Saturday night’s South Division battle against the Jacksonville Sharks at the new Amway Center features the top two teams in the AFL’s American Conference.
The Preds (8-3) enter the weekend 4-1 at home while the Sharks (10-1) enter the game with a 5-1 mark on the road. The series is tied at two games apiece.
The last time these teams met up was on April 30 in Jacksonville where the Preds gave up 29 unanswered points in the second half and lost 76-55. And that was despite leading 42-40 with over nine minutes to play in the third quarter.
Things have changed plenty since then for the Predators. While the Sharks are currently riding a 10-game winning streak, the Preds have gone on to win four in a row since that visit to Jacksonville. During that stretch, Orlando has notched wins over Tampa Bay (63-61), Cleveland (56-26), Milwaukee (35-30) and Iowa (77-61).
Each team lost earlier in the season to the Arizona Rattlers (10-2). The Rattlers lead the National Conference by one game over the Chicago Rush (9-3). The Preds lost for the only time at home to the Spokane Shock (4-7), the defending ArenaBowl champions.
Jacksonville leads the league in scoring at 63.5 points per game behind the play of quarterback Aaron Garcia, who has been sacked just four times on the season. Garcia is 231 of 324 passing for 2,844 yards and 66 touchdowns against just nine interceptions.
The Sharks also rank No. 2 in scoring defense at 44.6 points per game and lead the league with 28 quarterback sacks. LaRoch Jackson ranks No. 2 in tackles (7.1 per game) while Micheaux Robinson is tied at No. 6 with 6.1 tackles per game. Derrick Summers is second in the AFL with eight sacks.
The Predators lead the league in interceptions with 28 on the season and rank second in total turnovers with 36. Rayshaun Kizer intercepted two passes on Saturday and ranks second in the AFL with 12 picks for 173 yards and two touchdowns through 11 games. He leads the team with 6.1 tackles per game.
Travis Coleman, who was named defensive player of the week on Tuesday after intercepting three passes Saturday, has seven interceptions on the year. Marlon Moye-Moore has intercepted six passes for the Preds while Mark Robinson now has 8.5 tackles for loss, good for fifth on that list.
Orlando ranks No. 1 in total offense at 320.5 yards per game with Robert Quiroga (76 rec, 992 yards, 13 TDs), T.T. Toliver (72 rec, 896 yards, 19 TDs) and Bobby Sippio (66 rec, 815 yards, 20 TDs) on the receiving end for the Preds. Sippio was named this week’s offensive player of the week following a six-touchdown outburst in Iowa.
Nick Hill has gone 259 of 392 passing for 3,244 yards and 64 touchdowns with 12 interceptions and has also rushed for 322 yards and nine scores on 64 carries. Hill leads the league in total offense with an average of 324.2 yards per game.
The home date against the Sharks is the start of a crucial American Conference stretch for the Predators as they travel to Tampa Bay to face the Storm (4-7) on Friday, June 17, before returning home to host the Georgia Force (7-5) and Pittsburgh Power (7-4) in consecutive weeks.