Why You Should Buy In to the AAF

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With the inaugural weekend of AAF action in the books, I have officially bought in to the Alliance of American Football.  With former NFL players and college stars littered throughout the 8 rosters, what’s not to love about the NFL’s D-League?  A safe middle ground between the stars of the NFL and the lack of talent and defense at the collegiate level, the AAF is the perfect offseason football for football fanatics.

What Makes the AAF Special

While this may just seem like a less-talented NFL at first, there are rules in the AAF that keeps the game exciting and fast-paced.  With no TV timeouts or challenges (there is an official who can correct calls in real-time), AAF games feel much shorter than the typical NFL game.  Not only is the game faster, but some of the more boring plays in football are removed.  The point after try has been completely eliminated in this league, forcing teams to go for two after every touchdown.  The kickoff has been replaced by the ball starting off at the 25-yard line.  This also keeps players on the field, as kickoffs have been known to create plenty of injury problems.

On top of keeping the game fast-paced, there are some new rules that keep the league fresh compared to other leagues.  For example, the onside kick has been replaced by the onside conversion.  The onside conversion can only be called if a team is losing by 17+ points or if there are less than 5 minutes in the fourth quarter.  If it is called, the team losing gets the opportunity to convert a 4th-and-12 from their own 28 yard line.  After this play the game simply continues as usual, according to whether or not the losing team converted.  The league also appears to be oriented towards the offensive-loving fan, as the defense can only rush five, in order to protect the quarterbacks.

Eight Teams and Their Stars

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The eight teams in the AAF are comprised of players within their given region.  Players are allocated to each team based on where they played collegiate football or where they played most recently professionally.  For example, the Arizona Hotshots get players from the Cardinals, Ravens, Bears, 49ers, Edmonton Eskimos, and several major colleges near or in Arizona, including Arizona, New Mexico, and UCLA.

Arizona Hotshots

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The Arizona Hotshots are 1-0 after their 38-22 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions.  Head coached by former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, the Hotshots are led by a one-two punch at quarterback featuring former Cardinal Trevor Knight and former Wake Forest Demon Deacon John Wolford.  Other interesting names on the Hotshot depth chart include two former Eagles Dexter McDougle and Josh Huff, and former Jets kicker Nick Folk.

Atlanta Legends

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Despite a star-studded front office including Mike Vick as a team advisor and former Vikings coach Brad Childress within the organization, the Legends lack noticeable names on their depth chart.  This was evident in their 6-40 loss against the Orlando Apollos in week one.  Perhaps starting quarterback Matt Simms (son of Phil and brother of Chris) will be able to turn their fortunes around.

Birmingham Iron

The Birmingham Iron have the biggest star in the AAF in their backfield with former Alabama running back Trent Richardson.  Richardson is one of many AAF players looking to make an NFL return in the near future, and he is trying to use the AAF to do so.  His AAF debut was successful, with two touchdowns and a 26-0 win over the Memphis Express.  The Iron have one of the strongest defenses in the league, as they have recorded the first shutout in the history of the AAF.

Memphis Express

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The Memphis Express had the least impressive of all of the debuts from this past weekend.  Former Jet and Penn Stater Christian Hackenberg captained the offense to an inspiring 67 yards and an interception on 23 passes.  Head coached by Mike Singletary (yes, you read that right), Memphis looks like they could very easily end up at the bottom of the AAF in its inaugural season.  Other notable players on the Memphis Express include former Ram Zac Stacy (pictured above) and former LSU and Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the second-string to Hackenberg.

Orlando Apollos

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The Orlando Apollos delivered the statement performance of the AAF’s inaugural weekend, dominating the Atlanta Legends 40-6.  Led by the stellar defensive performance of former Redskin and Seahawk Terence Garvin (pictured on left) who finished his outing with ten tackles and 2 interceptions.  The Apollos also have the most decorated coach in the league in Steve Spurrier, who called an ‘Orlando Special‘ during the blowout.

