has gotten more and more targets each week since midseason and has been making significant contributions. FAR will need to pay attention to the 3+ receiver sets and ensure he doesn't slip through. For the Sodbusters, rookie RB Ian Holtzer has been doing the Lord's work behind the line Fulton built and has done so remarkably well. If he can chew up yards on the ground and neutralize the best pass rushers in the league, FAR has a chance... but I like LVS to win in convincing fashion 32-20.
Good luck to everyone!
Got a little busy the last two weeks, but I had to put something together for the playoffs! I expect Atlanta and El Paso to both get rolled tomorrow so we'll be picking the two EAST conference games today. Division winners as underdogs?? Such value!
New Orleans (-2) at Kansas City - The fortunes of last season are quickly forgotten here as both teams have turned the ship around after disappointing 2057 campaigns.
It's easy to point to a healthy RB Alexander Mueller being the driving force for NOS, but I would actually credit the resurgent defense. Going into the season, I pegged the Voodoos at #13-- a rank I'm comfortable with even now. The emergence of LB Lance Bartrum and immediate impact of rookie CB Joel Lauher are probably as, if not more, important as having a credible rushing threat. Bartrum has been particularly exciting to follow and makes plays all over the field-- the autonomy the DC gives him makes him a huge wildcard. He's good at plugging up gaps, but he is quick to recognize passing plays and can either generate pressure at the line on blitzes or drop back into coverage with equal proficiency. The one downside to his play, I think, is that his angles can use some work. He's so athletic that occasionally his 4.54 dash can make up for it, but you'll often see ball carriers just out of his reach running down the field. That should correct itself over time.
All that being said, the unit still commits pretty costly mistakes and the communication isn't always the best. Their average yardage metrics put them towards the lower half of the league and it comes down to their youth and athleticism that keeps opponents out of the end zone. I'm not confident that will be enough to take down my dark horse pick in Kansas City.
I've been singing their praises all season long, but GM ternvig and the Storm are putting on a heck of a show. Led by their safeties Brewer and Ruddy, the KCY defense has become greater than the sum of its parts. You can look up and down the roster but outside of DE Gavin Taylor, are there any guys that you'd call superstars? The cohesion missing from NOS is here in KCY and QB Graham will have his hands full trying to figure out how stay on his feet, much less put points on the board. DEs Taylor and Simkowitz lead the best pass rush in the league and it might be better to lean on RB Mueller and attack rookies DT Joe Butterfield who has been struggling against zone runs.
The spread offense that KCY runs with QB Grueneich is similarly well positioned to attack the NOS defense. RB Marsh and FB Jordan are probably more likely to catch the ball than they are to carry it which ought to neutralize the talent of CBs Kell and Lauher while forcing Bartrum to hang back just a second or two longer to read the play and will punish his overagression if he doesn't tone it down.
In my eyes, this matchup comes down to the play of NOS's stars and KCY's teamwork. Can RB Mueller consistently move the chains? Can TE Wick and WR Knight get open before the KCY pass rush can get to QB Graham? My money is on the Storm, 27-20 KCY.
Durham (-1) at Shreveport - When was the last time a rookie QB enjoyed this much success his first season in the CFL? I don't know actually-- because I've only been here two seasons-- but what QB Ortiz has put together is pretty exciting. I like the balanced attack from the Bulldogs (basically a 50/50 split between the pass and run) and both threats are credible enough to warrant attention. Opposing defenses simply can't cheat one way or the other. Many analysts thought that perhaps LAS had let go of RB Arnold because his career volume had taken its toll-- does it look like he's lost a step to you? Arnold is able to direct the linemen and read the defense pre-snap, making Ortiz's job that much easier. He's on the most expensive RB contract in the league, but it looks like it's worth every penny.
The offensive line has been excellent as well, giving DUR the luxury of time to make the right read. Though 20 sacks allowed this season sounds like a lot, it's good for top 5 in the league-- with a rookie QB, that's actually insane. Ortiz is still a bit slow progressing through his reads and a few of those sacks are entirely his fault. Defensively, the Bulldogs aren't the flashiest unit, but they get the job done. Starting CB Jackson Garvin is expected to make his return off a minor knee injury and should be shadowing star wideout Geoff Warren.
It's clear DUR is on the up and up, but what about SHR? The Pride hasn't had a losing season since 2050, but the perennial playoff franchise has had just one deep run (and championship) in 2055. Father time has finally caught up to QB Archie Blanchard and 2058 has been a roller coaster for the 39 year old. The head injury in week 2 might have forced the gunslinger to consider retirement, but first... one Last Dance.
