Alliance of American Football power rankings: Johnny Manziel’s presence inspires epic win

Jim Reineking  USA TODAY

Here’s how the eight teams in the Alliance of American Football rank through seven weeks of play.

1. Orlando Apollos (last week: 1; record: 6-1)

How did Steve Spurrier’s Apollos respond after experiencing its first loss? By thrashing the Atlanta Legends and becoming the first team in The Alliance to clinch a playoff berth (the top two finishers in each conference reach the postseason). The Apollos boast the league’s highest-scoring team, and that offensive firepower was on display at Georgia State Stadium. Orlando reached the end zone on four of its first five possessions, building an insurmountable 28-6 lead against the overmatched Legends.

2. San Antonio Commanders (last week: 2; 5-2)

The Commanders keep on rolling. San Antonio’s 19-15 win over the Salt Lake Stallions represented the team’s fourth consecutive win. This hot streak will get a test in Week 8, when the Commanders host the Arizona Hotshots — another team on a late-season surge — at the Alamodome in a Sunday night prime-time showcase on NFL Network.

3. Arizona Hotshots (last week: 4; 4-3)

A week after dealing the Apollos their first defeat, the Hotshots kept the good times going with a 32-15 win over the San Diego Fleet that vaulted Arizona into second place in the Western Conference, just a game behind the Commanders and in position to make a run at the playoffs.

4. Birmingham Iron (last week: 3; 4-3)

The Iron walked into an energetic Liberty Bowl, where the local fanbase’s spirits were lifted by the Memphis Express’ addition of Johnny Manziel. The result was rough. Birmingham blew a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime. On the bright side, Trent Richardson — whose trade to the Indianapolis Colts provided the Cleveland Browns with the draft pick it used to get Manziel — scored his 11th touchdown, by far the most in the AAF. On the downside, Richardson is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.

5. San Diego Fleet (last week: 5; 3-4)

In what was essentially a tussle for second place in the Western Conference, it was the Hotshots who prevailed. With three games left to play, the Fleet are a game behind the Hotshots — and two behind the conference-leading Commanders — in the quest for one of the two playoff spots out West.

6. Memphis Express (last week: 8; 2-5)

Where were you when the Express beat the Iron in the first overtime game in AAF history? A lot went down in what might be the greatest game of the AAF’s inaugural season. Manziel — the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner — made his AAF debut just days after joining the team. However, it was Brandon Silvers — making his first AAF start — who led the Express back from a 25-14 deficit with less than five minutes remaining in regulation to force overtime and eventually get a possible season-changing victory. The Express still have a shot at making the playoffs.

7. Salt Lake Stallions (last week: 7; 2-5) 

While not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Stallions’ narrow defeat at the hands of the Commanders might have put the postseason out of reach. Not being able to win close games will be Salt Lake’s doom. Three of the Stallions’ defeats have come by four points or less.

8. Atlanta Legends (last week: 7; 2-5)

For most of the season, it seemed as if the Express would bunker into the No. 8 spot of these power rankings. Then, they had to go ahead and put forth an inspiring overtime win over the Birmingham Iron. Now, the Legends are the team assuming this unenviable place. When the Legends lose, they get dump trucked. In their five defeats, the Legends have lost by a combined score of 165-42. Not ideal.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

Graphics: Igor Lazarevic