It’s Week 2 in the Alliance! After an opening weekend that probably went as most people expected, we’ll see if the start-up “spring” football league can continue to find its way into the United States’ sports conscience.
Last weekend, the league was mostly alone, with only basketball and hockey competing for eyeballs (at least on television). This weekend, NBA All-Star Game festivities will be front and center, and the Daytona 500 will also kick off the NASCAR season on Sunday. Will this be enough to impact local attendance? And can the Alliance avoid the ratings slip that befell the XFL after its huge opening back in 2001?
The Alliance opened play last week on CBS with 2.9 million viewers, which was more than the NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder that aired at the same time. The game wasn’t great, and probably illustrated some of the issues that might rear their ugly head throughout the season. But it enabled the league to demonstrate how it was going to be different from the NFL – the lack of kickoffs and extra points was a stark contrast – and some of the other games across the weekend were actually kind of fun.
With all that said, let’s take a quick look at the Week 2 action, which features four inter-conference matches:
Salt Lake Stallions (0-1) at Birmingham Iron (1-0)
Saturday, February 16, 2019, 2:00pm EST (TNT), Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
Last week, the Iron drew just over 17,000 fans to Legion Field to watch them pitch the only shutout of the weekend, winning 26-0 over the Memphis Express. The Stallions looked fairly impressive in defeat, falling 38-22 on the road to the Arizona Hotshots.
The biggest name on either roster is likely Iron running back Trent Richardson. The former #3 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns last played in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts in 2014, and is probably hoping that a solid performance this season will lead to some camp invites this summer. He started the season off slowly (literally and figuratively) with only 58 yards rushing on 23 carries (2.5 yards per carry). However, he did score two touchdowns in the win over the Express, giving him the co-lead in the league in scoring touchdowns.
The Stallions offense struggled to get going most of their opening game, though they still scored the fourth most points of the opening weekend. The offense only managed 237 total yards, the quarterbacks threw two interceptions, and kicker Nick Folk missed a field goal. Still, it was enough to inspire a bit of confidence coming into this game, and if the Stallions can upset the Iron on the road, they would return to Utah for their home opener at 1-1.
Arizona Hotshots (1-0) at Memphis Express (0-1)
Saturday, February 16, 2019, 8:00pm EST (NFL Network), Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN
The Express play their first home game of the season, and it is coming off an opening game where they failed to score any points. That result was kind of understandable, as the offense – led by former New York Jets 2nd round pick quarterback Christian Hackenberg – had the worst output of any team during the opening weekend, barely breaking 200 yards of total offense.
Counter that with the Hotshots, who boast the number one offense in the league after their win over the Stallions. Their offense is led by quarterback John Wolford, who was undrafted by the NFL last season after a college career at Wake Forest. After his 275 yard, four touchdown performance, he was named as the inaugural AAF Offensive Player of the Week. A repeat performance this week would help the Hotshots become the first 2-0 team in the Alliance.
Orlando Apollos (1-0) at San Antonio Commanders (1-0)
Sunday, February 17, 2019, 4:00pm EST (CBS Sports Network), Alamadome, San Antonio, TX
Both teams took different routes to winning their opening games last weekend. The Orlando Apollos, coached by the “Ol’ Ball Coach” himself Steve Spurrier, had an offense that looked pretty explosive at times, including an “Orlando Special” play that saw quarterback Garrett Gilbert catch a five-yard touchdown pass from receiver Jalin Marshall. But his defense also found time to shine, holding the Atlanta Legends to six points, as well as scoring the only defensive touchdown of the weekend on linebacker Terence Garvin‘s 51-yard interception return. Garvin’s overall defensive performance (highlighted here) was enough for the former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker to be named the inaugural AAF Defensive Player of the Week.
The Commanders were one yard ahead of the Apollos in total offense, yet only managed to score 15 points in their opening win against the San Diego Fleet. They were hampered a bit by quarterback Logan Woodside‘s two interceptions, and had three drives end in field goals by Nick Rose. Nevertheless, their defense held the Fleet to only six points (on two field goals by Donny Hageman), but I still expect the Apollos to be the second 2-0 club in league history when all is said and done.
Atlanta Legends (0-1) at San Diego Fleet (0-1)
Sunday, February 17, 2019, 8:00pm EST (NFL Network), SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, CA
A match-up between two teams that scored a combined 12 points last weekend could end a lot of different ways. Will we see sputtering offenses dominated by turnovers (both teams had three interceptions last week)? Or were last week’s opponents the best in the league and both these teams will find success against each other? It remains to be seen.
The Legends had the second-worst offense last week, failing to reach 150 passing yards or 100 rushing yards, finishing with a total of 224 yards. Their entire scoring output came from two field goals from former Los Angeles Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo, and their defense surrendered the most points in the league. Either that changes or the Legends will dig them into a 0-2 hole.
The Fleet showed a bit of promise last week despite only scoring field goals. They had a relatively competent passing offense (despite those three interceptions), and had four plays from scrimmage over 20 yards. Their defense got pressure on the Commander’s Woodside, with two sacks and nine quarterback hits, and they did have two interceptions of their own. Can they bring that performance to this game as well?
In a ten game season, there isn’t a whole lot of time to mess around. Starting out 0-2 won’t be the end of (limited) playoff hopes, and it will be more important to show that you can move and protect the ball. Only three clubs avoided turning the ball over last week, and they had the most impressive wins last week. Two losing teams looked relatively competent on offense, only to be undone by turnovers when it mattered. And two other teams looked… like they thought it was a second preseason game.
My winners for the week: Salt Lake, Arizona, Orlando, and San Diego