When the Pride drafted rookie TE Kaleb Olsen, we all thought it would take the
receiving corps to the next level. Though Olsen looks like a transcendent talent, WRs Warren, Stanton, and Curtis have seen their numbers suffer. I'm not sure why, but it could be that the players aren't up to speed with pass protection assignments. A 5'11" pass catching TE just doesn't have the same kind of blocking ability and I'm sure the schemes have had to change. The success on the ground behind RB C.J. Russell has largely mitigated the Pride's struggles through the air and he is a key figure in sustaining drives. He's also keeping pace with the other elite RBs in terms of touchdowns, getting play up and down the field, and needs to be addressed by DUR's defense.
At the end of the day, I think the quality and experience of the Pride is just enough to take them over the line this week. I expect a well balanced attack from both sides in what is likely going to be a back and forth game. I look to SS Tate to step up in this game and capitalize off one or two mistakes by QB Ortiz. 33-30 SHR.
Perfect picks last week-- strange to see games play out just as expected...
Hoping to continue the streak here and again, focusing on teams with something to play for.
Cleveland at El Paso (-0) - Don't think anyone really though the Rockets would be in this position, but here they are fighting for a playoff berth. They actually could win their division if some horrible misfortune befalls both MIA and FAR. Also, they need to win... and they are hosting a Sentries team that just laid stinker at home against BAL.
CLE was my dark horse in the East going into 2058, but I'm not sure I like what I see when this team takes the field. Drafting RB Mansour is great and all, but not when you change your offense to not make use of your all-star TE Colin Lane. He's blocking more and the targets he does get tend to be dump offs that just don't take advantage of his route running. Mansour is pretty good, but the team isn't going anywhere force feeding him the ball.
Meanwhile, ELP's QB Wyatt Sulivan is developing nicely behind the top offensive line in the league and the front office is making some surprising win-now moves to acquire talent. The team is plucky on offense and entertaining to watch-- but it's the defense that really keeps them in games. I hate to say it, but I'm backing the Rocketmen this week to keep their dreams alive 27-20 ELP.
Santa Cruz at St Louis (-4) - Not a particularly exciting matchup, but one with playoff implications nonetheless. STL at 6-6 is in prime position to pick up a wildcard spot but I don't think they'll do it here. QB Joyner leads all rookies with his pass completion rate and is putting himself in the rising stars conversation. He's not asked to do too much, but having two competent receivers and a big target in WR Crews with great hands does help. The offensive line is another strength for the Arch and matches up well against one of the least aggressive defenses in SCU, but the problem will be dealing with future HOFer Jeff Fulton.
Though he's splitting carries with RB Schreiber, the 30 year old Fulton is still a workhorse and seems to be getting better as the season drags on. Regrettably, the Privateers did nothing to address their weak receiving corps before the trade deadline and it really dampens their outlook beyond the regular season. I don't know how they can, but they need to lean more into their power run and not abandon it if they go down early. That said, the stout STL run defense may encourage QB Kelley to air it out but he might not get punished for doing so. I like the Privateers to win on the road here and expect a big game from Fulton. 24-20 SCU.
San Antonio at Oregon (-2) - Despite picking up an impressive victory against KCY, the Stingers are basically eliminated at 5-7. They do have a chance if they win out from here, but ORE seems to have found themselves after a rocky start to the season put them at 3-6 before a string of three wins brought them back to life.
I think we have to talk about QB Hitchcock and how the backup from DET found himself a starting job-- the guy is not afraid to air it out and actually sits at #5 in yards per attempt. The key is that he has two of the best receivers in the league to catch those deep balls. Everyone knows how good WR Spradling and TE Weikel are, but the problem with the team is depth. Hopefully they both stay healthy enough to put the Stingers to bed.
The one trick team that is RB Lovallo can pick up wins but a receiving corps made of "depth" just doesn't cut it in the CFL. Their recent games just don't fill me with any sort of confidence and QB England's atrocious showings week in and week out are hard to watch. Nothing against WR Roesler, but he has the sam receiving yards (550) through 12 games as he had all of 2057 but 50 more targets. That kind of offensive load is reserved for true studs. At this point, give WR Farlow some more looks or put your rookies in and see what they've got!
I won't be surprised if the Stingers win, but I like the Bandits to put together a better overall game and move to 7-6. 30-20 ORE.