2016 Women’s Football Playoff Preview
It’s playoff time! Well, it is in the WFA, at least…several smaller leagues are still gearing up for that. Nevertheless, a lot has happened over the last two weeks. We’re going to break down the WFA matchups now that they’re set, and we have some breaking news about the IWFL to report. That means it’s time for another playoff preview post!
If you’d like to the audio version instead, you can give my latest appearance on Gridiron Blitz a spin. My portion starts at the 13:00 mark in the show. But the breaking news in the IWFL happened just last night, so you can only get that here! Scroll down to the bolded breaking news section below for the details on that.
WFA1 East Playoff Preview
The WFA1 playoffs start Saturday with four conference quarterfinal games. It’s a simple 12-team bracket with four teams on bye and eight teams in action Saturday. Here are the Eastern Conference matchups:
Byes: D.C. Divas and Chicago Force
Conference Quarterfinal Games:
#6 Cleveland Fusion @ #3 Boston Renegades (Massey line: Boston by 35)
#5 Atlanta Phoenix @ #4 Pittsburgh Passion (Massey line: Pittsburgh by 20)
Both of the home teams are heavily favored in Saturday’s matchups, and I really believe that if these were the 2015 editions of the Fusion and Phoenix, I’d be much more likely to put these games as upset alerts. The Fusion have struggled with injuries of their own (not that they’re getting any sympathy from Boston on that score at this point), which leaves one to wonder if they can take advantage of the Renegades’ vulnerability given their struggles to reinvent themselves offensively.
As for the Atlanta Phoenix, I said this on the show, and I think it’s worth repeating: Atlanta has a lot of player talent on their roster. But if you want to seriously compete in the top tier of the WFA, you need to able to develop that talent, and that means having a full coaching staff.
I cannot stress enough the importance of position coaches in women’s football; they are unsung heroes in a sport that’s already unsung as it is. Position coaches are the ones who can give players the one-on-one development they need to improve their skills. At the highest level of women’s football, if you don’t have a staff of ten coaches, your players probably aren’t hitting their full potential. You can coast on talent for a while, but it all catches up with you eventually.
Of course, quantity isn’t everything…they have to be qualified, competent coaches too, naturally. But that’s a discussion for another day. Anyway, when I see a team like Atlanta that has a number of talented athletes but only three coaches listed on their website – a head coach/DC, an offensive coordinator, and a line coach – I know that’s not nearly enough to unlock the potential of the athletes they have. Which brings me to a larger point on women’s football…if we want to grow this sport by raising the level of play on the field, it’s not just about recruiting and retaining more talented female athletes…it’s also about developing the ones we have. That’s why position coaches – who are on the front lines working with the players on the technical aspects of their specific positions – are so critical. Here’s a tip of the cap to all those position coaches out there doing the dirty work.
But I digress. Both Boston and Pittsburgh are solid favorites, which brings up an interesting dynamic. As I mentioned on the show, the Pittsburgh Passion, despite being seeded #4, might be a stronger team at this moment than the Cahill-less Boston Renegades. That means the top-seeded D.C. Divas could potentially get a tougher conference semifinal draw than #2-seeded Chicago. It’s still well worth it for the Divas, as the benefit of hosting the conference title game (should they make it there) outweighs the possibility of a tougher road getting there, but it’s interesting to note.
Anyway, a Passion win would give me the WFA-IWFL champions bowl I’ve been clamoring for, while Chicago has to feel pretty good about the position they’re in at the moment, given their last meeting with Boston.
My player to watch this weekend in the WFA1 East is Boston wide receiver Adrienne Smith. After leading the WFA in receptions (52), receiving yards (737), and receiving touchdowns (12), I think finding creative ways to get the ball in her hands is going to be imperative to helping jumpstart the Cahill-less Renegades offense.
WFA1 West Playoff Preview
On to the Western Conference…here are the matchups:
Byes: Dallas Elite and Central Cal War Angels
Conference Quarterfinal Games:
#4 Pacific Warriors @ #3 Portland Fighting Shockwave (Massey line: Portland by 6)
#6 Arlington Impact @ #5 Kansas City Titans (Massey line: Kansas City by 22)
I think and hope Arlington will give Kansas City a good game, regardless of the spread, just for the sake of competitive football. The Titans have the edge, both because they were much more competitive in their meeting with Dallas this year than Arlington was and because the Impact have a pretty long road trip to Kansas City ahead of them. Should be a fun game, however, between two very respectable squads.
