By Steven Weldon
As the playoff games become clearer, more questions arise for some teams. What would we make of week 8?
ORLANDO APOLLOS 34, MEMPHIS EXPRESS 31
Garrett Gilbert had a bad day. The Express still figured out how to lose a game they led for a large portion. It was a messy day down in Memphis, on account of the weather, penalties and mental mistakes. Multiple plays called back due to pass interference changed the eventual outcome, including an injury suffered by Johnny Manziel. In all of the mess, the Express held a three-point lead with less than three minutes left. A muffed punt led to a recovery by the Apollos, putting them in great field position to win. On the ensuing play, Express head coach Mike Singletary came onto the field during a play, prompting a penalty after the Express made a stop near the goal line. Another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was charged to an unnamed Memphis assistant, putting the Apollos at the goal line. The best team in the AAF responded by punching in the eventual game-winning touchdown, effectively locking up home-field advantage for the playoffs, and ending the Express' season.
Player of the game: Charles Johnson, 8 receptions, 135 yards, 1 touchdown
Johnson is likely the best wide receiver in the AAF, and he continued his great season being a reliable option in a wild game.
SALT LAKE STALLIONS 8, SAN DIEGO FLEET 3
In a low scoring affair at the AAF's highest elevation, the Stallions collected their third win of the season and entered the playoff race. Both teams struggled to score in this game, with the only touchdown scored after Josh Woodrum dropped the ball handing it off to Joel Bouagnon, who after collecting the ball, held on until crossing the goal line, after which the play had to be deferred to review due to a possible fumble. The Fleet threatened late, but Mike Bercovici threw his only interception of the game with 31 seconds left, ending their hopes at gaining ground in the playoff race.
Player of the game: Ryan Moeller, 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery
I gave this award to a defensive back on the losing team because this game would have been more out of hand if he hadn't been there. The Fleet are going to need a lot of help in the next two weeks, and Moeller needs to step up as he has all year.
BIRMINGHAM IRON 17, ATLANTA LEGENDS 9
The Iron wrapped up the second and final playoff spot in the east with a solid victory over the reeling Legends. Atlanta made a few nice plays, but couldn't get any closer than the five-yard line all day, as Younghoe Koo continued his perfect season of kicking, scoring all of the Legends points. Meanwhile, Trent Richardson had a big day on the ground, including a 16 yard gain, his longest of the season. With four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery in a game where both teams endured butterfingers, the Iron defense stood strong and ended Atlanta's outside shot to the playoffs.
Player of the game: Trent Richardson, 18 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown
Richardson, despite his low per-game rushing statistics, is the best running back in the AAF. He's turning up his form at just the right time, as well.
ARIZONA HOTSHOTS 23, SAN ANTONIO COMMANDERS 6
The Commanders were in this game until the fourth quarter, when a sack-fumble recovery led to a Tim Cook dagger rushing touchdown. Miscues such as a Logan Woodside interception in the mid-second quarter were the story of the game, as Arizona capitalized as much as they could. The Hotshots led wire-to-wire and continue their rise to the top of the western conference.
Player of the game: Tim Cook, 3 carries, 30 yards, 2 touchdowns
Cook was the most efficient player on the field outside of Rashad Ross. He scored when the Hotshots needed him to.
POWER RANKINGS WEEK 8
1. ORLANDO APOLLOS (7-1)
Orlando wrapped up a playoff ticket and home-field advantage of the game. We already know their opponent as well. Will the Apollos rest some players in the final two games of the regular season? It's probably not on their mind, with all of the AAF players looking to secure NFL contracts. Let's see how they manage the future with a week 9 tilt against the San Diego Fleet.
2. BIRMINGHAM IRON (5-3)
The next two games for the Iron are simply practice to gear up for the gauntlet they'll meet on the road in the playoffs. Can Trent Richardson match his week 8 performance and give the Apollos something the worry about? It seems the Iron will have a quarterback preparation test, as they visit the Hotshots in the desert next week.
3. ARIZONA HOTSHOTS (5-3)
The west playoffs are up for grabs and the Hotshots sit in the drivers' seat. They picked up their game following the win over Orlando a few weeks ago, and now they're fighting to stay above the Commanders. Week 9 is huge, as the Iron come to town. Arizona needs just one win to clinch at least the playoff game.
4. SAN ANTONIO COMMANDERS (5-3)
I mean they didn't look good, but they're still good. The last game was a bad omen for any potential playoffs, but at least they know what to improve on at this point of the season. All they need is one win to get into the playoffs, and the Memphis Express come to the Alamodome next weekend. It's a good thing games aren't played on paper, because that's the only place Memphis doesn't have a chance to win this one.
5. SALT LAKE STALLIONS (3-5)
They aren't out of the playoff picture, and they definitely helped themselves with a tough victory over the Fleet. They need to win out to make the playoffs, and their next game against the Legends should give them a measuring stick to see what they can do. Alas, they will be eliminated if both Arizona and San Antonio win, but if one loses, they've got a date with destiny.
6. SAN DIEGO FLEET (3-5)
I was really disappointed in their last game against the Stallions. The Fleet are better than this. Like their last week opponent, they're not out of the west race, but they face the Apollos next week. One loss and they are done.
7. MEMPHIS EXPRESS (2-6)
The Johnny Manziel experiment seems to be over after he was hurt in the previous game. Looks like the Express are just out to spoil seasons now. With nothing to lose, how can they not win? Probably the same way they accidentally blow games. Yeesh. Here's to making the west race interesting against the Commanders next weekend.
8. ATLANTA LEGENDS (2-6)
Aaron Murray was the answer to the many questions, but as the season trudged along for the Legends, he became another question. This team needs an overhaul, but keep the kicker. The Stallions visit next weekend with their playoff lives at stake. Will Atlanta show their mid-season form?
AAF Week 9 will be live on CBS, NFL Network, and B/R Live.