The first round of the AFL playoffs is here, and the Chicago Rush (13-5) will have the homefield advantage Friday when they look to beat the Dallas Vigilantes (11-7) for the third time this season.
The Rush defeated the Vigilantes earlier in the season 69-57 in Rosemont and again two weeks ago in Dallas with a 53-44 win that secured the Central Division title. Dallas sits right behind the Rush as the second-ranked team in the division.
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However, beating the same team three times in one year can be a challenge.
"They're going to know where our weakness on defense are. They're fired up," said Rush coach Bob McMillen. "They thought that they probably should have won that game (against us)."
On the other hand, the Rush has the same advantage of knowing what to expect from the other team when they get on the field.
"We need to protect better. They have a great pass rush," McMillen said. "We just have to be more consistent on offense and try to get better. We have to figure out their tendencies and hopefully exploit them and take advantage of them."
Though the Rush defense leads the league in takeaways (56) and interceptions (42), turnovers and penalties have been a problem -- especially the offense -- throughout the season and are the reason behind most of the losses.
Those problems returned last week in a home loss to the Milwaukee Mustangs, evidence that there is still a need for improvement to engineer a successful run in the playoffs.
Though the Milwaukee game had no direct impact on the season, the team is hopeful it will provide a boost heading into Friday's game.
"I think this will give us a little chip on our shoulder," said quarterback Dominic Randolph. "We'll turn it up as much as we have to for (the playoffs)."
A win Friday would move the Rush to the semifinal round to face the winner of the Arizona Rattlers/Spokane Shock game. A loss means the end of the season.
"Just like us, Dallas doesn't want to go home," said receiver Reggie Gray.
"They want to go to the next round. They have kids they need to feed, and they know if they win they get another check next week. So we have to go out there and try to dominate."