Arena Insider Pre-Season Rankings
1 Arizona Rattlers (2014: 15-3)
The Arizona Rattlers are coming into the 2015 season with tons of momentum after winning their third straight Arena Bowl title and will be a tough team to stop with head coach Kevin Guy and league leading QB Nick Davila (4,778 yards 127 touchdowns) returning with contract extensions. Arizona recently signed former Soul DB Rayshaun Kizer so the team gets a slight boost in the secondary.
2 Cleveland Gladiators (2014: 17-1)
After suffering an embarrassing loss in the Arena Bowl to the Arizona Rattlers (32-72), the Cleveland Gladiators were still the second best team in the league, finishing with a 17-1 record. The Gladiators will take a tough blow with the absence of WR Thyron Lewis who signed with the LA Kiss because of personal reasons. However, the team should still be in good hands with QB Shane Austin leading the pack and WR Dominic Goodman who was Austin’s leading target with 1,671 yards and 34 touchdowns.
3 San Jose SaberCats (2014: 13-5)
The best defensive team in the league, ended their 13-5 season with a championship loss to the defending Arena Bowl champs (Arizona). Over the offseason, the team was assigned former Spokane Shock QB Erik Meyer who makes a lot of smart decisions with the football. Last season, he finished with 2,519 yards, 54 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. He can likely takeover the starting QB position for a struggling Nathan Stanley.
4 Philadelphia Soul (2014: 9-9)
The Soul backed into the playoffs back in the last week of the regular season – only to lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Cleveland Gladiators. Philadelphia has had several issues when it came to the quarterback position and the secondary. Whether it was turning the ball over in clutch moments or getting beat on the deep ball. QB Dan Raudabaugh, DB James Romain as well as head coach Clint Dolezel signed an extension through 2016, so all three individuals have their jobs on the line if they do not make an improvement as well as an Arena Bowl run.
5 Spokane Shock (2014: 11-7)
Spokane will hope to omit their brutal first round loss to San Jose 28-55. Spokane Arena in Washington still holds the nickname as “Deaf Valley” (loudest stadium in AFL) and the fans will have a lot to cheer with the Shock’s recent signings. The team made a splash in free agency and signed clutch quarterback Carson Coffman and “Iron Man” QB Arvell Nelson. Carson has shown the ability to lead a team in crucial moments back when he played for Iowa this past season (2970 yards 53 touchdowns 15 interceptions). Nelson on the other hand has played different positions other than QB – as jack line backer for Pittsburgh. In the football world, you have to have two good quarterbacks and Spokane has already check marked that.
6 Orlando Predators (2014: 11-7)
Despite the current drama with suspended head coach Rob Keefe (domestic violence), the city of Orlando should look forward to another explosive Predators team. Orlando made a surprise in the postseason after beating the Pittsburgh Power in the first round back in 2014. (Lost to Cleveland next round).
The team just boosted their secondary with the addition of former Spokane Shock DB Paul Stephens. Stephens over the past three seasons racked up a total of 18 interceptions and more than 100 tackles.
Orlando will need to improve their offense however after the team acquired QB Randy Hippeard from Tampa Bay. Hippeard is known to be an interception machine when it comes down to crunch moments – setting a career high in picks at 23.
If head coach Rob Keefe returns in 2015, the Predators should be in good shape to be contenders in the American Conference.
7 Las Vegas Outlaws
The newest franchise in the league is expected to make an impact this season after their engagement in free agency and the expansion draft. The Outlaws acquired alarming players such as QB J.J. Raterink, WR Donovon Morgan and DL B.J. Bell from the Los Angeles Kiss – as well as LB Tanner Varner from Orlando.
Las Vegas will be well coached under future hall of fame QB – Aaron Garcia. Garcia was previously under center for the LA Kiss before going on IR with broken ribs. Aaron then called the offensive plays for LA’s head coach Bob McMillen that led to a debacle with Raterink at QB.
Even though the Outlaws may have a respectable roster, they’re still an inexperienced team and will face alot of tough teams especially, with their first two games against San Jose and Arizona.
8 LA Kiss (2014: 3-15)
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, rock stars of the famous group – KISS (owners of LA Kiss), set their expectations too high when they mentioned before the season that they were going to bring Los Angeles a championship last year (The Kiss’ first year as a franchise).
Well after a disastrous 3-15 opening year and an embarrassing loss to the Portland Thunder that would have likely put them in the postseason, the team and the fans should expect a much better 2015 season with the recent changes in the personnel department. GM Brett Bouchy decided to bring back hall of fame coach Bob McMillen and the team dismissed QB Aaron Garcia who confused the offense with his own custom playbook. The Kiss took a blow when WR Donovan “Captain” Morgan left to go to Las Vegas. However, the second year franchise immediately made a move and signed former Cleveland Gladiators WR Thyron Lewis.
Uncertainty and eager are the words that describes this team but will have alot of eyes paying close attention to their performance.
9 Tampa Bay Storm (2014: 8-10)
The 8-10 Tampa Bay Storm missed an open opportunity to make the postseason last year but only helped the Philadelphia Soul get in because of Tampa Bay’s loss to Cleveland in the last week of the regular season. Things will not seem to get much better for the Storm with the amount of explosive players left on the roster. Tampa Bay and Orlando basically swapped quarterbacks in free agency as QB Randy Hippeard signed with the Predators and QB Jason Boltus went down I-4 to be with the Predators.
Second year head coach Lawerence Samuels will have a tougher job this season with losing WR Amarri Jackson and Boltus’ inconsistency. Expect an average Storm team to make a push in the American Conference this season.
10 Jacksonville Sharks (2014: 7-11)
After a rough 7-11 season, Jacksonville fans should look at some upside for the former Arena Bowl champs. Over the offseason, the Sharks made quality additions in receiving WR Joe Hills from Tampa Bay. QB RJ Archer was third in the league last season in passing with 4,661 yards and 92 touchdowns. Expect Hills and Archer to be a dynamic duo and get the Sharks to a postseason run.
11 New Orleans Voodoo (2014: 3-15)
It’s unsure what’s next that can go wrong with New Orleans. After a dreadful 3-15 season last year, the team still needs help on the offensive side. Understanding the injuries with QB Kurt Rocco going down and Ryan Perrilloux heading on the IR list early in the season, there were no alternates that New Orleans had to change their season around. The team had a total of 4565 in offensive yards which is second worst in the league.
12 Portland Thunder (5-13)
Despite putting up a good fight in the first round of the playoffs last year to Arizona and only losing 48-52, Portland decided to fire head coach Matthew Sauk. To replace Sauk, the Thunder hired former Barnstormers head coach and 2012 hall of famer – Mike Hohensee. Hohensee has a 153-147 regular season and a 12-12 postseason record. Conversely, without Sauk calling the plays, it remains unknown if the former Barnstormers coach can make Portland a contender.