Salt Lake Stallions

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The Salt Lake Stallions may have lost their first game in franchise history 38-22 against Atlanta, but this team has one of the most talented rosters in the league.  With two noteworthy former NFL running backs in Branden Oliver and Matt Asiata, the Stallions are not a team to take lightly in the inaugural season of the AAF.

San Antonio Commanders

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The San Antonio Commanders set the world alit with a viral hit coming from linebacker Shaan Washington, bringing the world of AAF football into mainstream media.  San Antonio’s defense looked incredible in their home opener, allowing only one score in a 15-6 win over San Diego.  This team is full of former NFL players including Kenneth Farrow, De’Vante Bausby, and Kurtis Drummond.  San Antonio’s defense should see them towards the top of the AAF by season’s end.

San Diego Fleet

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The eighth team in the AAF is the San Diego Fleet.  Their defeat in week one against the San Antonio Commanders gave them the first loss in the history of the AAF.  Now that’s something to be proud of!  Led by Arizona State alum Mike Bercovici (who was the recipient of the aforementioned viral hit), San Diego struggled to get their offense going in the Alamodome.  The Fleet consist of a few big name former NFLers including Gavin Escobar and Ron Brooks.

With eight fun teams to root for and plenty of former NFL players scattered across the league, I am proud to call myself an AAF fan.  Football has always been my favorite sport, and I am willing to give the AAF a chance if it means I get to continue watching football for a few more months.

Premier League Weekend Awards: A Christmas Miracle In Manchester

With Boxing Day just around the corner, the Premier League got a much needed shake-up.  Crazy results on Saturday have sent the top 6 into a frenzy during the most hectic part of the season.  20 matches now remain for a majority of teams, and we could be in for a classic league finish.

Match of the Weekend:  Palace 3, Man City 2

Andros Townsend celebrates scoring against Manchester City

For the second time in the three weeks that I have done this, the match of the weekend has come at the expense of the reigning title holders.  And what a stunner this one was!  Crystal Palace came into this game with just 15 points through 17 matches, and had only scored 14 goals in those matches.  But on Saturday, none of those statistics meant anything to Palace, as they waltzed into the Etihad and delivered the upset of the season. Ilkay Gundogan started off the day with a goal, but Palace quickly responded with two quick goals from Schlupp and Townsend (SPOILER ALERT:  We will talk about that Townsend goal again…).  Just six minutes into the second half, Kyle Walker’s poor challenge sent Crystal Palace to the spot with a chance to take a two goal lead. Luka Milivojevic buried it and Crystal Palace never looked back.  De Bruyne grabbed a second for City in the 85th, but it was not enough to inspire a Citizens’ comeback.  With Liverpool securing a victory on Friday, Manchester City are now four points behind the leaders.  Crystal Palace now well out of the relegation battle, firmly in 14th place.

Honorable Mention:

Leicester City 1, Chelsea 0

Player of the Weekend:  Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil

After back-to-back defeats against Southampton and Tottenham, Arsenal needed three points against Burnley, especially with Liverpool on the schedule at the end of the month.  Mesut Ozil had not been selected often in the past month, nursing a back injury, and ultimately not being selected on a few occasions.  In his return, the German dominated in the attacking third.  He set up an assist with a fantastic pass to Kolasinac, who delivered a ball to Aubameyang to open the scoring.  Ozil also tallied an assist in injury time, finding Alex Iwobi for an easy finish.  On top of the assist, Ozil completed 34/34 passes in Burnley’s half of the pitch, earning him his first ever Player of the Weekend Award from Crustman.

