By record, ranking, seeding, performance and just about any other measure, they are the two best teams in the National Conference, if not the entire Arena Football League.
Fittingly, the Spokane Shock (14-3) and Milwaukee Iron (12-5) collide tonight at the Arena to determine the National Conference representative in the ArenaBowl. Orlando (9-8) visits Tampa Bay (12-5) on Saturday in the American Conference title game.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Shock split two regular-season meetings with the fourth-ranked and second-seeded Iron. Each won by double digits on the other’s home field.
“We played a lot of good teams in order to get to this point,” Shock defensive back Alex Teems said. “You can’t argue we’re the best teams in the conference. It’s a good matchup. They’re talented on both sides of the ball. It’s pretty much going to come down to who can eliminate the mistakes.”
They are arguably the hottest teams in the AFL. Spokane, 2-2 at one point, has won 12 of 13, the lone loss to Jacksonville in a game that had no bearing on the Shock’s playoff fortunes. Milwaukee closed the regular season with four straight wins and then defeated Chicago in last week’s playoff opener.
Milwaukee averaged 65.2 points while being the only team in the league to crack 1,000 points this season. The Iron scored at least 63 points 11 times. Veteran AFL quarterback Chris Greisen tied a playoff record with nine touchdowns while completing 26 of 32 passes last week.
“With their offense it’s a lot of three-step (drops) and he gets rid of the ball quickly and he’s decisive,” Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley said. “When you’re decisive, even if you don’t necessarily throw to the right guy, the defense isn’t ready to make you pay for it.”
Noted Teems: “He’s very good, very smart. Some quarterbacks in this league might manage a game well, but he will win a game for you.”
Greisen had mixed success against Spokane. He threw nine touchdown passes in a season-opening win but he was intercepted twice in a June loss. Three Iron receivers had at least 100 catches, but Nate Forse (111 receptions, 1,386 yards) is on injured reserve. His replacement, Antoine Burns, had nine catches, four for touchdowns, against Chicago.
“We were a young team at the beginning of the season and a lot of our guys hadn’t played at this level before,” Teems said. “We weren’t sure what to expect from Milwaukee and we couldn’t really get a good scout on them. They played better than us. The second game we grew as a team, learned the game a little better and made some personnel adjustments.
“We mixed up our coverages, got good pressure and played good in the secondary. I wouldn’t say (Greisen) had a bad game; we played well.”
Greisen is one of several concerns for Shock head coach Rob Keefe.
“If you give him all the time in the world, you make things easy for him. We want to put as much pressure on him as possible,” said Keefe, well aware that Milwaukee yielded just one sack in the regular season. “We’ll see how the game goes, but I think there’s going to be a lot of adapting, a lot of adjustments at halftime and in the third quarter.”
Milwaukee ranks 11th out of 15 teams in scoring defense (56.4 points), but finished second with 25.5 sacks. Khreem Smith and Tyus Jackson combined for 17.5 sacks.
“When we were filling out our first- and second-team All-AFL ballot, you can’t vote for your own guys, I did notice we had a lot of Milwaukee names on the list,” Keefe said.