Duane Brooks vaults a kicker on his way to a return touchdown against the San Jose Sabercats.

Game Preview: Portland Thunder (3-7) vs. Arizona Rattlers (8-2)

The Arizona Rattlers come into the Rose City this Friday pushing to stay within striking distance of the undefeated San Jose SaberCats for the top seed in the conference.

The Thunder, meanwhile, will try to hold on to their playoff position. Their 3-7 record ties them with the Spokane Shock and Las Vegas Outlaws for third in the conference, and a superior conference record (and head-to-head win) gives them an advantage over the Shock. The Shock and Outlaws play each other this week, so they’ll lose at least one spot if they lose.

Duane Brooks leads the Thunder into battle against the Arizona Rattlers this Friday. The Rattlers are better in all four offensive and defensive categories than the Thunder. Can special teams make up the difference?

Portland is looking to rebound from a loss to the previously winless KISS. Special teams continues to be a strong point for the Thunder, with Duane Brooks returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and jumping into a tie for 10th in AFL history with six return touchdowns in a season. He still has eight games to go, putting Hunkie Cooper’s record of eight kick return touchdowns in 2002 in jeopardy.

The Rattlers have given up a return for a touchdown this season, and Brooks himself managed a 34-yard return against them in the first matchup, so he has a chance to move closer to history.

To be successful, however, the Thunder need to try to prevent Brooks from having so many opportunities to return kicks – the defense needs to make some stops. After last week’s game against the KISS, the Thunder defense is dangerously close to becoming last in the league in defensive stop rate.

The bad news on that front is that Arizona quarterback Nick Davila has returned to the lineup. The Rattlers got along pretty well without him, winning everywhere but San Jose, but his return elevates them back up to elite status as an offense. Last week, he posted 275 yards on 60 percent completions and threw nine touchdown passes without turning the ball over against what had been the league’s third-best defense (they’re now fourth).

The main question most fans have is whether or not Alex Carder will get any action at the quarterback position. After intriguing fans with some deep strikes against San Jose, many (including me) thought Carder would get the nod against the KISS last week. Does the fact that the team is likely to lose this week change the thinking process? Let the younger player start since the team is unlikely to win anyway, and let him try to shock the league?

Whether it’s Carder or Rowley under center, I have to take the Rattlers in this one. They’re just too strong a team – they’re three-time defending champions for a reason. Rattlers 71, Thunder 42.

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