PLAYOFF PREVIEW: COBRAS VS. EMPIRE
GREENSBORO - Starting the season 1-5 at the bottom of the standings your Carolina Cobras (3-5) have become the “NAL Comeback Story of the Year” winning two-straight road games on the verge of elimination Coach Res rallied this team into playoff contenders which was proven last Saturday in Orlando against the #3 Predators. Carolina shocked the league entering week 10 as the least likely to make the postseason before defeating the Predators 51-43 to advance to the NAL playoffs for the third straight time in the team’s three-season history. This week your Cobras must hit the road again to keep the season alive as they face the #1 Albany Empire (7-1) in upstate New York.
Peaking past the Empire’s record it’s the Carolina Cobras that have a slight advantage as the Empire have not played the Cobras since week 3, going past week 10 the Cobras have many a significant number of roster moves improving lineup, on-field chemistry and new found energy on all three phases of the game. The Empire on the other hand have made very few changes to the their roster since week 3 with the exception of a few new lineman and a new starting full back. The Empire will enter this game facing a completely different Carolina Cobras team compared to the one they faced on June 12. One of the Cobras major moves to this playoff bound roster was the addition of star quarterback Aaron Aiken who had his best game in Silver & Black last week in Orlando throwing for 217 passing yards and five touchdowns. His presence has reduce the number of turnovers that plague the team in the early half of the season and most importantly having Aiken in shotgun has put points on the board for Carolina.
Carolina will have to face a formidable Albany Empire who will host this playoff game with a 4-0 record in the Albany Times Union Center this year. Last week the Jacksonville Sharks were a deuce away from overtime and potentially ruining that streak as the Empire squeaked by with a 58-56 victory, eliminating the Jacksonville Sharks from the postseason for the first time in NAL history.
With both teams proving to be solid up front on defense these last few weeks the margin of victory may come down to performance on offense at two positions with big names on both sides for these teams. The Quarterback battle between Aaron Aiken and Tommy Grady as well as the receiver battle between Kendrick Ings and Darius Prince.
Aaron Aiken enters his third game as the starting quarterback for the Cobras with a 2-1 record under his belt with both of those wins coming from the road. Each week he seems to have a season worth of improvement with the top performance coming from the five touchdown showcase against the Predators who have one of the best defensive backs in the NAL in Josh Jenkins. Despite the talent on defense the performance at the quarterback position for the Cobras has put much needed points on the board but a lot of credit is due to top NAL receiver Kendrick Ings. Ings has played in all eight games for the Cobras leading the team in touchdowns, receiving yards, and receptions. Ings is currently second in the NAL in receiving touchdowns (19), behind his opponent this week Albany’s Darius Prince. The edge in this game Ings provides is special teams play that has outperformed Prince this year who also serves as a kick returner. Ings currently is on a kick return touchdown streak gaining a return for a touchdown two weeks in a row. If Ings continues to have this impact on offense and special teams he could be the difference maker in this game.
Arena Bowl Champion Tommy Grady entered the season as favorite to be the top quarterback in the NAL, though he only leads the NAL in only one category this year, due to the Lions Espinosa explosive career year Grady has still proven to be an elite threat, ranking second in almost every passing category with 156 passes for 1821 yards and an impressive 44 touchdowns with only seven interceptions under his name in 2021. Grady currently leads in the NAL in completion percentage completing 70% of his passes this season. Unfortunately for the Cobras Grady plays best from home, rated at 72% completions during home games and throwing more than half of his touchdowns in front of the home crowd. We will not be able on rely on a “bad game” from Grady this week but there is a chance we can outperform him as the Sharks did last week with new quarterback Jonathan Bane that overthrew Grady with 22 completions for 287 yards, and four touchdowns compared to Grady’s 14 passes for 158 and two touchdown performance. Jacksonville came three points away from upsetting the Empire.
Albany is also one of the least sacked teams in the NAL this season, the defense has more opportunity to attack his top target receiver Darius Prince who is a league leader in almost every receiving category credited for 26 touchdown receptions this season. Although Prince has proven to be less effective on special teams than Ings, Prince could be a game deciding factor if he has a breakout game. Together Grady & Prince have taken home three of the eight NAL Offensive Player of the Week awards.
This David versus Goliath playoff game will take place tomorrow night at the Albany Times Union Center in Albany, NY with kickoff set for 7pm. If you’re not making the trip to Albany then you’re welcomed to come to join the Cobras watch party at Blue Rock Pizza in Greensboro, NC. If you can’t make the game or watch the party enjoy the game at home by watching our live stream on the National Arena League’s YouTube Channel or NAL website at nationalarenaleague.com.
ABOUT THE CAROLINA COBRAS
The Carolina Cobras are members of the National Arena League (NAL). Founded in 2017, the Carolina Cobras are in their inaugural season in 2018 at the Greensboro Coliseum. Cobra Season Ticket Memberships are on sale now call (336) 445-7232 or visit carcobras.com. Follow the Cobras on Facebook at facebook.com/carcobras, twitter.com/carcobras and instagram.com/carcobras.