On November 11, the Jacksonville Sharks released their 2014 season schedule. With the suspension of the Chicago Rush and Utah Blaze, there were some questions as to how the league’s realignment would affect the team in the chase for their fifth straight division title.
While their division remains unchanged from last season, their divisional schedule did get a slight overhaul, as they will face the archrival Orlando Predators three times this season. The third game comes at the expense of the San Jose Sabercats, which will be the only team the Sharks will not see at all this season. Considering that the last meeting between these two teams was more known for a post-game locker room brawl instead of the action on the field, that’s something of a blessing in disguise.
Speaking of those pesky Predators, Jacksonville will open the season on the road against a divisional rival for the second year in a row. This time, Orlando will be the Week 1 destination, and they’ll make the trip again in Week 14. Orlando’s lone visit to Veterans Memorial Arena will be in Week 10.
Another quirk of the schedule is the balance. The Sharks do get two early byes (Weeks 2 and 12), but both of those byes are before a home game. In fact, instead of starting on the road for three straight weeks to open the season and having two three-game home stands, Jacksonville mostly alternates home and away games this season. They have one two-game road trip (against Orlando and New Orleans Weeks 14 and 15, respectively) and one two-game home stand (Portland and Arizona in Weeks 7 and 8, respectively).
Jacksonville has the advantage of not racking up frequent flyer miles this season, as they only have to make one trip out west (at Arizona in Week 4) while Spokane (Week 13), Los Angeles (Week 20), Portland, and Arizona, all have long flights to visit the Shark Tank.
Ideally, the Sharks would love to replicate the 6-0 start that propelled them to a division title last year. However, with teams like San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Arizona in the first six weeks of the season along with two early divisional matchups, Jacksonville fans may have to be content with treading water at 3-3. With everyone looking to rebuild and contend, the South division could again be the one of the toughest in the league. As the playoff format has yet to be announced, it will be hard to tell if the division can produce three playoff teams for the fifth consecutive year. If it does, then the road to ArenaBowl XXVII could go through Jacksonville.
Next time, it's on to predicting how the 2014 season will play out, and exactly how far the Sharks will go.
For more on the Jacksonville Sharks, including the latest news, updates, and transactions, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, log on to www.arenafootball.com and www.arenafan.com.