Either way, I think that Dallas clearly has the easiest path to the conference championship game, given that they have played and beaten both of their possible conference semifinal opponents by 40 points. But then, it makes sense for Dallas to have the easiest path, given that they’re the overall #1 team in the nation.
Over on the west coast, the Pacific-Portland game is clearly, IMO, the most compelling of the four WFA1 playoff games being played this week. The Massey line reflects that, with Portland being installed as only a six-point favorite. There was quite a battle between these two teams for home field advantage, with a neck-and-neck race to the wire in the Massey ratings before Portland came out on top.
Personally, I understood why Pacific was in the running. They have won every game they’ve played except their two matchups with Central Cal, who is the top seed on the West Coast and a team Portland didn’t play. Other than that, Pacific was as undefeated as Portland was. In the end, the Massey ratings favored the 8-0 team – and I think that’s the right call – but I also respected why Pacific was in the running. They’re not a bad team by any stretch.
Still, home field was fiercely contested, obviously, because it’s a long road trip and subsequently a big advantage for Portland. The Fighting Shockwave have had a tremendous year, and it’s nice to see their common-sense merger rewarded with an undefeated regular season. After years of their divided house falling at the hands of the Seattle Majestics, the Fighting Shockwave are back to make Seattle-Portland a truly fun Pacific Northwest rivalry again.
This should be a fantastic game. Part of me would love to see Portland win, because I think an undefeated Portland taking on an undefeated Central Cal would be a more intriguing conference semifinal game than a Central Cal-Pacific game we’ve already seen twice this season and which ended in a 52-point War Angels rout last week. On the other hand, there’s no question Pacific has earned the right to be here and proven that last year’s resurgence was no fluke.
My player to watch this weekend in the WFA1 West is Pacific running back Priscilla Gardner. Like Smith, she won essentially the “triple crown” at her position, leading the WFA in carries (146), rushing yards (1,575), and rushing touchdowns (31). (That’s assuming that there’s a typo in Chicago’s submitted Week 10 stats and that Rachel Gore of the Chicago Force didn’t really rush for 41 touchdowns last week against Pittsburgh. Although with Gore, that seems strangely plausible.)
Back to Gardner, she’s the best running back in women’s football that no one’s talking about. Gardner clipped Cleveland’s Mercedes Ephraim by 20 yards last year to claim the rushing title with 1,371 yards, and she surpassed that total this year with 1,575 yards. I don’t know what her back story is or if she played prior to 2015, but after two years like this, it’s high time Priscilla Gardner becomes a national name in this sport.
Portland has the second-best scoring defense in the WFA, yielding only four points per game this season. If Pacific wants to pull the upset here, it stands to reason that Gardner’s going to have to be prominently involved.
Looking way, way ahead…by the time we get to the WFA1 final four, we’re going to be left with four outstanding teams. Those last three games – the conference championships and the WFA1 title game – will be terrific fun between some truly talented teams. Can’t wait.
WFA2 East Playoff Preview
I truly believe that the WFA2 playoffs will be every bit as fun and competitive as the WFA1 playoffs. There is so much parity and so many great potential matchups on this tier…I’m excited.
Here are the Eastern Conference matchups in WFA2:
Byes: Philadelphia Phantomz and Tampa Bay Inferno
Conference Quarterfinal Games:
#6 Jacksonville Dixie Blues @ #3 Alabama Fire (Massey line: Alabama by 23)
#5 Columbus Comets @ #4 Indy Crash (Massey line: Indy by 8)
The Alabama Fire have been on just that all year…excellent debut season for them, and it’s good to see this market with a strong contender again. I’m intrigued to see how they match up in their first playoff game with a very experienced Jacksonville franchise. The winner gets Tampa Bay in the conference semifinals, and as with Pacific-Portland – while I’m not rooting either way – I do think that Tampa Bay-Alabama would be a fantastic, compelling matchup in the next round, moreso than a Jacksonville team that lost twice to the Inferno, including a 31-3 defeat in the season finale. But Jacksonville has been an outstanding organization for a long time, and I’m glad that the WFA2 East playoffs turned out to have a Northeast-Southeast separation that will keep travel costs reasonable for everyone.
The other conference quarterfinal matches up two of my favorite organizations. The WFA2 playoffs were tailor-made for these two squads, who for years have been well-run, respected organizations that have just been overwhelmed at times by WFA1 teams with superior firepower. Yet the Indy Crash and Columbus Comets have never, ever backed down from any challenge, and I’ve always had the ultimate respect for them for that. But now they finally get what they deserve – a chance to shine on a postseason stage that’s truly anyone’s ballgame. I’m really psyched for them both.
