Before we get to the rankings, here are some important ranking rules.
1) Point differential matters: it makes a difference whether you beat a team 30-13 or 22-21. With only one game a day and maximum two a weekend there’s less reason for teams to rest their starters than in tournament format, so point differential is even more important in the pro leagues than in club season.
2) Home/Away splits matter: last year in the Midwestern Conference of the AUDL teams were evenly matched, and whoever the home team was usually came away with the victory. So winning a game on the road matters more than a home victory.
3) Context matters: if a team wins a game on the road after having played on the road the day before, that victory is more impressive than it would be otherwise. If a team is missing a lot of its players in a game, that matters since it means they’ll play better in the future. That doesn’t mean if a team loses a game on a back to back or is missing players it doesn’t count, but it is a factor in the rankings
4) The playoffs matter, especially when getting the one seed: with three teams making the playoffs in each conference, the one seed will be getting a valuable bye in the first round, and will have a much easier path to the finals. The difference between finishing first and second is much more important than the difference between finishing second and third.
5) And while wins and losses matter, just because a team has a better record than another doesn’t necessarily make them a better team. For team rankings based purely on their records, see here.
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1. Toronto Rush
Of the four teams to play back to back road games in the AUDL this past week, the Rush were the only team to escape unscathed. While they didn’t play any of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, their win against the Breeze was convincing, more than doubling DC’s point total. And though they struggled with Philadelphia Phoenix, particularly in the first half, they held on to win 26-25. Next week the Rush play the Empire then the Hammerheads on the road, which should be more challenging than their first week. If the Rush escape the weekend with just a split though, they should be happy with the end result. If they go 2-0 I’m not sure when they’ll lose their first game. They won’t play another back to back road trip again until July 13-14, and their only road games between now and then are against the Rochester Dragons, one of the weakest teams in the league.
2. Madison Radicals
The Radicals may have only gone 1-1 this weekend, but they had the most impressive victory any team has posted so far this season with their 22-21 victory over the Wildfire in Chicago. They weren’t able to close out Detroit the next day, eventually losing in double overtime. It’s important to remember that the Radicals were missing a large contingent of their team due to the college season. But that probably won’t change in the next few weeks either, with College Regionals and Nationals scheduled in the coming month. The next three weeks will be big for Madison in determining where they really stand in the Midwestern Conference. In week three they travel to Minnesota to take on the Wind Chill, then host them the next week. Then in week five they have a rematch with the Wildfire in Madison. If they can go 2-1 in that stretch, they’ll be in good position to take first in the Midwestern Conference. If they go 3-0 they’ll be the top team in the AUDL.
3. Windy City Wildfire
The Wildfire can’t be happy with their performance Saturday night. They lost their home opener to the team that is challenging them for supremacy in the Midwestern Conference. Brodie Smith is unhappy too, but the Wildfire will have to get used to seeing zone after Madison used it to slow their offense so effectively. Everyone saw the huge numbers Brodie and AJ Nelson put up from week one, so I doubt there’s a team in the AUDL that’s planning to shut down the Wildfire with a man defense. But it’s not like the Wildfire don’t have the personnel to shred zone defenses, especially given the wider AUDL field. Not only do they have Brodie, but Ron Kubalanza and Brett Kolinek are strong handlers that can break a zone multiple ways. I’m sure the Wildfire are already thinking about their rematch with Madison on May 12, but they can’t look past their opponents between now and then. This week the Wildfire travel to Indianapolis Saturday then host the Revolution Sunday. The next week the AlleyCats come to Chicago. Those are all games where the Wildfire will be favored by at least five points, so they should go 3-0 during that stretch. Week five is where it will get really difficult. Before that Sunday game in Madison they have a Saturday game in Minnesota. If the Wildfire want to reassert themselves as top dogs, an undefeated week five would certainly do it.
4. Minnesota Wind Chill
The Radicals may have been missing their college contingent plus some this past weekend, but the Wind Chill players not on the active list was even more significant. Of the three players on the Wind Chill roster from the 2012 edition of Sub Zero (Grant Lindsley, Josh Klane, Mike Petersen) none made the road trip this past weekend. Of course Minnesota still had elite talent on the squad, mostly from Drag’n Thrust and Chad Larson Experience players, and it showed with their 34-25 win in Indianapolis. It’s the most points any team has scored in a single game yet this season, which is especially impressive when you consider the temperature in Indianapolis was in the 30s and 40s. Then they lost at literally the last second (whether or not there was even a second left was in dispute) in Cincinnati. The Wind Chill are ranked ahead of New York because their nine point win over Indianapolis is better than the Empire’s nine point win over Rochester. They host the Radicals this Friday before playing in Madison on May 3. A split wouldn’t be a bad outcome for the Wind Chill, and is the most likely outcome as well. What will be interesting is to see whether they can beat the Mechanix in Detroit on May 4 after playing the previous day, a feat the Radicals were not able to pull off.
