Yes, there are only five teams to contest the season (which, as the schedule was released, will be a unique grind thanks to 14 games and four bye weeks, but that’s an article for another day).
But, with the recent signings that the Tampa Bay Storm have made over the past few weeks, the Storm could be favorites to at the very least contend for the ArenaBowl title.
Starting under center, the quarterback competition will be one of the fiercest in the league thanks to the signings of Randy Hippeard and Pete Thomas. Two quarterbacks with playoff experience, Hippeard was in the conversation for league MVP thanks to 65 touchdown passes in only 12 games before a season-ending injury in 2016, and at a career 63.9% completion rate and 116.3 passer rating, the time away from Tampa bay has helped him hone his game.
As far as Thomas, although he was a backup for the Los Angeles KISS, when pressed into starting duty late in the season, he also showed capability with his arm (42 touchdowns, eight interceptions), but also showed some scrambling ability and extended several plays despite finishing for -6 yards on the ground.
No matter who’s throwing the ball, despite the loss of Kendrick Ings, another prodigal son returns to the Storm in Joe Hills. Even with the likes of Erik Meyer heading up north to play for the Washington Valor, Hippeard and Hills could be the biggest QB/WR threat in 2017, especially with a little streak looking to be preserved…
Not to completely ignore the defensive side of the ball, the Storm shored up their front five thanks to adding Dexter Jackson at MLB and two 300+ pound linemen from American Samoa who both recently spent time in the Canadian Football League, OJ Mau and Ino Vitale, creating both size and youth along the defensive line that will make their secondary’s job all the easier.
Also, like the Arizona Rattlers last season, this year Tampa Bay has a near perfect schedule working for them. The four bye weeks are timed so the two-thirds of the season will create a good rhythm (three games, bye, three games, bye, three games, bye), and the longest road trip is only two games (Weeks 5 and 6, then again Weeks 14 & 15), compared to a three-game home stand from late May through mid-June. In an even bigger favor, only one game will not be on a Saturday night with a 7 p.m. ET kickoff (Week 5’s game at the Baltimore Brigade is Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET).
Going into training camp on March 17, the Storm should be favored in a majority of their games. Will this be like the infamous Jacksonville Sharks team predicted to run the table? No. Thankfully. However, a 9-5 or 10-4 season isn’t out of the question, and hosting ArenaBowl XXX is also a good possibility. While the other four teams will have something to say about that, 2017 will be another year where talk will be surrounding the Sunshine State.