May 20, 2013 by Glenn Poole in Analysis with 1 comments
Six weeks into the season and just five for the AUDL Eastern Division, 18 games have been played and the division’s playoff picture is already starting to come into focus.
Aside from the curiously late matchup between the Philadelphia Phoenix and New York Empire, we would by now have seen every team face every other, had the Hammerheads’ visit to Philly not been cancelled due to inclement weather. As it stands they will meet for the first time officially on Saturday, the Hammerheads hosting and hoping to snap a five game losing streak. They were able to best the Phoenix in a preseason matchup at home, but the Phoenix have been on fire and haven’t lost since week one, a one point loss to the undefeated Toronto Rush.
At 3-1, the Phoenix are in control of their own fate, with at least two games against each opponent remaining. They have a strong chance of securing one of the three playoff bids. Particularly in their favor is the fact that their last game of the season will echo their first, a home game against Toronto on the tail end of a two-game road trip. The first time that happened, Philadelphia led for most of the game and only lost by one. The Phoenix also have a bye the previous weekend, so they should be well rested and prepared to host the division leader. On paper at least, Philadelphia looks like a lock for the playoffs.
New York is the next team in line for a playoff berth. Currently 3-3, the Empire have only two games left against teams that have beaten them. Both of those will be played on a week 13 road trip, but you can bet the Empire won’t underestimate the Dragons like they did in week five. Taking out that one-point loss and the two others against Toronto, they have crushed all comers by an average of 10 points. The only test left is Philadelphia, who they will play once in Philly and twice at home. Without some season-ending injury to, say, Husayn Carnegie, this team looks like it will collect at least ten wins on its way to the postseason.
Toronto is the only team to have legitimately locked up a playoff spot, however. With just three road games left (Rochester week 12, then DC and Philly in week 14), they could lose all three and still sit pretty with the division’s best record by far. Not that the Rush are in much danger of dropping road games–they’ve swept the table so far with most of their matches in the United States. They’ve also seen the toughest stretch of their schedule already: only three games left against their two toughest competitors, and only one of those on the road.
By toughest competitors we’re talking about the Phoenix and Empire, which is quite possibly a disservice to the Rochester Dragons. Despite their slow start, they’ve since put together two wins and a good game against Toronto, clawing back to within one in the fourth quarter before falling 21-28 on Saturday. At 2-5 this team has also seen the toughest part of their season already, and showed real resolve in their one-point double-overtime loss to DC at the end of two tough weekends. Considering how well the Dragons have defended their lair, we’re looking at a sleeper pick to go the distance. If they can return from the road with wins next weekend against DC and Philly, they’ll be in a great position to finish .500 or better.
Rounding out the teams with an outside shot at the postseason, we come to the DC Breeze. Bouncing back from an atrocious game against New York with respectable work against Philadelphia, they have steadily improved and have wins against Rochester and New Jersey. The team still struggles with mental toughness, exposed in Saturday’s one-point loss at home after leading Philadelphia for most of the game.Tthe Breeze will face each team in the division twice more before the curtain falls. With only four home games left they’ll have to find some serious spark to save their season, but finishing .500 is not yet out of the question.
Finally we come to the New Jersey Hammerheads. Ranked respectably in the AUDL East for the talent on their roster and a preseason win against Philly, the Hammerheads looked great out of the gate with a 16-point drubbing of the Dragons at home. Unfortunately, the road is not kind in the AUDL and they have since dropped five straight. The team has been streaky, perhaps a symptom of their college-heavy roster, but should have the pieces to pick up a few wins in the second half of the season. With more than a few Metro East standouts and an athletic supporting cast, the team is better than their record. A playoff berth might not be in the cards, but they could definitely make waves with three games each against New York and Philly.
Interestingly, each of the three teams leading the playoff race will also have a bye weekend to rest up: the Rush and Empire in week 7, then the Phoenix in week 13. None of the other teams will have that luxury. Rochester does have a bye weekend, but it comes at the end of the regular season and won’t help them make the playoffs. It’s still a little too early to call the race, though. There’s more parity in the East than originally suspected, and only Toronto can realistically rest on its laurels–but of course we know they won’t. Depending on how the Philly vs. New York series plays out, or if New Jersey can take a bite out of their nearest neighbors, we might be in for a very exciting season.
Disclaimer: The author is a co-captain of the DC Breeze–and is partial to friends and former teammates on the Philly Phoenix, NJ Hammerheads, and New York Empire.