The first week of the IFL playoffs are down, with our postseason writer Brice Burge splitting his picks, missing the dramatic win by Nebraska Danger in Green Bay, but correctly picking Sioux Falls at home over Tucson. He still sits at 61-11 (84.7%) on the season.
Game #1: #5 Nebraska Danger at #1 Arizona Rattlers
HEAD TO HEAD: Arizona 1-0 (56-46 in Arizona on May 4)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Nebraska: QB Tommy Armstrong, RB Davonte Sapp-Lynch, DB/WR/KR Gregory Dent Jr., DL Chris Martin, LB Luke Stice Arizona: DL Nikolaus D’Avanzo, QB Drew Powell, WR Anthony Amos, WR Jamal Miles, LB Ricky Wyatt Jr.
BIGGEST MATCHUP: Nebraska’s short options vs the Arizona Defense Johnny Jackson IV and Davonte Sapp-Lynch have both provided headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. They’ve enjoyed the curl and flat routes to move the chains consistently to get Nebraska into the red zone and it keeps the opposing offenses off the field. Unfortunately with the conversion of Gregory Dent to DB, Jackson’s role is a little more up in the air. If Nebraska can somehow establish a deep threat early, the check downs will be more effective later in the game.
ANALYSIS: Nebraska has struggled to put together four quarters of consistent gameplay all year. Luckily for them last week, the fourth quarter was a defensive stall worth compared to the opening three frames. Arizona has a home game in an old arena due to renovations in their usual barn. Lots of nostalgia will be there for the Rattlers.
PREDICTION: Arizona had an undefeated season and been impressive consistently throughout the year. It’s hard to pick against them at this level. Arizona 55-42
Game #2: #3 Sioux Falls Storm at #2 Iowa Barnstormers
HEAD TO HEAD: Split 1-1 (36-32 Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls on April 20, 55-43 Iowa in Iowa on June 8)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sioux Falls: QB Lorenzo Brown Jr, DL Claude Davis, DL Malcolm Goines, WR Damian Ford, RB Nolan Saraceni Iowa: QB Daquan Neal, WR Ryan Balentine, DB Jourdan Wickliffe
BIGGEST MATCHUP: Brandon Sheperd vs the Iowa secondary The Barnstormers most consistent unit has been their secondary this year, especially when you look at the different players that have rotated through due to injuries. Sheperd has been the ball hawk most of the year for the Storm, but doesn’t get a lot of the red zone targets. Keeping control of the ball and moving the chains is the key to this game, and that will require Sheperd to have a career best performance.
ANALYSIS: Brown and Neal have both provided some of the great mobile quarterback plays of the year for their respective squads. They have been exciting and compelling in their own right, but really the fact that they can provide a safety valve against the league’s best defenses is amazing. If one team can force the other to use the quarterback more deliberately in the game plan, it will be significant in controlling the pacing of the game and time on the clock.
PREDICTION: I haven’t been overly impressed with the Barnstormers’ quality of wins, needing a late injury to Green Bay’s QB to hold on to that one, a missed hold and botched challenge to win in Tucson, triple the amount of penalties for Quad Cities AND a player falling down on the final play to win that one and kicked off Nebraska’s penchant for losing games in the final 30 seconds of a game. With blowoff games against Cedar Rapids and Bismarck late in the season, the only decent win came against Sioux Falls. The Storm on the other hand have stepped up in clutch moments since week 1. This will be a great game, but I’m taking the road team. Storm 59-55