5. New York Empire
The Empire started with season with a strong 23-14 victory over the Dragons at home. Though the game was sloppy, the Empire picked up their play in the second half and finished strong. Izzy Bryant and Husayn Carnegie were especially effective. Next Saturday the Empire play the Rush at home. If they’re unable to beat the Rush in New York, it’s time for the Empire to start focusing on holding second in the conference instead of moving up to first.
6. Indianapolis AlleyCats
The AlleyCats are a strong team, they beat the Mechanix in Detroit by six and if they were in the Eastern Conference we’d be talking about them like a favorite to make the playoffs. Instead they’re in the Midwest, and the math is much tougher. Only three teams will make the playoffs in each conference, which means Indianapolis has to finish ahead of one of Madison, Chicago, or Minnesota. And they just lost to Minnesota. At home. By nine. Not a small loss. This against a team that had never played an AUDL game before. Over their next six games the AlleyCats play the Wildfire and the Revolution three times each, with one home game against the Revolution and two against the Wildfire. If they go at least 3-3 in those games they’ll still be alive in the playoff hunt. If not I don’t see a plausible path to the playoffs for them.
7. New Jersey Hammerheads
The Hammerheads played the Dragons during an afternoon game in New Jersey after the 11th ranked team played the night before in Rochester. The conditions don’t get much more favorable than that. Unsurprisingly the Hammerheads rolled, winning 29-13. The Hammerheads do have some elite Ultimate talent on their roster, Jibran Miser played for Southpaw last season and Albert Alarcon played for PoNY. When you add some former college All-Region players, it’s not a bad roster.
It’s hard not to look forward to week six and their home game against New York Empire. That game should tell us a lot about what team will take second in the Eastern Conference. But the Hammerheads have a difficult road before they get there. This coming weekend they host the Rush, then they have two weekends in a row with two game road trips. The first weekend they travel to play the Rush and Dragons, and the second they play Philadelphia and DC. If they can go 3-2 over their next five games they’ll be in great shape for their game against New York in week six.
8. Detroit Mechanix
The Mechanix had a big win against the Radicals, barely stopping themselves from opening the season 0-2 with two home losses. And unlike most teams Detroit doesn’t have to play two away games in the same weekend until week six, when they travel to Madison and Minnesota.
With Ken Porter and Ben Ayres added to the equation the Mechanix are hoping they’re better than the team that lost by six at home to Indianapolis. This Saturday they play the Revolution in Cincinnati. If they can beat a conference rival on the road, we may see the Mechanix hang around the playoff conversation. Their upset potential against the Wind Chill the next weekend will be pretty high, given that Minnesota will be travelling a long ways to Detroit, and will have just come off a tough game against Madison.
9. Philadelphia Phoenix
The Phoenix are the biggest question mark in the AUDL right now. They’ve only played one game, and it was a 25-26 loss to the #1 ranked team in the league. But, it was a home game, and the Rush had played on the road in DC the day before. It’s hard to tell whether that game was a reflection of the Phoenix, or the fact that the Rush were playing on the road on the second day of a back to back game road trip. And the next two weeks may not reveal much more. In week two they host the Dragons, and in week four they host the Breeze. They will probably go into their week five matchup against the Hammerheads 3-1. If they win, we’ll know they’re for real. If they don’t, I wouldn’t count on seeing the Phoenix in the playoffs.
10. Cincinnati Revolution
A win is a win, and the Revolution are glad to defend their home field against Minnesota this past weekend. And an interesting schedule quirk presents an opportunity for them these next few weeks. Three of their four next games are against the Mechanix, with two at home. After that they’ll have three straight games against the AlleyCats, again with two at home. If they can win both of these mini-series 2-1, they’ll have established themselves as the best of the three returning AUDL teams in the conference. If they don’t manage to finish above .500 during that stretch, things could get ugly afterward. Five of their final seven games are on the road, with six against Madison, Chicago, and Minnesota. If they don’t enter that stretch with some confidence and more wins than losses, those final seven games will be brutal for them.
11. Rochester Dragons
The Dragons started the season 0-2, with losses to the Empire and Hammerheads on the road. But unlike the 12th ranked team, they didn’t lose by 17 at home. Unfortunately for the Dragons they have another back to back game weekend coming up in week two. They play the Phoenix and then the Breeze on the road. While I’m sure they’d rather play the 12th ranked team at home, they won’t get that opportunity until June 23.
12. DC Breeze
I almost always hate it when people say that early regular season games are “must wins.” The term “must win” is thrown around far too often in the regular season, especially in sports like Baseball, Hockey, and Basketball, that have such long seasons. But the AUDL season isn’t quite as long. And on Sunday the Breeze are playing a must win game. If the Breeze can’t beat the Dragons in DC, with the Dragons having played the day before in Philadelphia, I’m not sure when they can win. Even with a win the Breeze are going to have to show more before we start talking about them as possibly contending for the playoffs, but it’d be a step in the right direction.