Could Jacksonville Host This Year’s Arena Bowl?
The Jacksonville Sharks (10-1) will control their own destiny when they take to the field against AFL South Division rival Orlando (8-3) on Saturday night at the 17,200-seat Amway Center in Orlando.
A Jacksonville victory against the Predators, who are looking to avenge a 21-point setback to the Sharks on April 30, would tie an all-time Arena Football League record of 11 consecutive wins.
It would also bring the high-scoring Sharks, who currently hold a narrow one-game lead over the Arizona Rattlers (10-2) of the National Conference West Division for the best record in the league, one game closer to potentially hosting Arena Bowl XXIV at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena on August 12.
The Rattlers handed the Sharks their only loss of the season, a 55-52 heart-stopper on opening day.
The Sharks, who lead the AFL in scoring but will be playing without the services of powerful fullback Kirby Griffin on Saturday, also hold a 1 ½ game lead over the 9-3 Chicago Rush, winners of three straight games, including a 49-48 thriller against the upset-minded Tulsa Talons on Sunday.
Jacksonville also owns a three-game advantage over the surging Pittsburgh Power (7-4), the American Conference East Division leader and winners of four straight games.
The Arena Football League’s jumbled playoff picture could change dramatically over the course of the next six or seven weeks, with as many as 17 of the league’s 18 teams still realistically fighting for a playoff berth. Even the lowly New Orleans VooDoo (2-10), losers of four straight and six of their last seven games, are still mathematically in contention.
Despite their lengthy drought, the VooDoo nearly put a hex on the visiting Sharks last Friday with a furious fourth-quarter rally that fell short, 62-55. The bruising but banged up Griffin, who averages three yards per carry, scored four touchdowns in that wild and wooly affair, which turned out to be much closer than anybody expected.
With the playoffs looming on the horizon, every game from here on out takes on added significance.
Eight teams qualify for the playoffs, four from each conference, including two wild card teams from each of the two conferences.
Seeding in the playoffs is based on the best overall record with the division champions in each conference automatically receiving home-field advantage in the first round, regardless of their record. Seeding for the two wild card teams in each conference will be based on their overall records.
The top-seeded team in each conference will play the fourth-seeded team in the first round while the second-seeded squad will host the team seeded third.
The first round of the playoffs are scheduled for July 29-30.
The highest remaining seeds in each conference will enjoy a home field advantage in the conference championship round on August 5-6.
The winners of the American and National conferences will then square off in Arena Bowl XXIV at the home venue of the higher seeded team.
Last year’s Arena Bowl championship game — a 69-57 shootout won by the Spokane Shock over the Tampa Bay Storm — drew 11,017 fans at Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena.