With just one game remaining in the regular season, the Utah Blaze have a realistic chance of hosting an Arena Football League playoff game even if they lose their finale.
Then again, the Blaze could still miss the playoffs altogether, depending on what happens on Saturday.
It's still that close.
Four American Conference teams currently own identical 5-10 records, including the Blaze. One of those four teams will host a playoff game. Two others will make the playoffs but will have to travel for their first-round game. One will be out of the postseason picture completely.
The good news for the Blaze is that they don't have to have any help to at least clinch a playoff spot. If they beat the Arizona Rattlers in Phoenix on Saturday night, they will be headed to the playoffs for the third consecutive season thanks to their tie-breaker edge over both Colorado and Grand Rapids.
"We have to go take it," said Blaze coach Danny White. "We don't expect anybody to give us anything and frankly we don't want them to. We don't want to back our way into the playoffs."
Thanks to their combined 3-1 record against the teams they are currently tied with, the Blaze win most tie-breaker scenarios. So if all four 5-10 teams end up losing on Saturday to fall to 5-11, the Blaze would still host a playoff game the following week as the conference's No. 4 seed. But if Utah loses and the other three teams all win, the Blaze will be out of the playoffs. The Blaze would also be the odd team out if both Colorado and Grand Rapids win, but Utah and Los Angeles lose.
Utah has the tie-breaker edge over Colorado, Grand Rapids and if there are any combinations of three- or four-way ties. But the Blaze don't have the head-to-head tie-breaker edge over the Avengers. That's because the two teams split their games, but L.A. beat Utah by 17 points in Staples Center, while Utah won by only nine in Salt Lake.
Arizona, meanwhile, has already clinched a playoff spot. The Rattlers are 8-7 and locked into the No. 3 seed in the conference. The San Jose SaberCats and Chicago Rush, both 10-5, have won their respective division titles and will have first-round playoff byes."I love that, mentally, our guys have to prepare this week knowing that they have to win to be assured of getting into the playoffs," White said. "I don't like being in a situation like Arizona is in. For them, it doesn't matter because they can't move up and they can't move down (in the playoff seeding)."
NICE BREAK: Utah, winners of five of their past six games after a miserable 0-9 start, had a bye last week. White gave the players a few days off and some left town for a while. Blaze quarterback Joe Germaine traveled to his home in the Phoenix area, where his infant son was recently released from the hospital following heart surgery.
"Everyone is tired and banged up and to get a week off to rest and get away from the game for a while was a good thing," said Germaine following Tuesday's practice. "We all came back with a renewed sense of what we have to do and a desire to work, and I think it will be to our advantage."
Some might feel the Blaze would have been better served to continue playing since they have been one of the hottest teams in the AFL, but White agrees with his quarterback."We were on a roll, but a week off shouldn't change that," said White. "I don't think the bye week is going to hurt our momentum. I think it's going to help us, in fact."
STAT CHECK: By missing a week of action due to the bye, several Blaze players fell a couple of spots in the AFL's leaders lists. Still, Germaine remains tied for the league lead with 91 touchdown passes and is second with 4,539 total yards passing. Utah's receiving trio of Huey Whittaker (fourth), Aaron Boone (ninth) and J.J. McKelvey (10th) remain ranked in the top 10 in the league in receiving yardage, while Boone is now third overall with 128 catches. McKelvey, meanwhile, is third in the league with 36 touchdown grabs.
The Utah Blaze clinch an American Conference playoff spot with any one of the the following scenarios:
• Blaze (5-10) win at Arizona (8-7)
• Colorado Crush (5-10) loss vs. Kansas City Brigade (3-12)
The Blaze clinch a first-round home game with one these scenarios:
• Blaze win and Los Angeles Avengers loss
• Blaze win and Grand Rapids Rampage win
• Blaze win and Colorado Crush win
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