Both teams are 4-4, but Columbus has had another excellent year; they were 0-4 against WFA1 competition but 4-0 otherwise. Indy, on the other hand, went 3-1 against non-WFA1 opponents, with a lone loss to the top-seeded team in the West, the St. Louis Slam, which is no embarrassment. But Indy made up for that loss with a 1-3 record against the WFA1, thanks to a 20-0 victory over Cleveland in the opening week of the season. That win over Cleveland, and Columbus’ subsequent two losses to them, is probably what tipped the home field advantage Indy’s way. But this is bound to be a great game between two wonderful organizations.
My player to watch this weekend in the WFA2 East is Alabama running back Kelli Smith. The Fire actually lead the entire WFA in rushing with 369.5 rushing yards per game, and Smith’s 1,000 yard rushing season is a big reason for that. Alabama’s contest against Jacksonville has the potential to be a shootout, so the Fire will look to Kelli Smith for some big plays in their first ever playoff contest.
WFA2 West Playoff Preview
Just one game in the WFA2 West this weekend. Here is the Western Conference matchup in WFA2:
Byes: St. Louis Slam, Sin City Trojans, and Houston Power
Conference Quarterfinal Game:
#4 Everett Reign @ #3 Mile High Blaze (Massey line: Mile High by 8)
Only one game, but it looks like it will be a good one! I’m very impressed with the organization the Blaze have been building. Love their market, love their staff, and I think they’ve had a really underrated first year in the WFA.
The Blaze are an intriguing team because – believe it or not – they actually haven’t played a WFA2 team all year. The Blaze went 4-2 this season with their two losses coming at the hands of the WFA1 Kansas City Titans. Meanwhile, their two wins are over the WFA3 Utah Blitz and two interleague opponents. So how the Blaze stack up against WFA2 competition is truly anyone’s guess, and I’m excited to find out.
The Everett Reign, meanwhile, were the Cinderella story of WFA2 this year. Left for dead after an 0-5 start, they surged to the finish line with three straight wins to squeak their way into the playoffs. There’s no question they’re hot right now, but like many Pacific Northwest teams, the challenge begins when they have to leave the region and start taking on other teams out west. For the Reign, that challenge begins right now…but after the start they had and staring playoff elimination in the face, I can’t imagine that challenge will intimidate them too much.
It truly looks like a great playoff game will be going down in Denver this weekend! My player to watch is Everett linebacker Kayc Cornist. The Blaze have the second-highest scoring offense in WFA2 behind the Alabama Fire at 38.2 points per game. Cornist ranks in the top five in WFA2 with 66 tackles and 17 tackles for loss on the year, and she’ll be called upon to cool down the Blaze offense.
One final note: the WFA3 playoffs are set. The Richmond Black Widows will host the Keystone Assault for the Eastern Conference title, while the Acadiana Zydeco will host the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades for the West championship. Both conference title games will take place on June 25, with the winners advancing to the league championship in Pittsburgh.
Also worth noting…no Alliance Bowl this year. With three tiers of title games and an all-star game to host, Pittsburgh is going to be packed enough as it is.
IWFL Playoff Preview
Okay, the IWFL playoff picture is truly a tale of two conferences: the East is set, while the West is a cluster. Let’s take a look.
In the East, the conference title matchup is already set, locked, signed, sealed, delivered. The Minnesota Vixen will host the New York Sharks on July 9 for the conference title, and I couldn’t be more excited. I expressed my affection for this matchup in a previous post, and I’ll do so again with gusto over the next few weeks, I’m sure. But this is going to be fun.
As simple as things are in the East, the West has devolved into chaos. Let’s start with the Pacific Division…and yes, for the record, the IWFL calls its four divisions conferences, because they’re the IWFL and they do what they please, dang it! But I’m not calling their duck a goose just because they’re bad at zoology. Anyway, the Pacific Division is messy but comprehensible. The Utah Falconz end their season with a Bakersfield Bombers squad they already beat earlier this year by a score of 81-0. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that I expect the Falconz to prevail in the rematch.
The Carson Bobcats are finished with an undefeated regular season, which means they will face off with the Falconz in a conference semifinal matchup to decide the matter. I could reiterate how absurdly stupid it is that the IWFL has scheduled the Falconz to play two games each against Bakersfield and Phoenix – both teams they have annihilated by 80 points – while not having them play even once the lone team in their division (Carson) that could potentially hang within seven touchdowns of them. But compared to what’s happening in the Central Division at the moment, that’s small potatoes in the complaint department.
