"Momentum is very important," Soul coach Doug Plank said. "If you look at teams over the course of the season, everything happens in streaks. There is winning and then there is losing. I've found that if you are losing, it's hard to get that first win. If you are winning, you don't want that first loss. We're riding a seven-game winning streak right now, and I think it's important for us to win this game."
Coaches, of course, want to win every game. It's the simplest way to avoid becoming an ex-coach. But Sunday offers more than a chance for the Soul to finish the regular season 15-3.
The National Conference (where Utah's sits) has been superior to the American all season. Six of the top seven teams are from the National and two teams with winning records might not make the playoffs. Conversely, the Soul could be the only team from the American over .500. Philadelphia beat San Jose and split a pair of games with Spokane in its first three interconference games.
"One thing I've tried to stress since we've been back [from the bye] is to treat this like a playoff game," said defensive lineman Bryan Robinson, who is fourth in the league with 10 sacks. "Utah is a really good team, very strong in the West. They've been on a winning streak and appear to be hitting on all cylinders. For us, it's a good test to see where we measure against the West teams. We feel like it's a must win."
In this case, Robinson was using National Conference and West as synonyms.
Utah's defense has improved since Rob Keefe replaced Mike Brown as coordinator. But the engine behind the Blaze's six-game winning streak is massive quarterback Tommy Grady, who leads the league with 137 touchdown passes. Grady, listed at 6-7, 240 pounds, played only 12 games collegiately at Oklahoma and Utah.
"Putting your hands up in the air won't do much good," Plank said. "His arc is so high. Most times you tell pass rushers to stay in their lanes in order to cloud the vision of the quarterback. But it's like he's standing on a pedestal back there. It's a tremendous advantage."
At the risk of looking too far ahead, the Soul probably would have to beat one of the National Conference's elite teams in the ArenaBowl championship game. San Antonio (14-3) and Arizona (12-5) weren't on the schedule, but Utah (12-5) is. What's more, the Blaze needs to win this game to clinch its division and earn a first-round home game.
"Any team in the West can represent in ArenaBowl," Soul defensive back Rayshaun Kizer said.
"Utah can definitely represent. We look at this as a playoff game. We're approaching this like it's the first round of the playoffs."
There remains a chance that the Soul could bring in free-agent wide receiver Chris Jackson before the playoffs. Jackson was Matt D'Orazio's top target during the 2008 championship season and knows coordinator Clint Dolezel's offense very well. Tiger Jones, who had been the Soul's best receiver this season, has been invited to next week's Eagles training camp and will not play for the Soul for the remainder of the season?…?The Soul has added all-time AFL kicker Remy Hamilton and placed Connor Hughes (hamstring) on injured reserve. Hamilton is an expert at onsides kicks and gives the Soul just one more little weapon heading into the postseason.
Contact Ed Barkowitz at email@example.com.