SALT LAKE CITY — As the other 16 teams in the AFL watch the Utah Blaze, they might be thinking scientifically, "where's the potassium chloride?" The Blaze are burning white-hot, winning a franchise-record five straight — most of which have been thumb-twiddling blowouts — it might just require a fire extinguisher to suffocate this flame.
Last week, Utah (11-5) finally overcame the hurdle of division-rival Arizona, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Rattlers in Phoenix. In the 62-49 win, not only did the Blaze embarrass the No. 1-ranked team in the AFL, they clinched their first playoff appearance since 2008.
With two games remaining, Utah still has an outside shot for the West Division title.
"So far, the season has been very solid," Blaze coach Ron James said in a released statement. "We're moving in the right direction and we're excited that we've qualified for the playoffs. But we still have goals ahead of us."
If Utah closes with two wins, and provided one loss by Arizona either at San Antonio (13-3) or against Kansas City (3-13), it'll be another tally on the franchise-first checklist — a division title.
"Our goals remain the same as they did in the preseason — we want to win the division and an ArenaBowl title," James said. "Both of those opportunities are still in front of us, but we've got to win this week to keep our chances of winning the division alive."
Barring that in mind, the Blaze will look to go "Freddy Krueger" on Friday the 13th against Cleveland (7-9). The game will air on the NFL Network at 6 p.m.
The Gladiators started the 2012 campaign with tastes of success at 6-3. However, since then, Cleveland has lost 6-of-7, including a bizarre union-organized forfeit.
Cleveland has been able to remain in games on the back of its defense — limiting opposing teams to an AFL-best 49.1 points per game. Its secondary, specifically, has been dominant, ranking second in yards allowed (252.8 ppg).
"Cleveland has a strong defense that has a knack for forcing turnovers," James said, referencing Cleveland's fifth-highest 24 interceptions. "We've been able to play very efficiently on offense recently, and we'll need another mistake-free effort in order to be successful."
Blaze on the air
Cleveland Gladiators (7-9)
at Utah Blaze (11-5)
Today, 6 p.m.
TV: NFL Network
Radio: 97.5 FMBlaze on the airComment on this story
Cleveland Gladiators (7-9) at Utah Blaze (11-5)
Today, 6 p.m. EnergySolutions Arena
TV: NFL Network Radio: 97.5 FM