The Storm are off this week, probably needing the extra time to gear up for a tough stretch of back-to-back West Coast trips (though separated by 10 days) as the regular season winds down.
But Monday night's Arena schedule features a game that may have as much to do with the Storm's playoff outlook as any game Tampa Bay plays. Orlando, Southern Division leader by a half-game on the Storm, is visiting Philadelphia -- which currently happens to be Tampa Bay's chief competition for the final playoff spot in the American Conference.
Orlando is 8-6, Tampa Bay 8-7, Philadelphia 7-8. The Storm lose the tiebreaker vs. Orlando, therefore must surpass the Preds to win the South. Tampa Bay has the tiebreaker on Philly for the second Wild Card, so finishing with the same record is fine. By the way both Cleveland and Pittsburgh have clinched spots, with two more up for grabs. Jacksonville (5-9) is technically still in it but in reality the Storm, Preds and Soul are battling for the two spots.
And so the obvious question: Who should Storm fans root for Monday?
The answer: depends.
If Storm fans are certain the team can take two of the final three games, between trips to San Jose and Spokane and the home/regular season finale against 14-1 Cleveland, then it's easy. Pull for Philadelphia, shoot for the Division title and home playoff game.
But.... if that schedule looks a bit daunting (probably because it is).... pull for Orlando, which would practically eliminate the division title, but push Philadelphia down and out, virtually guaranteeing a Storm playoff spot.
At first brush I leaned towards the latter. But let's go over the first one first. If Orlando were to lose to Philly, taking the division is still in play but, the Storm would still have to win more games than Orlando the rest of the way. Problem is Storm have no easy wins, while Orlando has one for-sure win (New Orleans) and another quite-likely win (Iowa).
The Philly win against Orlando would mean that there's a good chance that after next weekend, both the Soul and Storm are 8-8 with two games remaining. (Keep in mind San Jose just destroyed Arizona when the Rattlers were 14-0). Yes, the Soul would have to win more games in the last two and have two toughees themselves, against San Jose and at Pittsburgh. But something tells me Philly could pull off 2-0.
So that's why the first scenario is a bit shaky. Let's look at the second.
Orlando wins, meaning the Preds' magic number to clinch the division is only two, in other words the Storm can only shoot for the No. 4 (bottom) seed. But Philly losing to Orlando would reduce the Storm's magic number to a mere one. And with Philly having two tough games, just as assuredly the Storm would make the playoffs.
So it depends on your perspective. But here's the one other thing, the reason I would pull for Philadelphia.
The Arena Bowl, after trying out neutral sites the last two seasons, is going back to home field. Did you know that the team with the best record might not get home field advantage? The team with the better conference SEED gets to host the final.
Say, I don't know, the South Division champ with a 10-8 record makes the Arena Bowl and takes on a Spokane team that went 11-7 (including in that scenario two wins over the Storm). Because Spokane would be the No. 3 seed in the National Conference, it would have to come to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the title.
There are positives either way, but ultimately I say go Orlando.
Which means Philly probably crushes Orlando. Look for it.