SFL Grand Finale XVIII Preview

Philadelphia Bulldogs vs. Carolina Generals at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri

The owner of these two teams won’t have any stress on him at all this weekend, not because he does not have a team in the game, but because no matter which team wins, he wins. Miraculously, both teams Brown owns will be playing for the league’s championship in St. Louis. Both were surprise picks to even make it this far, actually given the lowest odds of making it to the title game at the start of the playoffs.

The wildcard Philadelphia Bulldogs, which Brown took over four years ago when he first joined the league, upset the second-seeded San Antonio Marshalls 30-24 to win the Empire Conference. Like it has been all season long, it was the Jay Ajayi show. The sophomore running back had 183 yards and a touchdown last week as he did his part to keep the Marshalls high-powered offense off the field. His ability to run the ball also neutralized the Marshalls pass rush.

It also helped that once again Michael Vick showed great discipline. The aging veteran who has retirement speculation swirling around him will finally have his chance to win a championship after a long professional football career, but even while he is no longer as explosive and electrifying as he once was, he is doing every bit of what a veteran signal caller should do. Vick has played brilliant football all year long, taking few risks and just moving the ball efficiently. Vick has thrown only two interceptions this entire season, with neither coming in the playoffs either.

Those two have really helped the team’s defense these past couple of weeks, both down the stretch of the season as they fought for the playoffs and then into the playoffs. The Bulldogs defense has been vulnerable, but as the old football adage goes, the best defense is a good offense, and by grinding down opponents and holding them off the field and not turning the ball over, there are limited opportunities for teams to take advantage of their defense.

On the other side of the field, the Generals are still a team we don’t know what to expect from, but that is why they are where they are. One week, it might be Erik Meyer, who threw for three touchdowns passes in last week’s 27-24 overtime victory in Los Angeles. Another week it might be Kenneth Dixon and Knowshon Moreno grinding opponents down. Another week their defense could shut an opponent down. They also shocked the top-seeded Seattle Orcas this year with a put performance from the special team’s unit, in which Josh Huff has two touchdown returns.

They are just tough to plan against because they can take advantage of what ever area their opponent doesn’t focus on. If a team puts all their guys in the box, Meyer won’t hesitate to audible and throw. If they back up their linebackers and safeties, Dixon and Moreno will get the check down toss in a hurry and take off.

And like Vick, Meyer is at the end of his career, searching for his championship. He has already announced this is his last go, which has also seemed to inspire his team.

But while one of the veteran quarterbacks and one of the teams will be disappointed, it’ll be a bitter-sweet day for Brown, who will be able to celebrate the win with one of his teams, but will have to console his other and get them ready to get back the next season.

Other Storylines:

Marty’s fantastic first year

Brian Billick had a knack for winning championships early in his runs as head coaches. For the Baltimore Ravens it was only his second season when he the Super Bowl. Then in Philadelphia he won the SFL Cup in just his third season as the team’s head coach. But Marty Morhinweg has taken early success to a new level and could even top both of those marks by his predecessor. Morhinweg is only in his first season with the Bulldogs after taking over for the retired Billick. Two years ago the Bulldogs were 13-3 but lose in the first round of the playoffs for a third straight season. Last year they missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

Roddy White searching for title

Roddy White might only be a fringe candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but there is no question that he was one of the best and most consistent and reliable wide receivers of his era. Over 11 NFL seasons, White caught 808 passes for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. For six straight seasons, he topped 80 receptions and 1,000 yards. While his explosiveness and role with the Atlanta Falcons ultimately led to his departure from the team after the 2015 seasons, White wasn’t done playing football quite yet. That led to him joining the SFL for the 2017 season, after a year off. He had unfinished business, White did not win a championship in the NFL, despite all of his success. At first, White signed with the Houston Wranglers, and quickly saw that his chances of winning a title were not going to come to fruition. Then, he was told he was going to be traded to Philadelphia, a team contending for an Atlantic Division title. While the team did not win the division, they still made the playoffs and now wins themselves in the title game. For White, it can be a dream realized for one of the most underrated players of his era.

Boldin’s last game

Entering the playoffs, Anquan Boldin announced his was going to retire after this season was finished. Boldin signed with the Generals midseason and helped pick up the team’s passing offense. Boldin has long been one of footballs most physical wide receivers and an exceptional emotional leader for his teams. Boldin won a Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, but now has a chance to add an SFL Championship to his long list of career accomplishments. Interestingly enough, Boldin was on that Super Bowl Ravens team with Bernard Pollard, who I in the final year of his contract, who at 32 years old also has some speculation coming about his retirement, though he has not made any announcements about his intentions to retire.

Key Matchups

TE Zach Miller (CAR) vs. FS Antonio Allen (PHI)

Typically, the tight end is a second or third option for a team’s passing attack, but in Carolina, Zach Miller is the main focus for Erik Meyer when he drops back to pass, and it’s not even debatable. Miller caught 93 passes this year for 1,279 yards and seven touchdown passes. Teams have known all year long they need to stop him, but nobody has been able to. He will be the focus for Bulldogs safety Antonio Allen, who leads the Bulldogs in tackles with season and is tied for second in interceptions and third in pass deflection.

