Week 12 Preview: Jacksonville Sharks vs. Carolina Cobras
Sharks Look for Another Win As NAL Playoffs Loom
JACKSONVILLE, FL - After back-to-back victories over their in-state rivals the Sharks roster and record look new and improved as Coach Burley eyes the highly anticipated NAL playoffs. Jacksonville (6-5) find themselves with a winning record for the first time this season and it couldn’t have come at a better time as the Albany Empire (6-5) could be one loss away from losing their home playoff advantage meaning a major win this Saturday for Jacksonville could launch the Sharks to second place in the NAL standings delivering Jacksonville a home playoff game if they hold ranking for the remaining two weeks. Fellow top-four team the Columbus Lions (4-5) have helped the Sharks odds as the Lions have sunk with two-straight losses making the 2nd playoff spot a two-team fight this week.
One problem, the team the Sharks will face to get there this week is currently the league-leading Carolina Cobras (8-3) who have already clinched a spot in the NAL playoffs even if they lose this week in Jacksonville. What seems like an uphill battle may not be the case this week as Jacksonville is 5-1 at home with their only loss coming from an overtime game against the Albany Empire for the home opener. It is no doubt that the Sharks thrive in "The Shark Tank" with the best fans in arena football on their side. The Cobras despite their winning record have lost three games this season and two of them came from road losses as Carolina fell to San Antonio 61-60 and had their worst loss of the season in Columbus with a 55-28 defeat.
Jacksonville has been without one key weapon, star receiver Devin Wilson the last few weeks, and hope Saturday may lead to his return as this game may play a big role in the Sharks playoff race. Before injury Wilson had a team-high 16 receiving touchdowns and was thriving with new quarterback Arvell Nelson who has the Sharks at 5-1 since joining the team with his first victory coming from the road against Carolina. Nelson currently leads in the NAL in average passing yards per game (225) and has already thrown 28 touchdown passes and eight rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Sharks will be without DL/FB/LB Chei Hill for this week. Hill has been a huge impact player for Jacksonville serving as the team’s sack leader with six so far this season. However, he has left room for other defensive players to step into the spotlight as defensive lineman Kwan Stallworth has had big games in the Shark Tank currently recording 12 tackles and four sacks this season. Behind the defensive line is where tackle leader Markus Smith has had a All-NAL level season with over 17 pass breakups (1st-NAL), four interceptions (2nd-NAL), and 49 tackles (2nd-NAL). Regardless of the team’s lineup, Jacksonville will face a very familiar quarterback in Malik Henry who got his first win as a Cobras last week but spent training camp and the majority of training camp with Jacksonville before an injury sidelined him before the arrival of Arvell Nelson.
A bright spot last week and fans will hope for the remainder of the season was the return of former Jacksonville Shark & All-NAL Kicker Nick Belcher who in his first 2022 appearance with the team knocked down two deuces to help with the Shark's 37-34 victory over the Predators. If Belcher continues to put points on the board for the Sharks, Jacksonville may have seen the end of their kicking search which saw over four different kickers starting for the team. The key for the Sharks to win this week & unlock that home-field playoff advantage will be an Albany loss, a big defensive performance to force Carolina's Malik Henry to make turnovers instead of touchdowns, Arvell Nelson to score in the air and on the ground as he’s done all season, a couple of deuces for the homecoming of kicker Nick Belcher, a rough night for All-NAL Carolina kicker TC Stevens, and most importantly limited injuries as a healthy team will be needed for all remaining regular-season games even an injury-prone win this week could derail the Sharks next week and their return to face the Cobras again Saturday, April 23. Tickets for the game are on sale now, visit jaxsharks.com as the first 1,000 kids in attendance will receive FREE Jedi lightsabers. Call: 904-621-0700 to reserve your seats or visit the arena box office on game day.