The Big 2024 West Division Schedule Preview

February 21, 2024
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Colorado Summit

2023 regular season record: 8-4, Finished 2nd in West Division | 2024 schedule

The 2022 division champs took a bit of an unexpected fall last season and were eliminated at home by LA 22-21 in the first round of the playoffs. The talent was visible but the rotations were constantly in flux, making Colorado’s fortunes downright unfavorable in close games as the Summit went 0-4 in matchups decided by a goal last season. The road ahead is no easier for the Summit as they stare down the third toughest schedule in the league in 2024, with almost every divisional opponent improving over the past two seasons. Colorado considers itself to be among the league’s truly elite, and the gauntlet they face will show if they are worthy. 

One Big Like: Defensive tactics

Only two Summit defenders—Noah Coolman and rookie Tyler Nguyen—played in all 13 games last season, and yet Colorado still rated as a top five overall defense and held opponents to the third worst offensive efficiency rate in the league in 2023. The Summit have the personnel in any given matchup to generate pressure in single coverage, and were fifth in the UFA in blocks per game because of their ability to win in one-on-one scenarios with their size and speed. 

But Colorado’s real edge against opposing offenses is in their ability to present multiple looks. Take the opening point of their game against New York from last regular season. The Summit opened the drive with zone coverage on New York’s handlers, and stunted the Empire’s designed play to begin the game. New York still found success on a big gainer in transition, but Colorado’s ability to quickly switch from zone into single coverage prevented a fastbreak score, and the Summit’s excellent matchup communication and recovery led to a Cody Spicer interception on the goal line; Colorado would punch in the break score following a full field drive from their D-line. 

The Summit excelled in both short range and open field coverage—opponents were last and third worst in huck completion and red zone conversion rates, respectively—and took away a lot of easy scores from their rivals. Even in their losses, Colorado made themselves a hard out. 

One Big Question: Was the Summit’s finish to 2023 a fluke or foreshadowing?

The Summit looked ready to roll through the West once again before four one-goal divisional losses knocked them down a peg or two. And with news this week of 2022 DPOTY and Colorado defensive captain Cody Spicer’s retirement—and Jonathan Nethercutt not starting in the team’s playoff loss—there’s some large unknowns about how to replace two of the league’s brightest stars in big roles. And yet even with legendary departures and a schedule that would be debilitating for most teams, the Summit figure to be right in the thick of the battle for the number one seed in the division. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 31 vs Atlanta

A “Super Series” showdown featuring two of the best defenses facing off against offensive attacks that love the longball. It’s the first of four interdivisional games for the Summit this season; Colorado has never played a team from the South Division. Atlanta led the UFA in team huck completion percentage, and the Summit had the stingiest deep defense last season. 

One Big Stat: The Summit were 7-0 at home in 2022 in their first season in the West, but finished just 4-3 last year.

One Big 2023 Play: Conor Tabor has some of the purest throws, and this hammer throw on a rope against New York shows why. 

Los Angeles Aviators

2023 regular season record: 7-5, Finished 3rd in West Division | 2024 schedule

After a season of big signings, close margins, and even closer finishes, the Aviators are saddled with the expectations of pushing for a divisional title in an increasingly crowded West. Pawel Janas, Sean McDougall, and the rest of LA’s O-line are set to return after a promising first campaign together. But in a division packed with developing talent in hotbeds like Colorado, Salt Lake, Seattle, and Oakland, can LA’s own internal evolution keep pace?

One Big Like: Year Four Brandon Van Deusen

Lost in the highlight-packed debut seasons of Janas and 2023 Rookie Of The Year Lukas Ambrose—not to mention the return of franchise cornerstone McDougall—Van Deusen made a mini leap from a stat stuffing prospect to a focal point in the Aviators offense. The 24-year-old Van Deusen is entering his fourth pro season in 2024, and added a dimension last year as a playmaking receiver that complements his full field range as a high volume thrower; Van Deusen more than doubled his previous career high with 19 goals in 2023, giving LA yet another elite weapon in the red zone alongside McDougall and Janas. 

