Orlando is one of three teams looking to stay undefeated in the early going of the AAF's inaugural season
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) marches on in its inaugural season. Week 3 of the 2019 campaign commences this weekend, despite reports of payroll issues, and so far we’ve been treated to good, competitive football. Through two weeks, the eight teams have combined for 314 total points and 5,135 total yards of offense. But it hasn’t been all one-sided, as the defenses have recorded 35 sacks and forced 28 turnovers. We’ve seen a combination of both players who are making career comebacks, and those starting to make a name for themselves.
Two weeks into the 10-game schedule and we’re starting to get a better idea of each team’s strengths and weaknesses. We’re also beginning to see a few teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack. As we prepare for Week 3, here are five storylines worth watching.
1. Intriguing coaching matchups
With this weekend’s slate we’ll see some coaching rivalries renewed, and some new ones created. When the Arizona Hotshots head to Salt Lake to play the Stallions on Saturday afternoon it will serve not only as a rematch of Week 1 but another opportunity for Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson to match coaching wits.
Before the AAF, these coaching legends went against one another at the college level on four occasions between 1999-2002 when Neuheisel was at Washington and Erickson was at Oregon State. Following a Week 1 victry, Neuheisel now holds a 4-1 edge over Erickson in their head-to-head meetings.The Week 3 slate also features a matchup between Steve Spurrier's Orlando Apollos and Mike Singletary's Memphis Express. Singletary hopes get his team out of the Eastern Conference cellar with a win, while Spurrier’s squad aims to move to 3-0. Then on Sunday afternoon, the AAF’s rookie head coaches will take center stage when Tim Lewis leads his unbeaten Birmingham Iron into Atlanta to take on Kevin Coyle’s Legends. And the action wraps up on Sunday night with a Week 1 rematch between Mike Riley’s San Antonio Commanders and Mike Martz’s San Diego Fleet.
2. Teams looking for their first win
Memphis, Atlanta, and Salt Lake (0-2) are all looking for their first win of the season. But as they take the field this weekend they all have difficult challenges ahead. The Express will lean on their defense again, and hope for continued offensive improvement as they hope to at least slow down an Apollos team that’s outscored their opponents 77-35.
The Legends (vs. Birmingham) hope that playing their first home game will turn things around after starting the season with just one touchdown and 676 yards allowed. And the Stallions look to maximize their consistent ground game (239 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 4.0 yards per carry), and their solid pass rush (five sacks) to avenge an opening week loss to Arizona.
3. Teams looking to stay unbeaten
Orlando, Arizona, and Birmingham (2-0) all have their sights on stretching their winning streaks to three games. Steve Spurrier’s Apollos (vs. Memphis) have arguably been the most balanced team in the AAF in the early going while the Hotshots (at Salt Lake) under Rick Neuheisel boast the league’s top offense (800 yards, 58 points). The Iron have been getting it done with defense (4 sacks, 4 turnovers) and efficient offense and hope that formula continues to be successful in their first road game (at Atlanta).
4. San Antonio begins a three-game road trip
The Commanders (1-1) have what could be the toughest stretch of any team over the next three weeks. That’s because starting this weekend, Mike Riley’s squad will embark on a three-game road trip. They start this weekend in San Diego where they’ll look to sweep the Fleet (1-1), followed by a trip to Birmingham next week, and then Arizona. The Iron could be 3-0 next week and the Hotshots could be 4-0 by the time San Antonio comes to Tempe.
5. Will the leagues finances become a distraction?
While it may not be mentioned on any of the broadcasts, the topic of the AAF’s newest investor is bound to come up on social media and through other outlets. The biggest concern would obviously be having this story effect the on-field product, but there’s no doubt that the topic will come up at some point this weekend.
— 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)