BREAKING NEWS STARTS HERE: The Central Division in the IWFL is a complete and total wreck. All year long, no one has had the slightest idea what’s going on in the Central Division…Oscar Lopez had to stop me in the interview above, because I think outlining all of the scenarios was about to make his head explode. But now we are receiving some shocking new information about the IWFL playoffs, where Kezia Disney’s authoritarianism is on full display.
First, some background info is needed: The Central Division has nine teams, seven full members and two affiliate teams. But strangely, these nine teams basically exist in two completely separate neighborhoods. The Nebraska Stampede, Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz, Colorado Freeze, and affiliate Albuquerque Avengers are in one group (which I’ll call the Central North), and the Austin Yellow Jackets, Houston Wildcats, Houston Energy, Tulsa Threat, and affiliate San Antonio Regulators are in another group (which I’ll call the Central South). The head-slapping part of this is that while these two separate clusters of teams were thrown into one division, no member of the Central South played a single member of the Central North in the regular season. They’re as separated as separated can be…they’re like two separate divisions.
Right now, in the Central North, the Nebraska Stampede are 6-1, sitting with one loss to the Eastern Conference’s Madison Blaze. They’re undefeated in the Central Division at the moment and having an impressive year, given how close they were to folding in the offseason. Running second in the Central North by record is the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz, who are 4-3 but who have played only one game since May 1, thanks to three teams forfeiting on them. They are expected to forfeit themselves tomorrow rather than travel to play Minnesota to play the undefeated Vixen, but it’s hard for me to blame Rocky Mountain for forfeiting given how many times they’ve been on the losing end of that bargain this year.
In the Central South, the Austin Yellow Jackets are undefeated at 6-0 (making them the entire division’s only undefeated team) with a game tomorrow against the San Antonio Regulators, who they beat easily earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Houston Wildcats are 5-1 with a game tomorrow against the Tulsa Threat.
The Wildcats’ only loss this year was in Austin on April 23 by a 22-12 score. Austin and the Wildcats were supposed to have a rematch in Houston on May 14, but lightning and flash floods caused the postponement of the game. Even though most teams end their regular season tomorrow (June 11), the Wildcats announced on May 17 that the Wildcats and Austin would have their rematch on June 18. The game was added to the IWFL master schedule and has been in the works for several weeks.
None of this, of course, solved the bigger issue of what to do with Nebraska. In my last preview, I speculated that we might see Nebraska get hosed over in all this. Well, as often happens in the IWFL, this week a new game magically appeared on the league’s master schedule for June 18: Rocky Mountain @ Nebraska. It was billed as a regular season game between the two top teams in the Central North.
When I wrote this preview yesterday, I was still in the dark as to what it all meant. If Nebraska beat Rocky Mountain on June 18 and improved to 7-1, would they get a playoff game with the Austin-Houston Wildcats winner? Or would they only get one if Houston beat Austin (by more than 10 points), leaving all three teams at 7-1 but with Houston in control of the tiebreaker due to head-to-head point margin? Since the IWFL doesn’t publish any of this information publicly, clearly, there was a lot still up in the air.
So here’s today’s breaking news. When I checked the IWFL master schedule this morning, the Rocky Mountain @ Nebraska and Austin @ Houston Wildcats games for June 18 were both gone…wiped from the league schedule. What I’ve now heard – from multiple sources – is that Kezia Disney has basically decided to end the regular season on June 11 and scrap the two scheduled games for June 18, including the Austin-Houston Wildcats rematch. The Nebraska-Rocky Mountain game going away isn’t terribly surprising…it was only added in the last week, and given that Rocky Mountain is probably forfeiting to Minnesota tomorrow, it’s questionable whether or not the Thunderkatz would have been able to field a team against Nebraska, either (although in that case, I don’t know why it wouldn’t go down as a forfeit win for Nebraska, just as it likely will for the Vixen).
But the cancellation of the Austin-Houston Wildcats game is absolutely stunning. The Wildcats have been promoting this game for nearly a month since the May 14 matchup was postponed. Just yesterday the Wildcats announced that they would be live-streaming the game against Austin. It was obviously billed as a huge contest, because it would have major playoff implications and could determine who made the playoffs in the Central Division.