QB Erik Meyer (CAR) vs. DE Carl Nassib (PHI)

It’s kind of been an out of nowhere type year for Erik Meyer, who had over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns during the regular season. He’s been inconsistent at times, but he’s had far more good performances than bad games, including last week when he threw three touchdowns against Los Angeles to beat the Los Angeles Stars in the Metropolitan Conference championship game. And talk about out of nowhere type seasons, let’s talk about Carl Nassib. The rookie defensive end of the Philadephia Bulldogs was a highly-hyped prospect, but the type of season he has had probably wasn’t expected. Not only does Nassib rank third on the team with 70 tackles, but he is tied for the team lead with five sacks, 11 hurries and leads them with 11 tackles for loss. Nassib knows how to get into the backfield and that sort of pressure will really test Meyer.

DT Mike Patterson (CAR) vs. C Matt Paradis (PHI)

Ask any coach of quarterback or offensive coordinator, the thing that disrupts their team the most is interior defensive pressure. Mike Patterson causes a ton of it. The veteran defensive tackle leads Generals with seven sacks and tied for the team lead with 11 sacks this year. But he has a bulldozer he’ll be lining up against. Matt Paradis has had a remarkable year, contending for Offensive Lineman of the Year after finishing second with 38 pancake blocks while allowing only four sacks and committing only four bad blocks this season.

DE Jake Metz (CAR) vs. OT Eric Winston (PHI)

Next to Mike Patterson is one heck of an edge rusher in Jake Metz. With six sacks and 10 hurries, he too has wrecked havoc in opposing backfields. Their defensive line is one of the best in the league, but Eric Winston is the leader of a tremendous offensive line. The 33-year-old veteran is a wall, standing at 6-foot-7, 302-pounds. This year he is in the top 20 with 29 pancakes while allowing only four sacks this year.

QB Michael Vick (PHI) vs. DE Cleyon Laing (CAR)

And another great defensive lineman on the Generals team is Cleyon Laing. Last year he was one of the most feared pass rushers around. This year, with Patterson and Metz having so much success, he’s taken a bit of a step back as a pass rusher, but still is one of the team’s leaders in tackles for a loss. He can get in the backfield still, and will make sure to keep Michael Vick contained when he does try to extend a play or two.

RB Jay Ajayi (PHI) vs. LB Mike Hull (CAR)

What a fantastic year it has been for Jay Ajayi. Last year as a rookie he really disappointed, but the Bulldogs never lost faith in him and he’s certainly made them look good for sticking with him. In his second season Ajayi rushed for 2,275 yards and 22 touchdowns, breaking two previous records. His remarkable year was only overshadowed by the record-setting season Isaiah Crowell had, but on the biggest star, Ajayi will be the biggest star. And really, he has no match, but the young up-and-coming Mike Hull has settled into the spot as the Mike linebacker roaming in the middle of the Generals defense. It’ll be a challenge, but he’ll make sure to have his eye on every step Ajayi takes to meet him before he breaks off too many big runs.

WR Adarius Bowman (PHI) vs. CB Carlos Rogers (CAR)

While Michael Vick likes to spread the ball around, Adarius Bowman has absolutely been his go-to-guy. This year Bowman has 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns. And at 6-foot-3, 215-pounds he will be a tough one to defend. Carlos Rogers is expected to be the man lining up against him, but he’s three inches shorter and is 36-years-old. He’s also given up quite a few receptions too. While 79 tackles is a good number for a defensive player, for a cornerback it means he’s given up quite a few receptions.

DE James Ruffin (PHI) vs. OT Jason Fox (CAR)

While Carl Nassib has been a big threat this year, James Ruffin is still the top pass rusher for the Bulldogs, lining up and rushing the quarterback’s blindside. Ruffin is tied with Nassib for the team lead with five sacks and 11 hurries. Jason Fox has had a very inconsistent season at tackle for the Generals. He has 30 tackles and has given up only one sack this year, but he also had 24 credited bad blocks. He won’t be able to afford too many against Ruffin.

WR Anquan Boldin (CAR) vs. CB Clevan Thomas (PHI)

A veteran vs. veteran matchup here. Anquan Boldin is the standard of physicality at wide receiver and will be playing in his final game, looking to go out with a championship. This year, as a mid-season addition, he’s provided the Generals passing game with a consistent over the middle wide receiver threat that complimented Zach Miller so well. The safeties and corners can’t just key in one on guy. Because of the strength and speed matchup, Clevan Thomas would be the smart bet to play in the slot. He is also going to retire after this game, but has also been great at the end of his SFL Hall of Fame career. He still has 64 tackle and eight pass deflections.

RB Kenneth Dixon (CAR) vs. CB Tavon Young (PHI)

Kenneth Dixon hasn’t been able to fully take over as the lead running back in Carolina, but the epically talented rookie has certainly been a big part of the team’s offense. He’s toughed the ball more than anybody on that offense, getting 219 total offensive touches and racking up 872 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Dixon has been able to make a bigger than expected effort in the passing game, finishing third on the team with 38 receptions with 285 yards. He’s been a good chain mover and his speed gets him around the edge. That is why rookie Tavon Young might be focusing more on him than a receiver. Young is very physical and plays much bigger than he stands, but he’s probably a bit too small for Marqus Colston or Boldin. Still, he’s a dangerous cornerback with 76 tackles and 12 pass deflections this season.