The Tampa Bay Storm enter the final week of the 2017 regular season with nothing left to play for.
The Storm have already solidified the No. 2 seed in the postseason and have no chance to move up or down. Their opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be Baltimore provided the Brigade defeat Washington on Friday. If instead the Valor prevail, the Storm will host Cleveland in the first round on August 14.
Philadelphia, the Storm’s opponent in Saturday’s regular season finale, can also view the matchup as little more than a playoff tune-up. The defending ArenaBowl champions are locked into the top seed for the postseason and will have home-field advantage throughout.
So, with not much of anything on the line, what can the Storm gain with a win this Saturday?
Well, there is one thing.
Beating Philly for the first time in a long time.
The Storm are on a five-game losing streak to the Soul that dates back to the 2014 season and includes a 22-point loss in a first-round playoff game last year.
Philadelphia remains the only team Tampa Bay has yet to beat this season. The Soul account for two of the Storm’s three losses in 2017.
“They beat us twice, so we’re definitely looking forward to trying to get that win against them,” Storm defensive back Al Phillips said on Tuesday, the team’s first day back on the field for practice following a bye week. “Going into the playoffs, that’ll be a good high to end the season on.”
Tampa Bay missed four extra points in a 56-52 loss to Philadelphia in the Storm’s home opener in Week 2. The Soul ended the Storm’s season-long six-game win streak courtesy of a 62-41 win in Tampa Bay’s prior visit to Philadelphia in Week 11.
The Storm wish to exact a measure of revenge against Philly before the playoffs begin and with the prospect of a potential ArenaBowl matchup against the Soul on the horizon.
“You know you’re going to have to play your best when you play Philadelphia,” Storm head coach Ron James said. “They’re well coached. They’ve got a great team. They won the championship last year and all those things that go along with it. And playing in their own building, it’s going to be a tough matchup for us. It always is. It’s great to have that at the end of the year when you need to be playing your best football. We’ve got a playoff game upcoming, but we’re not looking past this opportunity to play our best.”
The Storm have been playing their best in recent weeks and hope their momentum wasn’t interrupted by the fourth and final bye week of the season. Saturday’s game against Philadelphia will be a chance for the Storm to recapture the sharpness they showed in a Week 15 69-56 win in Baltimore – seven of quarterback Randy Hippeard’s 13 completions went for touchdowns and the Storm offense wasn’t stopped all evening – and a 57-27 demolition of Cleveland in the regular season home finale in Week 16, the 30-point margin of victory the largest for the Storm this season.
They’ll also use the game as an opportunity to experiment, putting guys in different spots to see how they perform and unveiling a few wrinkles to give potential playoff opponents something new on film to worry about. With that said, James mentioned play calling will be “a little more vanilla than what we’ve had in the past couple weeks” and some starters probably won’t play the whole game to keep the team healthy for the postseason run.
“It’s pretty simple, we’re going to play fast and loose and do some things, put players in different positions, move some guys around a little bit as much as you can with a limited roster,” James said. “Going in with the mindset that we’re going up to win and keep this thing rolling. We’ve had two good weeks in a row. Coming off the bye week, we’re fresh and ready to attack the rest of the season.”
Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to knock off Philly and shatter the air of invincibility the Soul has earned this season?
“We haven’t gotten a win against them yet and (we’re) motivated to get that win regardless of the situation right now,” Storm wide receiver LaMark Brown said. “A lot of people will say it’s a meaningless game because we’re all clinched, but at the end of the day, there are no meaningless games in this sport. So, just go out and prepare the best you can and try to go out and get a win.”