Preview: AFI Gameweek 14

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.

Three Gameweeks in the AFI Senior Kitted regular season remain, and with the postseason on the horizon, playoff pictures are becoming clearer and clearer by the weekend. 4 games take place around the island this Sunday, with playoff appearances and home-field advantage all up for grabs. Let’s project how the landscape of AFI will look come the end of Sunday.

Record¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
                   ² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
                   ³ = Eliminated from Playoffs

AFI Premier Division

#1 Dublin Rebels (6-0)¹ @ #6 Craigavon Cowboys (2-4) — People’s Park, 2pm
The Rebels travel to Portadown looking to lock up the #1 seed in the division after their game of the season vs #2 UCD two weeks ago. The Rebels come into this one as big favourites and it’s hard to argue against that: an on-fire quarterback with weapons galore and a tough offensive line coupled with a hungry defense that always gets after the ball. Boasting the #2 offense and #1 defense in the division will go a long way for your claims to the #1 seed, and with the opportunity to clinch just that this Sunday, the Rebels are likely to come out of the gate hot.

The Cowboys’ season just hasn’t gone as they’d have hoped. Starting off real strong with a 2-0 record that included a 35-6 opening day performance, the Craigavon side have dropped their last 4 straight, with the Peter Loughran-led offense scoring 3 touchdowns in a game only twice all season. Having not rebounded well to their away loss to the #7 Rhinos or at home to the #3 Admirals, the Cowboys gave up a season-high 49 points in their battle with the #5 Trojans in Gameweek 10. Craigavon are safe from relegation but will hardly see this season as a success unless they can muster up a performance good enough to earn a win or two from these last two games — with two wins keeping their playoff hopes mathematically alive for now. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, it doesn’t seem likely this weekend, facing opposition that seem unstoppable at the moment.

AFI Division 1

#2 UL Vikings (4-2-1) @ #1 Westmeath Minotaurs (7-0) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
A return fixture to the game at Maguire’s Field three weeks ago, it’s a quest for home-field advantage for UL vs a quest for an undefeated season for the Minotaurs. UL travel to Mullingar after being given a 30-0 win for Trinity’s season forfeiture from last weekend, meaning their 16-0 loss to the Westmeath side will still be fresh in their minds. QB Kieran Gilhool will need to drive his offense (including RBs Eoin Rudkins and Sean Grace) down the field a lot more efficiently that their attempts three weeks ago if they want to avoid another long travel for the semi-finals. Generating a similar pressure-to-sack conversion rate like they did in this fixture at the beginning of the month (6 total sacks) will also be key.

Westmeath, on the other hand, could be the first of three eligible teams in Ireland to go 8-0, with a win at home sealing the undefeated season for the #1 Minotaurs. Having the division’s highest scoring quarterback (Kinahan, 7) and wide receiver (Lynch, 5) on offense, along with a strong run defense and the division leader in interceptions (Dempsey, 6) stack the odds in the Westmeath outfit’s favour. One factor to consider is Westmeath’s potential to rest starters with this game having no bearing on their playoff seeding. Even with this in mind, the push to 8-0 seems to be the most likely outcome here.

AFI Division 2

#1 Louth Mavericks (6-0) @ #4 Causeway Giants (2-4*) — Limepark Playing Grounds, 2pm
A game with no consequences for the playoffs, the Giants host the Mavericks in a game that will see pride on the line more than anything else. The Giants, having started well, have been shutout in 3 straight games. While most (if not all) teams will look at the lack of playoff football as a bit of a sore spot, the development of the Giants has been admirable, having doubled upon their win total from their debut season in 2019. Sticking to this season and beyond, though, this game does provide a chance for coaches to give players and play designs game reps they may have otherwise not gotten. Making sure to get the likes of Ross McKenzie schemed up to add to how much pressure he’s put on Quarterbacks this season may be of high priority if the Giants want to keep themselves in this game — the team’s sack leader has 4 sacks in a run-heavy league and is second on the division leaderboard.

The Mavericks will also get a chance to experiment with their own personnel and scheme as Louth already have Bowl game contention locked up. Also trying to maintain an undefeated streak in their division, the Mavs can improve to 7-0 this Sunday, with the likes of RBs Brendan Simms and Dan Finley, and QB Nathan Hearty all very likely to see playing time for large portions to make sure they get over the finish line with the W in tact. Still, with young players coming up through youth and flag football ranks, it would be interesting and — particularly in the long run for Louth — beneficial for the Mavericks to make sure to get fresh blood on the field in this one, especially if the game goes the way many likely see it going.

#2 Antrim Jets (4-2) @ #5 North Dublin Pirates (0-6*) — Trinity Sports Campus, Santry, 2pm
It’s been a horrific season for the Pirates who had, up until this season, been a competitive team in Div 2. The 2 year hiatus inn AFI action due to COVID-19 was clearly cruel to North Dublin, with the team unable to find any of the tricks that made the team click before 2020. With two games left in the season it’s unlikely they find that spark that leads them to a win, however the Pirates will be sure to make some impressions on film in preparations for more individual and collective success in 2023.

This is all to say that, most likely, the Jets fly into the Division 2 bowl game with a win this Sunday. While Antrim will need to be sure to not rest on their laurels, the 35-0 result at the Forum is evidence enough that the Jets can put this game away handily enough. QB Scot McLean has been one of the MVPs of this Division, while a ruthless pass rush (5 of the top 10 pass rushers in Division 2 come from the Jets defense) will be sure to not give the Pirates offense an inch. Much like with the Mavericks, there’s potential here for the Jets to give some depth pieces plenty of game time this weekend.

Quickfire Predictions
Rebels 27 – 10 Cowboys
Vikings 10 – Minotaurs 20
Mavericks 30 – 12 Giants
Jets 32 – 6 Pirates

Clinching Scenarios
AFI Premier Division
Dublin Rebels
— clinch #1 seed with win @ Cowboys
Craigavon Cowboys — eliminated from playoff contention with loss vs Rebels

AFI Division 1
UL Vikings
— clinch home-field advantage with win OR tie @ Minotaurs

AFI Division 2
Antrim Jets
— clinch Division 2 Bowl spot with win @ Pirates