A pair of streaking Western Conference teams face off Sunday night
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) will shine the spotlight on the Western Conference when the Arizona Hotshots and San Antonio Commanders go head-to-head in prime time on Sunday. The Hotshots (4-3) are back in the thick of the AAF playoff race as Rick Neuheisel's team has won two in a row. Next up is a rematch with the Commanders (5-2), the league's hottest team that has claimed the top spot in the conference on the strength of a four-game winning streak.
After losing three in a row, Arizona has turned things around. Two weeks ago, the Hotshots went to Orlando and handed the Apollos their first loss of the season (22-17) and followed that up with a handed Orlando its first loss of the season and they followed that up with a convincing 32-15 win at home over San Diego.
No team in the AAF is hotter than San Antonio right now. The Commanders have won four in a row, the first three coming on the road. Mike Riley's team has held the opposition to 14.3 points per game during this stretch, which has included wins over Birmingham, Atlanta, Sat Lake, and Arizona. In Week 5, the Commanders beat the Hotshots 29-25 on the road. That game featured plenty of offense (708 total yards) but also plenty of mistakes as the teams combined for seven turnovers.
While there has been plenty of discussion about the league's future over the last few days, this game will be played as scheduled. A win for Arizona creates a first-place tie with San Antonio, while a victory for the Commanders gives them firm control of the Western Conference with just two games left in the regular season.
Arizona at San Antonio
Kickoff: Sunday, March 31 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
TV: NFL Network
Three Things to Watch
1. The resurgence of John Wolford
The main reason why the Hotshots have gotten back on track is because Wolford has found his rhythm again. After completing just 54 percent of his passes for 185 yards against the Atlanta Legends four weeks ago, Wolford has been more on target recently. Over the last three games, he has thrown for 620 yards and five touchdowns while completing 74 percent (50-of-79) of his attempts. He has thrown four interceptions during this same stretch, but he leads the AAF with 13 touchdown passes. In the first meeting against San Antonio, Wolford had 246 passing yards and two touchdowns but he also was picked off three times, the first of which was returned for a touchdown. Wolford certainly has to be aware of the ball hawks on the Commanders, as the team leads the league with 13 interceptions. But Arizona is hoping that its quarterback is peaking at the right time and will continue his strong play on the road.
2. The Hotshots' defense also has stepped up
Just as Wolford has been regaining his form, Arizona's defense has been stepping their game up as well. The Hotshots held the AAF's most explosive offense to a season-low 17 points in handing Orlando its first loss, and then limited the Fleet to 15 points last week. Arizona registered a total of four sacks and four interceptions in these two games and gave up just six fourth--quarter points to the two teams. Now the question is can the Hotshots maintain this level of play against a San Antonio offense that has put up 56 points in its last two games? In the first meeting in Week 5, the Commanders totaled 367 yards with most of that damage coming throught the air (just 78 rushing yards).
3. The Commanders are the hottest team in the AAF right now
Aside from the recent scoring output, San Antonio's defense is tops in the league in interceptions (13), second in sacks (21), and third in fumble recoveries (5). The Commanders have won four games in a row, three of those coming on the road, and have outscored the opposition by 40 points (97-57) during this stretch. One of those wins came against Arizona so both teams have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But San Antonio is on a tear right now and the fan base has helped make the Alamodome a tough road environment for visiting teams.
While it's good to see the Hotshots get their house in order, the Commanders are too hot to handle at the moment. They also are at home (2-1 in the Alamodome) and both sides of the ball have been clicking during their four-game winning streak. It should be a good game and a fitting end to the Week 8 slate, but I don't see Arizona pulling off another road upset.
Prediction: Commanders 25, Hotshots 22
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of AAF.com)