Here are some quick observations after watching the AFL divisional playoff games.
Parity in the AFL
I love the fact that the underdog teams (Grand Rapids, Cleveland, New York and Colorado) played so well during the Divisional round. Two of those teams, Grand Rapids and Cleveland, advanced and New York could have easily beat Philadelphia. This shows anything can happen once a team makes it to the postseason. I can't pinpoint exactly as to why this is the case, but it could have something to do with the fact that it takes a while for teams to gel or the fact that the difference in a game is only a few plays. Regardless, this parity is good for the game.
Cleveland's versatile fullbacks
The Gladiators have the most creative and sophisticated run game in the AFL because of fullbacks Marlion Jackson and Joshua Rue. The Gladiators will use motion, multilpe-fullback sets and even throw to Jackson or Rue out wide or on bubble screens. Cleveland also likes to line its fullbacks out wide to create mismatches. The Gladiators want the defense to go at and press their fullbacks because it opens the field for their other receivers.
Future of the league is in good hands
I was very impressed with all the coaching staffs during the Divisional round. There are a lot of great, young minds in the league who will be able to step up when the time comes. However, the interesting thing is that even though these coaches are young, they have been around the league for a long time. Most of these coaches are AFL "lifers" and this league is in great shape.
Did Philadelphia and Chicago look past their opponents?
I consider the Soul and the Rush the two best franchises in the AFL, but both looked like something was missing. Both teams looked sloppy, listless and unprepared. I have a feeling both teams took this game for granted because they had already beaten their opponent twice during the regular season. This emphasizes the parity in the league and Philadelphia was lucky it moved on. The Rush looked like they weren't ready for what they saw and they hardly made any adjustments.
I was really uncomfortable with all the taunting, excessive celebrating and cheap shots that occurred during the Divisional round, especially during the Grand Rapids-Chicago game. There were 20 penalties called, one ejection and the game simply looked out of hand. The fact that every touchdown resulted in a rehearsed and extravagant dance is borderline ridiculous. When a player scores due to blown coverage, it doesn't warrant a dance or taunt. In my opinion the players and the game are too good to look like a wrestling federation. All of the showboating takes away from the team concept.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.