Honorable Mentions:

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, 2 goals in a 3-1 win against Burnley

David Brooks, secured a brace on only 3 shots, B’Mouth won 2-0

Goal of the Weekend:  Andros Townsend

Can a goal from 2018 be considered for the 2019 Puskas Award?  This Andros Townsend screamer was just that good.  I alluded to this goal in the Match of the Weekend segment, because it was truly special.  Just watch it for yourself…

Goalie of the Weekend:  Asmir Begovic

Asmir Begovic punches a cross clear. Picture by PW Sporting Photography

Eighth-placed Bournemouth defeated Brighton 2-0 on Saturday, and that was in no small part to the clean sheet from Asmir Begovic.  Just 20 minutes into the match, with the score still 0-0, Yves Bissouma was in on goal, but Begovic made a fantastic point-blank save to keep it level in Vitality Stadium.  He also stopped Jurgen Locadia and Lewis Dunk from scoring before the half, which kept Bournemouth in the lead.  He was able to survive a relatively quiet second half and complete the shutout and earn himself his first Goalie of the Weekend Award.

Honorable Mentions:

Ben Foster, could have easily won the award as well, keeping a clean sheet against a relatively poor West Ham effort

Kasper Schmeichel, kept a clean sheet, thanks to a bunch of Chelsea misses

Premier League Weekend Awards: Gunners Shocked

With 17 matches in the book, the fight for the Premier League crown is beginning to heat up.  Manchester City held the lead in the league for just over 24 hours before Liverpool defeated Manchester United 3-1 to regain their lead.  With just one point separating the two teams, we are in for an exciting second half of the season in England.  The aforementioned Man U side have now conceded more goals this season, just 17 matches in, than they did the entirety of the 2017-2018 season.  Sitting in sixth place and 11 points away from Champions League next season, Mourinho is on the hot seat more than he has ever been before.  With all of that being said, I am back for my second Weekend Awards, now with honorable mentions and a brand new award!

Match of the Weekend:  Southampton 3 Arsenal 2

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Undoubtedly the story of the weekend was the upset at St. Mary’s on Sunday morning.  Arsenal came in to the away fixture with a 22-game undefeated streak, including a decisive 4-2 victory against their bitter rivals Tottenham to start the month.  On the other end of the success-spectrum is Southampton.  Fighting a relegation battle, with only 9 points in 16 matches played, Southampton looked to be another easy win for Arsenal.  But just 20 minutes into the match, Danny Ings powered home a perfect cross to give Southampton a 1-0 lead.  Just 8 minutes later Mkhitaryan equalized, but Danny Ings secured a brace before the end of the first half.  Mkhitaryan got himself a brace in the 53rd, and the game remained even for 32 minutes.  Nevertheless. Charlie Austin headed in a perfect ball for the game winner in the 85th minute (pictured above).  Arsenal manager Unai Emery admitted defeat in the end, telling reporters “Southampton deserved the result because they pushed and played with big ambition. This is football. Sometimes we could win that game but today we lost it.”  Southampton’s victory sees them move up to 17th, still in relegation danger, but no longer in the relegation zone.  Arsenal remain in 5th, just 3 points outside of the top 4.

Honorable Mentions:

Watford 3 Cardiff City 2

Tottenham 1 Burnley 0

Player of the Weekend:  Eden Hazard

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The high of Chelsea’s season came last week against Manchester City, handing them their first defeat of the season.  With a poor result in a meaningless game against MOL Vidi in Europa League on Thursday, Chelsea looked to bounce back on Sunday against Brighton & Hove Albion with 3 points.  And they did just that behind a marvelous performance from Eden Hazard.  The Belgian has been making his case to become the new left winger in Madrid, and he was impressive today with a goal and an assist.  A perfect pass set up Pedro for a tap in to give Chelsea an early lead, and Hazard added a goal himself to give Chelsea a 2-0, which was big enough to win them the game, 2-1.  Los Blancos definitely had their eyes on this performance, as they could be looking to make a splash for Hazard as soon as January.  Chelsea’s victory keeps them in 4th in the league, with a sizable goal differential lead over 3rd place Tottenham, Chelsea could realistically move into the title race by the end of the month.

