Arena Football League playoff preview: #3 Cleveland Gladiators at #2 Tampa Bay Storm

Arena Football League

One-half of Arena Bowl XXX is set after the Philadelphia Soul held off the Baltimore Brigade on Saturday night, and tonight we find out who will head up to Philly in two weeks as the other half of that game.

Tonight, the Tampa Bay Storm play host to the Cleveland Gladiators in what will be the fifth meeting between the two teams.

Matchup: #3 Cleveland Gladiators (5-9) at #2 Tampa Bay Storm (10-4), 4 p.m. EST
Betting Line: Storm -6.5
TV: AFL Now, Twitter

The fifth showdown between these two teams should be a dandy with a trip to Arena Bowl XXX on the line, especially after the two teams play three thrillers during the regular season.

The Storm took the regular season series 3-1, but the first three games between the two were decided by a combined nine points before the Storm blew out the Gladiators in Week 16, 57-27.

The Storm coasted to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs this year, with three of their four losses to top-seed Philadelphia, and finishing with the both the second best offense and defense in the league.

The Gladiators comes in as the most snake-bitten team in the league, going 5-9 during the regular season, but six of those losses were by 10 points or less, including five by less than six points.

Both of these teams were uneven down the stretch, with each team going 3-3 over their final six games, including splitting a pair of games between the two.

The Storm do almost all of their damage through the air (as is expected in the AFL), with quarterback Randy Hippeard leading the league in passing yards, racking up 3,506 yards on the season, almost 400 more than the next-closest QB. Hippeard was second in the league with 80 TD passes this year, against just eight interceptions. His top target is Joe Hills, who led the league in receiving yards (1,353), catches (129, 31 more than the next closest guy), and TD catches (36). He seems good!

Cleveland had some quarterback issues this year with Arvell Nelson, who was fourth in the league in yards and touchdowns, with 61 TD passes in 13 games, and third in QB rating. Nelson battled some injuries, but is listed as Probably for tonight’s contest. Nelson is also very mobile, finishing second in the league in rushing yards with 221, and adding 12 rushing scores. The Glads top receiver is Quentin Sims, who was fourth in the AFL with 1,071 yards, hauling in 79 balls, 24 for touchdowns.

Prediction: With the close game these two teams played over the course of the season, and with the split in their final two, I really think this one goes down to the wire. Tampa has stumbled a bit down the stretch, but part of that was due to playing Philadelphia twice. Cleveland should stay in it thanks to Arvell Nelson, but I think the Storm just have a little bit more firepower on offense.

Storm 55, Gladiators 49

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