Most notably, Van Deusen had some of his biggest games in the most important matchups. In their must-win regular season finale against Oakland, Van Deusen completed all 59 of his throws, passing for seven assists and 580 yards. In his first two playoff starts, he threw a combined 111 completions and 1010 passing yards compared to just four throwaways. Opponents routinely focused their attention on limiting Janas and McDougall, giving Van Deusen ample opportunities to grow his own game. 

One Big Question: Are the Aviators legit?

A thrilling Week 13 home win at the buzzer, followed by their playoff upset of the Summit in Colorado power washed away most of the concerns of an otherwise up-and-down season for the Aviators. This is, after all, a team that entered the final weekend of the regular season needing help to make the playoffs, and coming off back-to-back losses where the offense converted on just 24-of-53 (45 percent) of their total O-line possessions. LA was within three goals of a Championship Weekend appearance, and also seconds away from missing the postseason entirely. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 4 vs Salt Lake

A rematch of last season’s divisional championship game, the Aviators will host Salt Lake in their 2024 home opener. LA struggled mightily to contain the Salt Lake offense in all three of their meetings last year, and allowed the Shred to convert on over 74 percent of their total offensive possessions. The Aviators have yet to beat the Shred in the past two seasons. 

One Big Stat: The Aviators defense held opponents to the seventh lowest offensive efficiency in the league last season; three of those higher ranked teams won their divisional titles. 

One Big 2023 Play: Trailing by one in the first quarter of their playoff game in Colorado, Lukas Ambrose sparks an LA run with a Greatest before the score

Oakland Spiders

2023 regular season record: 7-5, Finished 4th in West Division | 2024 schedule

The Spiders had the highest turnover rate of any team with a winning record in 2023, which tells you exactly how they missed the postseason for the fifth straight time as a franchise. There’s an undeniable likability with this young team and how they play seemingly every point with their heart on their sleeves. But for as sudden and surprising as their rise was, Oakland still showed they have some growing pains to endure before they become true challengers to the top of the division.

One Big Like: Trust in young players

There is no time like the present for Oakland and their burgeoning roster. Whereas most teams might develop rookies over time in supporting roles, the Spiders put them in primary positions and won a handful of games on the kind of bravado only the young can pull off. Walker Frankenberg led the team in scoring and finished second in ROTY voting, fellow rookies Dexter Clyburn and Raekwon Adkins showed glimpses of true star potential, while second-year defenders Wyatt Berreman, Robin Vickers Batzdorf, and Matthew Burke played the most D-line points. Keenan Laurence is one of the most experienced players on the roster heading into his fifth season with the Spiders, and he isn’t even 25. 

Because of all this investment into accelerated lineup development, it feels like Oakland is only scratching the surface. The Spiders were 5-1 at home last season and want to make their venue imposing for a long time to come. Remember: They were two last-second losses in Week 13 away from hosting a playoff game in 2023. 

One Big Question: Did the Spiders learn from last season’s mistakes?

Despite an abundance of throwing talent, the Spiders definitely had a turnover problem last season that caused a lot of self inflicted wounds. The perplexing part of it was: Oakland played arguably their two cleanest performances of 2023 in the two games they could not afford to lose, and did anyhow; the Spiders committed just 28 total turns in their Week 13 defeats to Los Angeles and San Diego. Execution and closing out games are always elusive responsibilities for younger teams, and Oakland’s continued evolution hinges on those tactical improvements. 

One Big Home Matchup: April 27 vs Los Angeles

One of the hottest rivalries in the league right now, Oakland and LA concluded their 2023 season series with back-to-back, one-goal games with each team notching a win thanks to late-game heroics. The Aviators got the last laugh and the final playoff spot, so this season’s home opener means the world for the Spiders. Oakland’s defense was particularly impressive at converting break scores against LA, cashing in on 15-of-19 (79 percent) of their chances in the two games.  

One Big Stat: Arguably no team acclimated to (and maybe even preferred!) in-game chaos quite like the Spiders last season, who went 4-2 in games where they committed 20 or more turnovers.

One Big 2023 Play: Dexter Clyburn boosting it to Keenan Laurence for the game-winning goal in the final seconds of regulation against Colorado. 

