Phoenix, Ariz. –Friday’s match-up between the Arizona Rattlers (8-2) and the Portland Thunder (3-7) has strong playoff implications. For Arizona, they will move one step closer to clinching the division title for the fifth straight year. For Portland, the Thunder needs to keep pace for one of the two wild cards (they are currently tied with Spokane and Las Vegas). If Portland does make the playoffs, there is a good possibility that they will face the Rattlers for the second straight year. The game will be streamed online at ESPN3.com. Here is what to look for in Friday’s game.
The Rattlers can now start looking at what needs to happen to clinch their fifth straight division title, and to make the playoffs for the seventh straight year. That magic number is four. Any combination of Rattlers’ wins and Outlaws’ losses that equal four will clinch the division for Arizona. (LA KISS must also lose one more game this season.)
Careful Where you Kick
The Thunder and Rattlers rank first and second, respectively, in kickoff returns within the AFL. Thunder returner Duane Brooks has five touchdowns in the return game, averaging 23.4 yards per return, which includes the two touchdown returns from last Sunday’s game against the KISS which earned him the J Lewis Small Playmaker of the Week award. As for Rattlers’ return man AJ Cruz, he has three scores with a 24.6 yards per return average.
Protect the Pigskin
The Arizona Rattlers’ +15 turnover margin ranks second in the AFL. As for Portland, their -9 turnover ratio may have Rattler defenders foaming at the mouth. Last time the two faced each other, the Thunder lost two fumbles, and had one pass intercepted by Arizona defensive back Jeremy Kellem, leads the team with 9 interceptions, including catching at least one pick in three straight games. Kellem will be looking to keep the streak going on Friday.
Last time the Rattlers took on the Thunder, wide receiver Rod Windsor put up 36 points, which is a league high for the 2015 season. The Rattlers are also second in the league in pass efficiency, while Portland is second to last in pass efficiency defense. Look for Arizona, and Windsor to try and exploit this on Friday.
The Rattlers this season have outscored their opponents in the second quarter by 70 points. On the flip side, The Thunder have been outscored in the second by 67 points. If these trends continue on Friday, the Rattlers could create some space just before halftime.
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