Preview: AFI Gameweek 9

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.

Gameweek 9 is fast approaching, and with divisions starting to shape up as we march towards the playoffs, teams will start to give those last pushes in their campaigns, whether that be for spots in the postseason or for escaping relegation. This Sunday sees 5 games take place across the island — let’s dive into them and see how they could affect the landscape of the rest of the season ahead! Playoff scenarios for this weekend’s action have been compiled by contributors to AFI, and can be found at the end of this article!

AFI Premier Division

#6 Dublin Rhinos (1-3) @ #2 UCD (4-0) — UCD Sports Grounds, Belfield, 2pm
The Rhinos shocked the #4 Cowboys last time out in what was, at least to that point, the upset of the season. And while it would be quite the sight to see two giant upsets in a row for the Castleknock side, keeping the scoreline respectable may be the secret goal among the Rhinos coaching staff. QB play from Ethan Foster has not been consistent enough to truly trust in the Rhinos to pull off another big win (Foster has 2 passing TDs to 7 INTs on the year), and after already giving up 120 points so far this season, their defense does not match up well with the Students’ offense, who rank 1st in the league in points scored (150).

Speaking of that offense, yardage and points have come from pretty much everywhere for UCD. QB Arun Mooney has truly exploded on to the scene this year, currently sitting with 12 passing TDs so far this season, while RB duo Jack Finnegan and Sean McVeigh have been tearing through defenses for scores in their first 4 games too. Their defense hasn’t been short of playmakers either, with the likes of Dan Verzuh and Eoghan McMahon each coming away with 3 takeaways so far this year. They provide have provided the toughest tasks for every team they have faced this season, and it may end up being much the same this Sunday. It’s worth noting that with a win here, UCD would just need an Admirals win over Craigavon to secure a playoff spot, as the Students hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Craigavon.

#1 Dublin Rebels (4-0) @ #8 Belfast Knights (0-4) — Malone RFC, Belfast, 2pm
The difficult season for the Knights may very well continue Sunday, hosting the return fixture to a 30-7 loss at the hands of the Rebels this time last month. The visitors have had a comfortable season thus far, their closest game on the scoreboard being their opener @ #6 Admirals. QB Ty Henry has breathed a new life into an offense that struggled in their last season in 2019, scoring 11 total TDs while throwing just 2 INTs. With a powerful, explosive running game to boot, the Rebels have been a force to be reckoned with on the ball this season. Couple that offense with a water-tight defense that has forced 14 turnovers in 4 games, and the Rebels look Shamrock Bowl-bound at this point in the season.

The Knights unfortunately sit at the other end of the table, currently in the relegation zone to Division 1 with a 0-4 record. The Belfast side would have hoped to have picked up at least 1 win by this point in the season, although being without the likes of QB Spencer McDowell and WR/TE Marty Caskey for most of the season to this point has certainly not helped the offensive output. After a massive opening weekend loss to #2 UCD, the Knights appeared to be getting more competitive, taking close one-score losses to #3 Panthers and #4 Panthers. The blowout loss to the Rebels derailed any momentum they were building however, and now Belfast are forced to come out of at least 1 of the next 4 games with a result or face being relegated.

Belfast will be relying on season-best performances from the likes of Robbie Alexander and Kenny McClean to slow the Rebels offense down as much as possible. Otherwise, with remaining fixtures against a surging Admirals team and local rivals #7 Trojans on the cards in the coming week, things may come down to a final day clash with the Rhinos for Premier Division survival. The Rebels secure playoffs with a win and an Admirals loss.

