With one glimpse at the overall standings, it might be easy for the Tampa Bay Storm to overlook the last-place Washington Valor before next week’s anticipated rematch with unbeaten Philadelphia.
In its inaugural season as an Arena Football League franchise, Washington enters Saturday night’s tilt (CBS Sports Network; 1250-AM) at AMALIE Arena on a six-game losing skid, having not won since its opener against Baltimore two months ago. On the flip side, the Storm look to win their sixth straight and are in position to lock up a playoff spot with a victory.
But for first-year Storm head coach Ron James, none of that matters. Especially when taking into account the fact that both teams have already seen each other twice in the past three games with Tampa Bay narrowly escaping in both.
“It’s certainly more difficult,” James said following Thursday’s practice. “They’re a good football team, and sometimes at this point in a season, when a team struggles a little bit and you’ve played them a couple times, you’ve got to refocus your team.
“We haven’t had that issue all season, and I don’t expect to be the case this week either.”
The Storm hopes that holds true. While the Valor have not had much to show in the win column, their competitiveness has hardly been lacking. On May 27, they fell to the defending ArenaBowl champion Soul at home by one point. Even their last meeting with the Storm two weeks ago was dramatic as Tampa Bay needed a Joe Hills touchdown with 3.6 seconds remaining to pull out a win.
Though there is obvious familiarity between the teams -- and added significance with seven Washington players hailing from Tampa Bay’s 2016 squad along with former defensive coordinator Dean Cokinos, now at the helm of the Valor -- to veteran receiver and kick returner Mike Lindsey, it will be about executing the way they already have.
A little confidence doesn’t hurt either.
“We just still look at them as a 1-6 team. They’re eager to get that win,” Lindsey said. “But we’re not going to give it to them. We’re just ready to face these guys again for the third time and ready to come out with the victory.”
That is just what James likes to hear -- now more than ever.
“We know we’re in for a battle,” James said. “Because we’ve been able to beat them twice, that has no bearing on this game at all.
“I know they’re going to give us everything they’ve got, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re equal to the task.”