Portland Nitro

2023 regular season record: 1-11, Finished 7th in West Division | 2024 schedule

A Week 12 home win over the Growlers helped Portland stave off a winless season in 2023. The Nitro were one of just three teams to average over 25 turnovers per game last season, and finished with the second worst offensive success rate in the UFA. Portland starts their season with two home games, but must go on to face the second toughest path in the West Division. 

One Big Like: Takeaway potential

There’s no avoiding the Nitro’s defensive struggles, but the team did finish ninth in blocks per game (9.8), and finished the season with double digit takeaways in six of their final seven games. Only one Portland defender—rookie Genichi Nakano—played in all 12 games last season, so even slightly more consistency with their rotations and coverage lineups could lead to quick improvement.

One Big Question: How can the Nitro avoid the cellar in the division?

The Nitro were bottom two in offensive and defensive success rate last season, and had three double-digit losses in their last four outings. Each of their last two seasons began with tight finishes against the top teams in the division, showcasing some promise, before the eventual downfall in the back half of the schedule. Portland plays just one playoff opponent in their first five games of 2024, giving some hope to a hot start and an early W. 

One Big Home Matchup: April 28 vs San Diego

Last year’s home game against the Growlers was the Nitro’s best defensive performance in two seasons. Portland’s D-line converted on 7-of-11 (64 percent) of their break chances, and held their opponent to a Nitro franchise-low 15 goals. A win would make the Nitro 1-0 for the second time in three seasons. 

One Big Stat: The Nitro have allowed more 30 goal games (4) in the past two seasons than they have wins (3).

One Big 2023 Play: Nate Knutson speeding and hitting the deck for a big layout goal on the road. 

Salt Lake Shred

2023 regular season record: 11-1, Finished 1st in West Division | 2024 schedule

The Shred went from West Division challengers to almost league champions in their first two seasons as a franchise, setting up a big 2024 campaign. Salt Lake is balanced on offense and aggressive on defense, with Head Coach Bryce Merrill able to plug seemingly every player on the roster into their appropriate role on either line. As a result, they’re the first team in league history to lead the league in scoring back-to-back seasons, and will once again be a primary contender to New York’s throne.

One Big Like: Offensive depth

Since becoming a member of the Shred, Jordan Kerr has turned into an all-time great scorer. But as much as Salt Lake owes their offensive successes to their clear-cut star, the complete improvement of their O-line has been one of the more impressive developments over the past 18 months. What once was a limited attack that relied heavily on Kerr, deep throws, and explosives in 2022 has become one of the more possession-based and disciplined offenses in the UFA. Salt Lake led the league in offensive efficiency in 2023, and they figure to be near the top again this year.

Last season’s Most Improved Player selection Jace Duennebeil got the accolades for his rapid improvement into a 50-goal scorer, but every member of the starting offense took their game to another level. Adding Grant Lindsley and Elijah Jaime gave the Shred two perfectly fitting new pieces for their system, and the rest of the core adapted their play for the greater whole. Jacob Miller, Sean Connole, Luke Yorgason, and McKay Yorgason all averaged over 28 completions per game, and as a unit combined for fewer than four throwaways per contest. Contributions can come from anywhere in the starting lineup, which leaves defenses scrambling for solutions.  

One Big Question: Can the Shred stay atop the West?

With their two interdivisional games this season against New York and DC—arguably the two most talented teams—Salt Lake cannot afford to lose many (if any) games against divisional opponents if they want to secure another number one seed and an all important first round bye in the playoffs. The Shred were perfect against the West Division field in 2023, and haven’t lost against a non-Colorado divisional opponent in their two years of existence. 

One Big Home Matchup: April 27 vs DC

The first matchup in the “Super Series” calendar may be the most tantalizing game in the slate. A Week 1 battle of top-three offenses, both teams were eliminated by the Empire last season, and both look to be championship contenders again in 2024. The normally pristine Shred O-line struggled against interdivisional competition at Championship Weekend, and scored on just 21-of-51 (41 percent) of their total offensive possessions against Minnesota and New York. 

One Big Stat: Jordan Kerr has 151 assists in his first two seasons with the Shred, the third highest two-season assist total in league history, trailing only 2017-18 Pawel Janas and 2017-18 Mark Burton.

