Preview: AFI Gameweek 12

The views and opinions expressed in this article in no way reflect those held by American Football Ireland. The below article is intended to be entertaining and promote around American Football Ireland games.

After several consecutive weeks with 4-5 games taking place, Gameweek 12 provides a less-is-more approach: only 2 games take place this Sunday (a Pirates forfeit to Razorbacks in Division 2 brings the total down from 3), but both games are HUGE for their respective divisions. Division 2 has a win-to-keep-your-hopes-alive scenario for the Giants, Division 1 takes the week off, while the Premier Division will be showcased by perhaps the most anticipated game of this regular season. In fact, let’s start with that game!

Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
                   ² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
                   ³ = Eliminated from Playoffs

AFI Premier Division

#1 UCD (6-0)¹ @ #2 Dublin Rebels (5-0)¹ — De La Salle RFC, Glenamuck, 2pm
Don’t even try saying you’re not excited for this one. Undefeated vs undefeated; #1 vs #2, the battle for the top of the table: this should be the game of the regular season. UCD winning this one would secure the #1 seed, as they would be 7-0, with one game remaining, and the head-to-head over the Rebels would leave the hosts finishing the season 7-1 as a moot point — although if the Rebels win they are in favourable position for that #1 seed too. UCD certainly have the talent to do it, with a — quite frankly — unfair RB duo in Sean McVeigh and Jack Finnegan who are, in case you forgot, rookies. A nasty offensive line and weapons galore in the passing game (including Sean Douglas and Cian Lawlor) has made QB Arun Mooney’s job about as easy as can be expected in the Premier Division. That’s not to take away from Mooney though, who has thrown 19 TDs through these first 6 games.

The Rebels have their own superstar QB in Ty Henry, who is tied for 2nd on the passing touchdown leaderboard while also taking in 2 himself through 5 games this year. Star WRs Greg Johnson and David King have torn it up so far this year with 5 TDs apiece, while rushing TD leader Wello Omorodion has been a problem for defenses for years now.

You’d almost predict a shootout in this one, until you realise that this game also boasts 2 of the most productive defenses seen in the Premier Division in quite some time. While the Rebels defensive line has not wowed in the sack department, they are underestimated because of their production in a stat that we cannot track: pressure, more specifically pressure resulting in turnovers. The Rebels have 16 INTs on the year, including a whopping 6 from CB Dylan Paisley, while they also have on their roster one of the best cover corners in Ireland under the age of 23 in Rex Harding. UCD, no strangers to impressive talent on defense, boast the likes of tied sack leader Larry Doyle (4), Calum Henry (3), Dan Verzuh (3 INTs, t-3rd) and rookie Eoghan McMahon (2).

So, prediction time… who knows? The matchups this Sunday is #1 offense vs #1 defense, and #2 offense vs #2 defense. It’s basically a coin flip for this writer, and in the same superstitious thinking that tails never fails, in situations like these it’s always difficult to side very slightly with the hosts. This feels like the type of game to be decided on the final possession, and it seems like football fans across Ireland can’t wait to see it unfold.

AFI Division 2

#4 Causeway Giants (2-3) @ #2 Antrim Jets (3-2) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
A must-win for the Giants, who need to win out and hope for a handful of results to go their way to sneak into the Division 2 bowl game. They will need a massive effort put in to regain the momentum needed for that run, especially after last week’s 39-0 loss to the #1 Mavs (6-0)¹. A loss eliminates the Causeway crew — who will be hoping for a return to action for Tiernan and Ruairi Boorman, the apparent X-factor players on that offense — from playoff contention. A quick bounce back from the Causeway Giants defense will be on the priority list for this Sunday too, with DL Ross McKenzie (4 sacks, t-2nd) likely being let loose to hunt down Scot McLean again after getting a sack on the Jets QB at Limepark 4 weeks ago.

A win for the Jets, meanwhile, would be a huge push towards the #2 seed into the Division 2 bowl. With the #3 Razorbacks now 3-3 due to the Pirates forfeit this weekend, a win Sunday would all but secure the #2 seed — for them to drop the place in the bowl, Antrim would need to lose out while the Razorbacks would need to win their remaining 2 games. QB Scot McLean has been the driving force behind Antrim’s push to the bowl, scoring 10 total TDs this year while leading Division 2 in both passing and rushing TDs. Inarguably the best QB in the division this season, his talents have been highlighted even more by the likes of Jay Burton and Eoin Delargy as his main pass-catching targets and a strong offensive line. Antrim are no slouches on defense either, ranking #2 in the division while dominating around the line of scrimmage and pressuring QBs with the likes of Curtis McLeish (4 sacks), Ryan Beckett and Robert Newman (both 3).

The Giants are the type of team that, when on their A game, can put a real test up against any opponent in this division. The Jets, however, have a lot stronger chances of making the bowl game, and their players know how important of a game this is for them. With them being 2-1 so far on the year at the Forum, they’ll also be keen to keep that home record above .500, so will be itching to make some plays to get them ahead early. With a defense that has really wrapped up tight since their opener (averaging 7.0ppg), it’s hard not to go with the Jets here.

Quickfire Predictions
UCD 23 – 24 Rebels
Giants 7 – 21 Jets

Playoff-Clinching Scenarios
AFI Premier Division
UCD — clinch home-field advantage and #1 seed with Win @ Rebels

AFI Division 2
Causeway Giants — eliminated from Bowl game contention with Loss @ Jets