Breaking down what could happen in the last weekend of the regular season.
July 8, 2016 by Nathan Jesson in Analysis with 2 comments
The AUDL playoff picture is anything but clear. Going into the last weekend of the regular season, there are still three teams in contention for two playoff spots in the Midwest, and three teams in the South are all vying for the third and final playoff spot in that division. In the West, there’s still a chance that the Los Angeles Aviators, seen as an underdog to even qualify for the playoffs in the first place, may get home field advantage against Seattle in the first round.
Many different playoff scenarios could still shake out. With that in mind, here’s a primer on the last weekend of action and how the final standings could shake out.
In the South, the Dallas Roughnecks are 13-0 and have clinched the first place playoff spot, and, along with it, a first round bye in the playoffs. The Raleigh Flyers are 9-3, and have clinched second place. That means they’ll host whoever finishes third in the Division. Which team that will be is not so simple.
Right now the Atlanta Hustle, Jacksonville Cannons, and Austin Sol are all still alive in their bid for the third playoff spot. Austin and Atlanta are both 6-7, while Jacksonville stands at 5-7. Each has a plausible path to the playoffs, but only one team completely controls its own destiny at this point: the Hustle.
If Atlanta beats Jacksonville this weekend, the Hustle will advance to the playoffs. It’s that simple. None of the other games in the South will have an impact on the playoff picture if that happens. But if Jacksonville beats Atlanta on Sunday, then things get interesting.
For Jacksonville to qualify, their most direct route to the playoffs is winning in both Nashville on Saturday and Atlanta on Sunday. The Cannons are 2-0 against the Hustle this year, with both wins coming by five goal margins. So despite the fact that the Cannons will be on the road in Atlanta, they may not necessarily be the underdog. Since Jacksonville is 0-2 against the Sol this year, Austin has the tiebreaker over Jacksonville if the two teams both finish 7-7. So the Cannons are counting on Raleigh to win in Austin on Sunday. In that event, the Cannons would snag that final spot if they win both their games this weekend.
The most direct route for Austin is clear too. If Jacksonville beats Atlanta and Austin wins against Raleigh, the Sol will be the second expansion team to qualify from Texas this year.
Now, if Nashville beats Jacksonville, and the Cannons go on to win in Atlanta, then things could get confusing. In that event, if Austin doesn’t beat Raleigh, all of Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Austin would end up with a 6-8 record. Then the third playoff spot would be determined be a three-way tiebreaker.
The long and short of it is that a three-way tiebreaker all but guarantees that Austin, with a 3-1 record against Atlanta and Jacksonville and a far better point differential in those games than either of the other teams, would essentially be guaranteed that final playoff spot if all teams finish 6-8.
The playoff picture in the South is exceedingly simple compared to that of the Midwest. Currently the Madison Radicals are 13-0, having clinched first place in the division and home field throughout the playoffs. The final two playoff spots in the division are still up for grabs, though. Pittsburgh is 9-4, Minnesota is 8-4, and Indianapolis is 8-5. With only one weekend to go, each of those teams could finish out of the playoffs.
For the Thunderbirds, the path to finishing second is simple. If they beat the Wind Chill in Pittsburgh this Saturday, they’ll have locked up that second playoff spot. The easiest way for the Wind Chill to finish second is by winning both of their games this weekend. If they do that, they’ll finish 10-4 and in second place. If Minnesota beats Pittsburgh, but loses to Detroit (an admittedly unlikely scenario), the Wind Chill would still most likely finish second. In that scenario, if Indianapolis lost to Madison. the Wind Chill would need to have won by four or more points to guarantee that second spot. If Indianapolis beat Madison, it would result in a three-way tie.
That perplexing possible outcome would mean each team finished 9-5. In this scenario, the Wind Chill would be 3-1 against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, while Pittsburgh and Indianapolis would both only be 2-3. Currently the AlleyCats have a point differential of +5 in those games. Minnesota currently has a point differential of -1 in those games. Given that Pittsburgh currently has a point differential of -4 in those games and the three way tie breaker requires a loss for them, and that Indianapolis is 2-1 against Pittsburgh, the Thunderbirds would not qualify for the playoffs if all teams finish 9-5, and Indianapolis and Minnesota would face off in the first round of the playoffs in the Midwest.
Despite the fact that Indianapolis is still alive in the playoff race the harsh reality is that the AlleyCats are traveling to Madison to play the Radicals this weekend and the AlleyCats have never beaten the Radicals in their entire history. For Indianapolis to make it back to the playoffs, they must win that game. Since the AlleyCats dropped both of their games to the Wind Chill earlier this year, even if both teams finish 8-6 the Wind Chill will be the team to advance to the postseason. If the AlleyCats do win in Madison, their playoff chances increase but still wouldn’t be set. If Indianapolis wins, but Pittsburgh beats Minnesota and Minnesota follows that up with a win in Detroit, the AlleyCats would be left on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Minnesota needs one win this weekend to sew up a playoff spot. Even if the Wind Chill dropped both games, the Radicals could still bail them out by beating the AlleyCats in Madison on Sunday.
It’s unlikely that it will happen with the Radicals playing at home, but if it does happen on Sunday, the pressure will be on for the Wind Chill to win in Detroit to lock up the third playoff spot. And while Detroit is only 4-9 on the season, the Mechanix nearly beat the Wind Chill in Minnesota earlier this year in a game that went to overtime. With the Elite-Select Challenge taking place this weekend as well, with many players on both Detroit and Minnesota on club teams playing at the tournament, there’s really no telling how that Minnesota-Detroit game will play out.
Despite all the different possible scenarios, the most likely outcomes are that Madison will beat Indianapolis and Pittsburgh will beat Minnesota. That would guarantee the second spot for the Thunderbirds and the third spot for the Wind Chill. The most likely scenario is still the one that looked locked in a month ago, that Pittsburgh will host Minnesota in the first round.
Unlike the South and the Midwest, the West has a much more settled playoff picture. San Francisco is 10-3 and has clinched the first playoff spot. Los Angeles and Seattle are both 8-5, and Vancouver stands eliminated at 6-7. Since Seattle is 2-1 against Los Angeles this year, if both Seattle and Los Angeles finish with the same record the Cascades will be awarded the higher seed. Both teams are at home this weekend, with Seattle hosting Vancouver and San Diego visiting Los Angeles.
While pride, momentum, and the final overall standing may be on the line for Los Angeles and Seattle this weekend, little else is. That’s because the two playoff games out West will be taking place on July 16 and 17 in Los Angeles, regardless of the final playoff order or who wins the first round playoff game. So no matter what happens this weekend, Seattle will be visiting Los Angeles on July 16 and the winner will play the FlameThrowers the next day at the same location.
The playoff picture in the East is totally set, and has been since New York beat Ottawa on the final weekend in June. The Empire finished 7-7, and will visit DC to play the Breeze, who finished 10-4. Toronto finished 12-2 and won the division, and will host the winner of the DC-NY game.
The winners of each division will face off during the final four weekend in Madison on August 6-7. If any of these teams with more pedestrian records pulls off the upsets to get there it could throw a serious wrench into the seeding. The final four playoff seeds are determined by regular season record, with overall point differential as the tiebreaker.
Currently Dallas and Madison are both 13-0, so should those teams reach the final four they will end up on opposite sides of the semifinals. What’s interesting is that if things play to seed, whoever finishes with the better record and point differential between those teams will most likely face San Francisco in the semifinals. It’s unlikely that Dallas or Madison are gaming out scenarios for championship weekend this far out, but that’s just one more in a series of possibilities to be watching for this weekend.