Honorable Mentions:

Xherdan Shaqiri, scored 2 goals as a substitute in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United

Gabriel Jesus, had not scored in 11 games but got a brace in a 3-1 win against Everton

Goal of the Weekend:

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In a thriller and Match of the Weekend Honorable Mention, we saw Watford edge out Cardiff 3-2.  The goal of the match, and in my opinion the entire weekend, came in the 52nd minute.  Jose Holebas had a first-time strike on his left foot that gave the Hornets a 2-0 lead in the pouring rain.

Goalie of the Weekend: Łukasz Fabianski

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Oftentimes the unsung hero on the soccer pitch, goaltenders typically do not always get the love that they deserve.  Even a goalie-apologist like myself did not give an award to the best number 1 of last weekend, but I am here to give the inaugural award to Łukasz Fabianski of West Ham.  Fabianski’s 3 saves were the difference between 3 points for Fulham or 3 points for West Ham in the Irons’ 2-0 win this past Saturday.  In a game controlled (for the most part) by Fulham, Fabianski was the rock that West Ham needed between the sticks in this match.  This victory moved West Ham to ninth, just two points off of the top 6.

Honorable Mentions:

Jordan Pickford, played exceptionally well despite conceding 3 in a loss to Man City

Alex McCarthy, impressed the home crowd in their aforementioned 3-2 win over Arsenal

Premier League Weekend Awards: Liverpool Moves to First

With the hectic late-December schedule on the horizon, there is no better time for the first ever English Premier League Weekend Awards.  With all of the weekend’s matches having been played, excluding Sunday’s Newcastle-Wolves fixture, it is time to give out the inaugural Weekend Awards.

Match of the Weekend:  Chelsea 2, Man City 0

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For the first time since April 7, 2018, Manchester City has lost a match in the Premier League.  Their 8 months of undefeated soccer has come to an end thanks to a superb defensive showing from Chelsea.  Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and David Luiz completely shut-down the formidable front three of Man City (which included Mahrez rather than Jesus).  The Citizens consistent attack left much to be desired as they were left goalless for the first time since their meeting with Liverpool in early October.  City now drop into second place, despite having the best goal differential in the league.  Liverpool are now the sole undefeated team, 16 matches into the season.  This was also Maurizio Sarri’s first ever victory over Pep Guardiola, losing each of their previous 3 matches.

Player of the Weekend:  Mohamed Salah

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Liverpool’s magnificent 4-0 win over Bournemouth sees them move into first place, and it was due in no small part to the Egyptian Magician, Mohamed Salah.  Mo walked into Vitality Stadium not having scored in his last three competitive matches.  Nevertheless, he walked out with a hat-trick and a Man of the Match award, as well.  Salah’s first goal came in controversial fashion, as here appeared to be offside, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and Salah gave Liverpool a 1-0 lead.  A lovely finish by Salah gave him a brace in the 48th minute.  He finished off the hat-trick twenty minutes later with a nice bit of composure, rounding the keeper and calmly placing the ball in the back of the net.  A perfect day for Liverpool fans, as the Reds reclaimed the poll position in the league, and their main man Mohamed Salah returned to the form that they’ve come to expect from the Egyptian.

Goal of the Weekend:  Felipe Anderson

With their 3-2 win over Crystal Palace this weekend, West Ham United have won three straight games in the Premier League.  The second half began 1-0 in favor of Palace, but 3  goals in 17 minutes gave the Irons an insurmountable lead.  A beautiful curler from Robert Snodgrass (his first goal for West Ham) drew the game level, and Chicharito gave West Ham the lead with a poacher’s goal in the 62nd, off of a free-kick.  But the goal of the weekend came just three minutes later, when West Ham’s top goal scorer, Felipe Anderson, struck from 20 yards out.  Anderson took one touch to compose himself, and then sent an absolute beauty to the top corner.