#5 Cork Admirals (1-2) @ #4 Craigavon Cowboys (2-2) — People’s Park, Portadown, 2pm
Perhaps the game of Gameweek 9, as not only are both teams fairly even on the standings, and not only does this matchup influence other teams’ playoff chances, but there are also some very intriguing storylines coming into this one. For the visitors — who are making a near 800km round-trip for the game — this matchup could not come at a better time. After taming the #3 Panthers at Palmerston in last Sunday’s Gameweek 8 matchup, the Admirals travel up north feeling a lot better about themselves than they may have this time 2 weeks ago. The defense has been incredible thus far despite their less-than-stellar win/loss record, conceding just 42 points in 3 games. The main questions for Cork going into this one is can they get inside Peter Loughran’s head in the same way they did Ian Cahill’s? And can the offense unlock RB Phylip Walters in the run game again? If the answer to at least one of those questions is “yes”, then the Admirals give themselves a great chance celebrating going 2-2 on the bus ride home.

As for Craigavon, the hot start has well and truly flamed out, and they may need something to reignite it quick. After storming the Rhinos out of Craigavon and taking home a dying-seconds win from the Knights, the Cowboys were handed a massive loss by UCD before being upset by the Rhinos. Arguably, they are colder now than they were hotter 2 games into the season, and the Cowboys need a win to get back on track. With an angry #7 Trojans team and the #1 Rebels next in line, a win here is crucial for the Cowboys and their hopes for competing in the playoffs this season. Plenty of teams will be watching this one very carefully.

AFI Division 2

#1 Louth Mavericks (4-0) @ #2 NI Razorbacks (2-2) — Newforge Playing Grounds, 2pm
A clash at the top of the table sees a rematch of a game that happened just 2 weeks ago, with the Mavs extending their unbeaten streak in a 24-6 win. The Razorbacks will be disappointed to not have continued their slowly-growing momentum on offense, scoring just 1 TD after scoring 3 in their upset over the Jets. QB Mark Thompson will be hoping for a better day than their away trip to Louth too after throwing a pick 6 and being sacked twice. The Razorbacks need a big win here to validate their claims for the #2 seed in the division, and to prove their Jets performance was not just a happy accident.

The visitors, meanwhile, are exactly where most expected them to be after accepting a voluntary relegation to Division 2. Sitting atop the table and averaging a 33-6 scoreline in 4 games, they will be favoured in every game for the rest of the season, as they are here. The Mavericks run game has scored more touchdowns than the rest of the division combined, and it’s hard to not predict a similarly dominant showing this Sunday.

#5 North Dublin Pirates (0-4) @ #3 Antrim Jets (2-2) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
The final game in our preview sees the Pirates travel to Antrim to take on the Jets, hoping to come away with their first win of the year. The season has not gone at all as planned for the Pirates, especially after bringing on some promising pieces from the Meath Bulldogs, who withdrew from competition before the beginning of the season. While some of those players have made some splashes — Adam Pyne has come away with some nice plays and an INT on defense — but it’s difficult to have much faith in this group considering their results and their forfeit of their most recent matchup. Here’s hoping for more positive outlooks for North Dublin moving forward.

The Jets come into this one as clear favourites and will likely move into the #2 seed after Sunday’s games. QB Scot McLean has been the backbone of this side, still contributing to 100% of the Jets scores on offense, and will be encouraging his players to be more aggressive this weekend. Projecting the Jets after this game is a bit clouded, as while they have been solid on both sides of the ball, they have failed to put up 17 points or more in a single game this season. Sunday represents a big opportunity to buck this trend as the Jets look to close in on that #2 seed in the Division 2 Bowl game at the end of July.

Quickfire Predictions
Rhinos 6 – 35 UCD
Rebels 28 – 13 Knights
Admirals 14 – 13 Cowboys
Mavericks 28 – 10 Razorbacks
Pirates 7 – 24 Jets

Playoff-Clinching/Elimination and Relegation Scenarios
Premier Division
Dublin Rebels (4-0) clinch playoff berth with: Rebels win + Admirals loss
UCD (4-0) clinch playoff birth with: UCD win + Cowboys loss
Belfast Knights (0-4) eliminated from playoff picture with: Knights loss + Cowboys win

Division 1
No scenarios for Gameweek 9

Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-4) eliminated from playoff picture with: Pirates loss