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1. Toronto Rush
Toronto currently stands at 9-0, and nobody is going to challenge it for the top spot in the East. The toughest remaining games on its schedule are June 30 at Rochester and July 14 at Philadelphia. They also have a home game against New York on July 7, but the Rush have been so strong in Toronto I can’t fathom them losing at home. Their point differential on the road is +8.6, good but not as good as their point differential at home, +10.8. Their closest game at home was their 16-9 win over the Empire, but that game was low scoring due to the weather, not the Empire’s defense. Depending on how the Rush approach the rest of the season they could end up losing a game or two. Playing in Philadelphia after having played in DC the day before won’t be easy, last time they did that the Rush only won 26-25. And their game in Rochester on Sunday after playing them Saturday in Toronto screams trap game like nothing else. But it doesn’t matter. The Rush will finish first in the conference. They will play in the Conference Finals in Chicago as the heavy favorite. It doesn’t matter if they finish 16-0 or 14-2.
2. Windy City Wildfire
At 9-1 the Wildfire are poised to earn a bye to the Conference Finals. They have a couple tough remaining games before they get there. They have a road trip to Detroit and Cincinnati June 22-23. Road trip teams in the AUDL are 3-16 on the second day against fresh opponents, but the Wildfire are 1-0 under those circumstances, with their win coming in Madison. And given that Cincinnati and Detroit are the worst teams in the conference, the Wildfire should be able to take care of business. On June 29 they host Madison again, and they’ll want to avenge their loss on April 20 in Chicago to the Radicals. The biggest question facing the Wildfire is when Brodie Smith will return. Say what you want about Smith, but even when he’s not at full health he plays a huge role for the Wildfire on offense. He’s thrown 68 assists and only 32 turnovers. That’s a better ratio with anyone else with 15 or more assists. Make no mistake, this Wildfire team is much deeper than the AlleyCats squad Smith and Jonathan Helton played on last year. But if Chicago wants to beat teams like Madison and Toronto, Smith would be a huge asset. We’ll see if he’s able to get to full strength in time for the playoffs.
3. Madison Radicals
The Radicals have dominated the Minnesota Wind Chill more thoroughly than I expected at the beginning of the season. The Radicals haven’t won those by big margins, hurting their average point differential. But they’ve won each time, ensuring they’ll have home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They’ve got road trips two of the next three weekends, so the tough part of the schedule is about to start. And they’ve yet to play Indianapolis this year, their most likely first round opponent. They should probably watch some game tape of the AlleyCats, since Madison is unlikely to overtake Windy City in the standings. One thing Indianapolis is likely to struggle with is the size on Madison, players like Dave Wiseman, Tyler Glenn, and Pat Shriwise will be tough for Indianapolis to stop. Their game this weekend could tell us a lot. If the Radicals are able to beat the ‘Cats on Sunday in Indianapolis after playing the day before in Chicago, it’s doubtful a first round matchup between the two would hold much drama.
4. New York Empire
The Empire are currently second in the conference, with a very tough stretch coming up. Three of their next four weekends they have two games scheduled. That means games in New Jersey and DC, which New York would normally be expected to win fairly easily, become much more losable since they’re on the second end of a back to back.
They’ll have to play better than they did in the second half of their game against the Phoenix on Sunday. New York’s offense was sluggish, and had many multi turnover points. Player/Coach Aaron Bell had eight turnovers. Husayn Carnegie has been clutch for the Empire this season, but too often late in the game it seemed like other players were waiting for him to take over and do something amazing. Sometimes he did, like his huge hammer to Bell in the fourth quarter to stop a Phoenix run. But sometimes he didn’t, like his turnover on the final point of the game, which gave Philadelphia a chance to tie. Getting Jack Marsh back will help, along with Izzy Bryant and Bell fully recovering from their injuries. I’m still betting that New York makes it to the Conference Finals in Chicago, but they’re going to have to work hard to clinch that playoff berth first.
5. Philadelphia Phoenix
More than any other team in the league the Philadelphia relies on a few players. First, there’s Matt Esser. Somehow Esser has gone under the radar most of this season, but he’s one of only two players in the AUDL with at least 30 assists and 30 goals.
He’s a physical player that gets time on both the O and D-Line for the Phoenix, so he has 24 D’s as well. On the O-Line, David Brandolph is their quarterback. Brandolph, who played for the Spinners last year, has 44 assists, he and Esser are the only players on the Phoenix with at least 15. It’s not uncommon to watch Philadlephia play and see Brandolph move the disc down the field by getting every other throw. They’re the only Phoenix players with at least 200 points played. Brandolph has 210, and Esser has 272. At 6-4, they just need a few more wins to clinch a playoff berth. If they can split their two games with New York and win their two remaining games against New Jersey that gets them to nine. They could also beat the Breeze in DC or Toronto at home to get them to the playoffs. There are a lot of different paths for the Phoenix to get to the playoffs, so I don’t see them missing out.