One Big 2023 Play: It has to be Joel Clutton making the most clutch play in Championship Weekend history. 

San Diego Growlers

2023 regular season record: 3-9, Finished 6th in West Division | 2024 schedule

The Growlers were 2-2 and leading the rival Aviators 18-17 heading into the fourth quarter of their June 3 battle last season. But a 5-3 final stand by LA gave them the road win, while San Diego stumbled to a 1-7 record in their final eight games. And with just two losing seasons in eight years of existence, San Diego is determined to keep pace with a rapidly improving West Division.

One Big Like: Year Two Max Gibson

The 6’5” UC-San Diego product and All Rookie Second Team selection was a handful in single coverage in his first pro season, averaging 5.4 scores and over 500 yards of offense per game in 10 starts for the Growlers. Gibson could command drives in open space with his size and timing, and averaged a ridiculous 22 yards per touch, giving San Diego a much needed playmaker alongside Paul Lally and Travis Dunn.  

And like many rookies, Gibson had issues with throwaways, notching eight starts with multiple turnovers. But with zero drops on the season, if the decision making improves even slightly in 2024, Gibson could quickly become a true problem in the division. 

One Big Question: How will the Growlers affect the West Division playoff picture?

Following their early June loss at home, the Growlers quickly fell out of the playoff race, but still made a profound impact on the final spots with their Week 13 last second win over Oakland. Even with that vindicating victory, San Diego was just 2-6 in games decided by four goals or fewer in 2023. This year the Growlers close out their schedule with six games against LA (twice), Oakland (three times), and Colorado (once), so they will very likely play a big part once again. 

One Big Home Matchup: June 15 vs Los Angeles

This SoCal rivalry series features a classic game or two every single season, and 2024 figures to be no different for two squads who know each other almost too well. San Diego swept the season series in 2022, and LA repaid the favor last year. The first of two matchups this season is smack dab in the middle of the calendar, making it a pivot point similar to their Week 6 meeting in 2023. 

One Big Stat: The Growlers defense was one of just seven teams last season to average under five break scores per game. 

One Big 2023 Play: Travis Dunn hitting Steven Milardovich for the game winner in the season finale.

Seattle Cascades

2023 regular season record: 4-8, Finished 5th in West Division | 2024 schedule

The Cascades had games with both double-digit wins and losses last year, typifying a team built on soaring highs and confounding lows. There’s zero question about the offense’s star power and highlight potential. But with five straight losing seasons—and no wins against a team with a winning record in either of the last two years—Seattle still has a lot to prove in a deep division. 

One Big Like: Scoring explosions

Seattle had five performances with 23 or more goals in 2023, which is more games than top scoring teams like DC and Carolina. Garrett Martin, Khalif El-Salaam, Zeppelin Raunig, Jack Brown, and Marc Munoz are all capable of catching fire and filling up the box score, and throwers Tony Goss and Kenny Lane III are developing nicely around them. They have the tools to bombard opponents from deep—Seattle had four games with 10 or more huck completions—but they’re at their best letting Martin and El-Salaam take over in two-man scenarios in tight quarters.

The Cascades have just three games against top 10 defenses this season, so there will be a lot of opportunities for them to exploit one-on-one matchups and turn contests into shootouts.

One Big Question: Has Seattle arrived?

With the offense solidifying for the first time in several seasons, and rumors of some big-time defensive signings, the Cascades may finally re-enter the playoff race in 2024. Seattle has the second easiest schedule of any of the seven teams in the West, which makes a huge difference in a division that perennially has the third and final playoff seed determined in the last two weeks of the regular season. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 11 vs Oakland

The Cascades face the Spiders in two of their first four games of the season, which could determine the playoff path for both teams heading into the summer. In their last meeting Seattle got just six blocks and the visiting Oakland offense had a success rate of 68 percent in a 24-20 Spiders win. Seattle was just 2-4 at home in 2023.

One Big Stat: The Cascades currently have the second longest active playoff drought in the league at eight years, exceeded only by Detroit’s 13-year campaign. 

One Big 2023 Play: El-Salaam going every other throw to ensure the Seattle score.