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 The kickoff has been replaced by the ball starting off at the 25-yard line.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 For example, the onside kick has been replaced by the onside conversion.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
In possibly the most explosive game since the trade deadline last Thursday, the new look Philadelphia 76ers absolutely imposed their will upon the Lakers (boy does that feel good to say). Despite Kyle Kuzma’s 39 points, the Sixers won 143-120.
The Lakers, who are often touted as a strong defensive team, gave up 34 points in the 4th Quarter, and 33 minimum for each quarter.
Life with Tobias Harris has gone great thus far, he posted 22 points including 3 3-balls and on 9-14 from the field.
Embiid was the man of the night, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. He posted his career high in points last season against the Lakers. The Lakers situation is dire at best, as Javale McGee still plays well within his limited minutes, and Tyson Chandler is lacking offensively when he takes over for McGee. As such, it’s not surprising that Embiid was able to beast on this Lakers squad.
One underrated aspect of this game was how well the Sixers shared and moved the ball. Butler had a good game with 15 points, as well as doing some great on ball defense on players like Brandon Ingram, who it seemed to be easy for Butler to force into errors or poor shot selection. Ingram had 19 points but was a -8 on BP/M.
JJ Redick had 15 points on only 3 3-point makes, which was that absolutely insane and-1 shot from nearly behind the backboard in the corner.
Ben Simmons struggled tonight, which isn’t all that surprising: he seemed a little bit passive and unsure immediately after the Butler trade, but found his rhythm again just before the Harris trade. However, Simmons was operating on no shortage of aggression this time. He took his very first pull up 3-pointer, which was an unlucky rattle away from going in. He also took many more shots from outside of the paint, and was intent on hitting turn-around jumpers out of the post. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Simmons looks a little uncertain in the near future, as this team clearly still has to figure out effective ways to share the ball with as many high-usage threats in their starting 5.
Simmons was a +6 on BP/M, despite having no double digits on the stat-line. He did, however, play some fantastic defense, including one impressive block down-low against LeBron James.
While wins over a strong Denver team and a LeBron led clown-fest feels good, the Sixers’ true test post-deadline comes Tuesday at home against Boston. They lost the first game of the season against Boston, and lost a close OT game against Boston Christmas Day, both of which were away. The Sixers are great at home, but Boston has historically been a bane for Philly. Although it’s important to note, this is not the same Philadelphia squad as was seen in either the first nor second meeting between the two. Boston is also in a shaky place culturally, after their crazy comeback lost to the Sixers-er, I mean the Clippers’ own Landry Shamet. Man, that will never stop hurting to say.
This trade deadline was expected to be a relatively quiet one with the exception of Anthony Davis likely being on the move. Davis is still in New Orleans, and many other very surprising moves happened in addition.
Many teams seemed to be waiting for the AD dust to settle to do anything, and once it became clear that a Lakers/Pelicans deal was unlikely, the trades started flowing. Among the most active teams at the deadline was one Philadelphia team, who easily created some of the most remarkable trade headlines this year.
In addition to the Butler trade at the beginning of the year which made waves, the Sixers started this week out hot by making a surprise move for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic. The Sixers essentially gave up two players who would get destroyed in the playoffs, Landry Shamet, and 2 first round picks, only one of our own.
As sad as I am to see Shamet go, we essentially gave up one real player and one real pick for 2 valuable rotation guys and a near all-star. My first reaction was that it felt like a minor overpay, but considering the fact that we didn’t lose a pick in the Butler trade, it all sort of evened out.
Then today, just in time for the deadline, the news many Sixers fans have been hoping for came: we finally dealt Markelle Fultz. Let me preface this: I really wanted Markelle to succeed here, and I really hope that Orlando helps him and that he can get back to being a functional NBA player. But to have this off of our backs, and to get picks AND a functional rotation player in return? Godlike.
We essentially traded a warm bench seat for a guy who can play reasonable minutes right now, and a Thunder first rounder, as well as a Cleveland second round pick. While the Thunder pick won’t be incredible, it will essentially offset the fact that the Sixers gave up their own first for 2020 in the Clippers trade. There’s not much reason to believe the Thunder’s odds will be much worse than the Sixers, so essentially the Heat 2021 pick is the major piece in that deal, in addition to Shamet.
Finally, the Sixers made two moves for cash considerations. One to Toronto in exchange for Malachi Richardson, and one to Houston for James Ennis. Richardson was immediately waved to make room for Ennis on the roster.
As crazy as a week as it has been, and as risky as both the Harris and Butler trades were, I’m starting to build excitement for this. Harris, while an incredible player in his own right, was essentially insurance in case things go south with Butler, or he simply leaves this summer. Harris and Boban both seem very excited to come to Philly, so keeping both of them would be a huge bonus.
The Fultz trade is more about simply having that drama and attention off of our backs. They can finally just take the players they have and move in the direction of a team with a full and complete roster, no asterisks attached.
Additionally, the James Ennis pickup was very solid. Ennis, unlike some current players on the Sixers roster, is an actual NBA player in the current year.
So what does this mean for the Sixers play? For one thing, this team is big. And I mean BIG. This team’s starting 5 has one player under 6’4 and it’s our shooting guard who wasn’t stopping anyone anyway. Other than that, this 5 has 4 big, mostly switchable and defensively sound players. Harris is the exception, but he’s not a defensive liability, at least. He’s league average, probably has his good and bad nights like most any other player.
Meanwhile, the offense is going to be insane. So many of the problems this team suffered from are alleviated by bringing Harris into the fold. Not only does he shoot well, which fixes some of the spacing issues the Sixers had, but he facilitates other offensive maneuvers like capitalizing off of Embiid getting doubled, Simmons drive and kick, and Embiid-Redick DHO’s.
Another underrated aspect of this trade is that it reduces some of the bench depth issues. We essentially gave up 1 for 3 in terms of real functional players who aren’t one dimensional. Boban will be a great backup center for big lineups, whereas Bolden can fill in for smaller teams. Mike Scott is a playable wing rotation guy, who will probably gravitate towards the 4 a la Mike Muscala, and of course Harris raises the floor of the whole team.
Not only did the bench get better in this trade, but the flexibility of lineups with the bench got significantly better, too. Essentially, Chandler had to be played with any 2 of Simmons, Butler, or Embiid on the floor. Now, Brett Brown can throw a ton of different looks at people. One very obvious concern is managing the shot count for 5 players who need shots, but this will only really matter in the first minutes and sometimes last minutes of a game. Brown can pull Butler or Embiid early, and give Harris and Simmons some run together. Really any combination will be better, as it will require fewer minutes for the guys who need rest, in addition giving Harris, Butler, and Embiid all plenty of room to work as the high usage guys.
This trade deadline said to me one thing, and one thing only. Elton Brand isn’t here to fuck around. He made moves that sacrificed some long-term stability, but raised the floor of this team significantly, and over the 3 major trades, things evened out so that nothing was really over-payed for, not even moving on from Fultz. Hinkie was too concerned with the future (can’t blame him given the roster at the time), Colangelo was scared to make any big moves and drafted like a bitch. This administration essentially traded Mikal Bridges and a first for Tobias Harris, and fixed the wrongdoing of the previous regime while getting a pick back. It’s still early yet; we still haven’t seen any of these new guys play yet. But one thing is for sure: Elton Brand is here to make moves.