We have ourselves some playoff football! After sixteen weeks of the regular season, we have our quarter-finalists, who will be battling it out for North and South supremacy, Division One title glory and the opportunity to compete in the Premier in 2018.
As is now tradition in DC Towers, we abandon conference correspondent predictions at the knockout stages, inviting all correspondents to pick their winners. To ensure we have no tied predictions, we’ve enlisted Gareth, Frankie and DC newbie Ben to offer their predictions too.
Before we proceed, a quick recap of the Division One playoff structure;
QF1 | #1 NFC1 North vs #2 NFC1 South
QF2 | #1 NFC1 South vs #2 NFC1 North
QF3 | #1 SFC1 Central vs #2 SFC1 East
QF4 | #1 SFC2 East vs #2 SFC1 Central
SF 1 | Winner QF1 vs Winner QF2 (highest rank hosts)
SF 2 | Winner QF3 vs Winner QF4 (highest rank hosts)
Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2
Manchester Titans vs Sandwell Steelers
The immovable object travels to the unstoppable force as the top seed from the NFC1 North, the Manchester Titans, play host to the Sandwell Steelers who finished in second place in the NFC1 South.
Averaging 42.11 points per game (ranked #1 across the whole of Division One), the Titans have been putting on a show offensively. After an impressive 7-0 start, Manchester were shocked by Yorkshire (although probably not that much of a shock in the eyes of Rams’ players and coaches). Unperturbed, the Titans regrouped and launched an offensive assault – led by QB Sam Bloomfield – that saw 92 points put up in the final two outings.
Defensively, they’re equally dominant, conceding just 11.66 points per game which ranks as #3 across Division One. However, the Titans haven’t shut out an opponent since the season opening win over Doncaster Mustangs.
After a mid-season bump that saw the side lose to Leicester twice and away to Nottingham, the Steelers had it all to do just to make the post-season, but a final day 21-0 win over the Caesars booked their place at the expense of their opponents. Riding a four game win streak, the Steelers’ defense has been on fire, conceding just 15 points throughout those games and have conceded on average 15.8 points per game (ranked #7).
It’ll be interesting to see what OC David Butler cooks up for the Titans, as knocks to RB James Jones-Cross and WR Josh Lawrence ruled them both out early against Nottingham. However, Leigh French stepped up and kept drives alive with some hard running last weekend, and will be expected to do so again this week.
The closest of the four quarter-finals, with the Titans edging ahead as favourites 9 votes to 6 in favour of Sandwell. Interestingly, despite backing them for all but one of their regular season games, NFC1 South correspondent Rob bets against his conference. Betrayal.
Leicester Falcons vs Yorkshire Rams
The most dominant team in Division One? The Falcons have been on fire since the 5-point shootout defeat to Sandwell in early May. Since that loss, they’ve gone on an eight game win streak that included two wins over the Steelers, one of which saw the Falcons dump 42-0 unanswered points on the visitors.
Under the stewardship of QB Troy Lee Jackson, the Falcons are the #2 ranked offense across the division, putting up an average of 35.3 points per game. Mid-season transfer Denzell Hermitt seemingly called time on his season earlier this week, despite the Falcons being heavily favoured for a second consecutive division title. Defensively, the acquisition of Jets QB Dom Olney – to play DB – was a tremendous coup. A hattrick of shutout wins mid-season helped elevate the Falcons defense to the #2 ranked across the division, conceding just 8 points per game.
The Rams – despite the opening day loss to Newcastle – proved they were a class above the rest in the conference, finishing on 7-3 with a couple of losses to the conference champions. There were potential questions marks hanging over Yorkshire’s post-season chances following the defeat to Manchester with the clash against the Vikings becoming a winner takes all on the final day of the season.
Following the 52-0 hammering of the Trojans a week early, though, the Rams were full of confidence and notched up their second highest points for of the season, hammering the hosts 44-14.
We have a clean sweep! All 15 members of #TeamDC see the Falcons continuing their run of dominance in to the Division One semi-finals – including Nathan betting against his conference.
Sussex Thunder vs Kent Exiles
The only team with a perfect regular season record across the division play host to the team with the worst record entering the post-season.
Although sometimes unconvincingly, the Thunder marched their way to 10 wins in Division One under the tutelage of HC Ian Ellis. Three games – including two against the relegated South Wales Warriors – were decided by a single score, whilst offensively, the Thunder never surpassed 35 points, hitting the mark against Oxford and Solent.
However, they have been consistent. The number #1 ranked defense (6.4 points against on average) clocked up three shutouts and restricted opponents to a single score in three more games, whilst the offense powered by the run game has seen the remarkable development of rookie Chris Evans, who has bagged touchdowns galore in his first campaign for the team.
In the most competitive conference in the country, the Exiles limped in to the post-season barely over .500. At 5-4-1, they edged out the 5-5 London Hornets, and could even afford defeat to the Cats in the regular season finale..
Thought Sussex’s margins of victory were close? The Exiles’ games against the Hornets were both decided by four or fewer points, with the teams splitting the series. The Exiles averaged just 18.6 points per game, whilst conceding 15.3 again highlighting the tightness of the games on their schedule.
One thing is for certain, this should be tight.
Ooh, so close to another sweep. Either Will knows something we don’t, or he just wants to be different. He definitely didn’t tell us that he “knows nothing about the South”. Promise. Sussex get the majority vote to progress to the semi-finals.
London Olympians vs Solent Thrashers
Forget Sandwell’s recovery in the NFC1 South, the Olympians performed the mother of all comebacks when their season looked to have hit the skids a few games in. After defeating the Gladiators in the season opener, the O’s went on to drop to 1-2-1 including a 32-0 hammering at the hands of Cambridgeshire.
Five straight wins for Head Coach Neil Edwards’ side powered the team to the conference title before the regular season finale defeat to Kent. Powered by an offense led by QB Aaron Griffiths with power back Adrian John providing yards on the ground and in the receiving game, the O’s came to life mid-season, though they never surpassed 34 points in a single game.
The defense will be tested in the quarter-finals against a free scoring Solent Thrashers, but led by standout DL Jonathan Vince and Micah Richards, with Tendayi Dabengwa and Ashton Campbell performing at a high level in the secondary, the Olympians will be confident they can clip the Thrashers wings.
Solent travel to London on the back of four wins in the final five games, and having put up 40+ points in each of their final two games. Head Coach Steve Rains – in his first season in charge of the Thrashers – will be delighted with the way in which Solent have grown since starting the season 0-2.
A 23-0 defeat to Sussex to open the season was perhaps not unexpected, with hindsight at least, but the defeat to Ouse Valley in game two must surely have sent alarm bells ringing for a team that was always targeting the post-season.
Games against the Warriors aside, the Thrashers have failed to keep opponents to under two scores in games this season. Heading in to the weekend, Coach Rains must have his side focused on shoring up the defense.
The SFC1 East champions, London Olympians are the clear favourites going in to the quarter-final clash against Solent Thrashers. At least, that’s the way #TeamDC see things. 11 votes to 4 in favour of the Olympians, despite their slow end to the regular season.