This weekend, the 2019 AFL postseason kicks off with the Baltimore Brigade returning to Times Union Center to take on the Albany Empire for the first game of the home-and-home playoff series. In their only meeting this season, the Brigade defeated the Empire 42-41, snapping their then 6-0 record. The Brigade finished their 2019 regular season 7-5 and is coming off a win in their regular season finale against the Columbus Destroyers. The Empire led the league with an impressive 10-2 regular season record and is coming off a monster 72-27 win in their season finale against the Philadelphia Soul, which was the largest margin of victory in Empire history and the most points scored by a team this season. Baltimore finished the regular season 3-3 on the road and Albany finished 5-1 at home.
“It will be a great atmosphere,” Brigade Head Coach Omarr Smith said. “Our guys know we are taking on the best team in the league and there will be a heightened level of intensity and the stakes are magnified. We’ve been practicing hard this week to prepare mentally to take care of the little things and play our best football come Saturday night.”
BRIGADE PLAYER TO WATCH:
WR Joe Hills
– The last time Hills was in Albany he scored his season highs in receptions (13), receiving yards (137) and touchdowns (4). He also hauled four touchdowns in the first half. Hills finished the 2019 season fourth in the league in touchdown receptions with 20, tied for fifth in receptions with 63 and recorded 689 receiving yards despite missing one game this season. Hills also hauled in two rushing touchdowns during Week 6 against the Atlantic City Blackjacks. In addition, Hills created history this season by becoming the only player in AFL history to record a touchdown reception in 103 consecutive games. The record is only for regular season games. During the postseason, Hills currently has 10 consecutive games with a receiving touchdown.
EMPIRE PLAYER TO WATCH:
QB Tommy Grady
– The eight-year veteran, Grady leads the AFL with 3,097 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns. Grady threw 14 more touchdown passes than any other quarterback this season. He has had six games with 6+ touchdown receptions. He connected with both wide receivers Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims for a touchdown pass in every game this season. In his last matchup against Baltimore, Grady recorded 17 completions for 284 yards and six touchdowns. Last weekend against Philadelphia, Grady threw 13 passes for 196 yards and four touchdowns all in the first half to contribute to the Empire’s victory.
MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Brigade DB’s vs. Empire WR’s
– The Baltimore defensive unit is the number one defense in the league that allowed the fewest points by any offense. Baltimore finished tied for first in the league in interceptions with 16 and hauled in the most sacks with 19. The defensive back leading the crew is Joe Powell, who led the league in forced fumbles with five and ranked second in the league in interceptions with seven during the regular season. Powell also ranked second on the Brigade and eighth in the league in tackles with 48 (42 solo). Last week, Powell contributed to the Brigade’s victory by scoring two touchdowns against Atlantic City. He added the first points to the board for the Brigade off a fumble recovery and his second score came from a missed field goal return. Powell’s speed has helped him dominate offensively as well, scoring 3 touchdowns this season on kickoff returns. Another defensive back weapon is Josh Victorian who recorded 51 tackles (46 solo) this season, the sixth best in the league. Victorian has registered four interceptions this season. The last time Powell and Victorian faced off with Albany, they both picked up an interception. Third on the team in tackles is DB Nias Martin who registered 34.5 (29 solo), three interceptions and two touchdowns this season. Martin held the single-game high in tackles for the Brigade with 12.5 that he hauled in against the Washington Valor in Week 9. During Week 10 against Columbus all three DBs scored a touchdown. The defensive backs are going up against the top scoring wide receivers in the league. Malachi Jones, the 2018 Rookie of the Year and Wide Receiver of the Year, was predicted to have yet another incredible season and he followed through. Jones led the league in receptions with 96 and in receiving yards with 1440, which was 481 yards in front of the wideout in second place. Jones ranked second in touchdown receptions with 25, right behind teammate Quentin Sims who led the league with 29. Sims is another asset the Empire has used to find the endzone. Sims finished the season with 59 receptions for 867 yards. These two, along with wideouts Collin Taylor and AJ Coney will certainty create a great showdown as the Baltimore DBs try to make finding the endzone difficult.
Saturday night’s game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington and ESPN3.