6. Indianapolis AlleyCats
The AlleyCats are 5-4, and with Minnesota two and a half games behind them you might think it’s time to pencil in Indianapolis for the playoffs. Not so fast my friend. Of the remaining seven games on the AlleyCats schedule, six are against the Radicals and Wind Chill. They’re very unlikely to beat Madison or Minnesota on their two road trips left on their schedule, though they have a game left at home against the Mechanix they should definitely win. That means their season could come down to two games. The first is this Sunday against the Radicals in Indianapolis. The Radicals will be on the second game of a back to back, a big advantage for the ‘Cats. The other game is when the Wind Chill come to town on July 6. The Wind Chill have a game the night before in Chicago. If the AlleyCats can win both of those games, they’re absolutely going to the playoffs. If they can win one they’re a maybe, if they can’t win either they’re likely done. They could render that scenario moot by winning just one of their road trip games, but with how Madison and Minnesota have performed at home I don’t see it happening. One factor that should help the AlleyCats from here on out is that they recently signed Ben Parris. Parris has yet to play this season, but last year in the AUDL he had 38 goals and 47 assists. If he’s able to adjust into the ‘Cats O-Line it could become even more dangerous.
7. Minnesota Wind Chill
Though Minnesota isn’t done yet, a win against the Radicals last Friday would have made its job much easier. Eight wins would definitely get the Wind Chill to the playoffs, but now that means they’d have to win one out of two games in Chicago. The Wildfire aren’t invincible, the Wind Chill lost to them 15-18 at home, but the Wind Chill haven’t played as well on the road. The 4th of July weekend road trip will be big for them. They’ll face a very tough decision. Friday night they play the Wildfire, and Saturday they play the AlleyCats. The AlleyCats game is a must win for Minnesota. It might behoove the Wind Chill to rest their top players in Chicago on Friday, a la Greg Popovich and the Spurs. The Indianapolis game is more important, and they probably wouldn’t beat the Wildfire anyhow. Of course there is a chance if things don’t go well that the Wind Chill will need to win out by that point, and won’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not to rest their starters.
8. Rochester Dragons
The Dragons are 5-6, and not totally out of the playoff race. But, unlike the Wind Chill they have some factors going against them. First, there’s little reason to believe the Dragons are as good as the Phoenix or Empire. They did beat the Empire in Rochester 21-20, but the Empire were missing most of their top players. They won at home against the Phoenix too, but that was the second game of a back to back for Philadelphia, and still the Dragons only won 14-12. Yes, they have performed much better since their 0-4 start, when they had a -9.5 average point differential. Since then they’re 5-2, but their point differential isn’t great for a 5-2 team, only +.8 over that span. Secondly, the schedule doesn’t work in the Dragons favor. They have three games remaining against the Rush, with two in Toronto. The best they can hope for is a 1-2 record for their three remaining games against the Rush. They should be able to take care of the Breeze no problem, and if they want a chance of making the playoffs they’ll have to beat the Empire again as well. Unless the Empire suffer a meltdown (more likely to meltdown than the Phoenix due to the way the schedule’s drawn up)The Dragons probably need to finish 9-7 to make the playoffs, and I just don’t think that’s possible for them at this point.
9. Detroit Mechanix
The Mechanix were essentially eliminated from the playoff discussion after their loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. They gave a good fight, especially considering it was their second game of the weekend, losing 23-27. The good thing for Detroit is that they’re done with long road trips, which didn’t treat them kindly this season. The Mechanix could still throw a wrench in the playoff picture. If they beat the AlleyCats in Indianapolis on June 29, it will level the playing field between Indianapolis and Minnesota. It could effectively make the July 13 game between those teams the game to go to the playoffs.
10. Cincinnati Revolution
The Revolution were also effectively eliminated by the dreaded Minnesota-Madison road trip. The Revolution started the season 3-3, but don’t look now, they could end it on a ten game losing streak. The next two weeks they have home games against the Radicals and Wildfire. The Wildfire have a game the day before, so there’s some upset potential in that game. They play in Minnesota on June 29, against a team that will most likely be fighting for its playoff life. And the last time the Revolution played the Wind Chill they lost 9-26. Then Cincinnati ends the season on a two game road trip against Madison on Saturday, and Detroit on Sunday. They’ll probably end up winning one of their remaining five games, but they’re the underdog in each one.
11. DC Breeze
The Breeze have overcome a lackluster start, playing some solid Ultimate. But they haven’t been able to convert that into wins. They’re 0-3 against the Phoenix, losing by an average of just 3.3 points. They’ll get one more shot against the Phoenix this season, and could potentially steal a win against New York in DC. They could also potentially win against the Phoenix in DC, or on the road against the Hammerheads. But since six wins is their high water mark (and that’s optimistic) the Breeze aren’t in the playoff conversation.
12. New Jersey Hammerheads
I’ve only been able to watch one Hammerheads game, so it’s hard for me to figure out what has happened to New Jersey. They’ve got some talented players, but their high point turned out to be early in the season. They beat the Phoenix in a preseason game, and stomped the Dragons 29-13 in week two. Since then, things haven’t gone so well. Albert Alarcon is a great creator on offense and hasn’t had a bad season, with 11 goals, 16 assists, and only 14 turnovers. The problem for the Hammerheads is that assist to turnover ratio is abnormal for the team. Several of their handlers have 2-3 times as many turnovers as assists. Even Marquez Brownlee, their points leader with 12 assists and 18 goals, has 31 turnovers.