But the IWFL has unilaterally decided to cancel the June 18 rematch, meaning that if Austin and the Wildcats both win their games tomorrow (and they’re both heavily favored), Austin would make the IWFL playoffs with a 7-0 record over 6-1 Nebraska and the 6-1 Houston Wildcats. How Kezia Disney could do that – particularly to the Houston players, who have been preparing for a full month for another shot at Austin – is unconscionable. Given the setup, I think Nebraska deserves a shot, too, but Houston in particular was unbelievably violated.
Let me state this another way: the IWFL has decided to cancel the Houston-Austin game at the last minute and just hand the division title to Austin on the basis of their (probable) 7-0 record, even though the Houston Wildcats were (probably) 6-1 and scheduled to play them on June 18. The first Houston-Austin game in Austin was the Yellow Jackets’ toughest game of the year, a game they only won by ten points. I have heard from some folks that the Houston people were unhappy with the officiating in their loss to Austin (which is obviously not an uncommon complaint from women’s football teams when they go on the road) and that they were looking forward to playing the Yellow Jackets on their home turf, where they believed the outcome would be different. Look, maybe it would have been and maybe not…but how does the league just up and pull the plug on a scheduled game like that, one that has been in the works for weeks and which has significant playoff implications?
I get it…the IWFL is going to argue that Austin is undefeated and that Houston and Nebraska – by virtue of having a loss – blew their shot at the title. But Austin is only still undefeated because the IWFL decided to end the season on June 11 and scrap a scheduled road game against a team they only beat by 10 at home, their closest win of the year. How can anyone defend this?
I also read in a post on the IWFL Delegates’ super-secret Facebook page (hi, Kezia!) that the Houston team’s president apparently spent $5,100 on stadium costs and streaming costs for the Austin game, a contest that has now been scrapped by the league. How can any team owner in the IWFL defend such behavior from their league? Can’t any of them imagine what it would be like if this scenario happened to their franchise? I mean, I get it that sometimes teams forfeit because of low participation numbers – teams that have 25 or fewer players sometimes run too low on the roster to be able to play, and that’s always a concern. But in this case, we’re talking about the Austin Yellow Jackets – who will now play for the Western Conference championship – who won’t show up, and not by their choice…it was the IWFL that called for the cancellation of an already scheduled game with playoff implications.
But you know what, forget all that. Let’s talk about the Houston and Nebraska players who were completely screwed out a chance to play for the IWFL playoffs at the last minute by a manipulative league owner. Their blood, sweat, and tears…the time, money, and energy they put in…all for naught, because Kezia Disney just up and decides the best way out of a messy playoff situation (of her own design, I might add) is to cancel the two scheduled games in the final week of the season and just give the title to whoever has the best record on June 11.
What a complete and total disservice this situation is to those players. People sometimes think I go over the top in my criticism of the IWFL and Kezia Disney’s “leadership”…well, no, I’m sorry, but these women who are playing for these teams deserve better than to be disrespected like that and have their dreams of the playoffs yanked out from under them by a league owner on a power trip. And if everyone else wants to walk on eggshells around her and leave me as the only guy willing to step out and publicly say that, so be it.
The women who play for the Houston Wildcats and Nebraska Stampede deserve better. Period. And I say that expecting that some members of those two organizations will probably come out publicly in the next day or two and say they’re cool with all of it – probably because they want to defend Kezia in a public forum to avoid retribution and stay on her good side – but that still doesn’t make it right. And none of this is intended to show any disrespect to the Austin Yellow Jackets, who I believe have an excellent team and could very easily have won the division anyway. But this situation isn’t right, and if the shoe were on the other foot and the situation reversed, deep down I know they’d agree with me and feel they were robbed of a shot at evening the score. But don’t worry…I’m sure Houston and Nebraska will get an invite to the IWFL’s glorified consolation tournament, the “Founders Bowl”, which Laurie Frederick – as the IWFL’s co-founder – so humbly named after herself. Good gravy.
So that’s the latest in the IWFL playoff picture…two fine teams getting the shaft. More fallout on this to come, I’m sure.
Other League Playoff Previews – USWFL, NMAFL-W, and LAFL
Finally, three smaller leagues are preparing for their playoffs as well. The USWFL has checked in with me to report that they will be going with a straight five-team bracket this year. The #4 and #5 teams will face each other in a league quarterfinal game on July 16, with the winner advancing to play the overall #1 seed, while the #2 and #3 teams will face each other in the league’s other semifinal matchup. The league semifinals are currently scheduled for July 23, with the USWFL championship to be held on July 30.
I wondered in my last preview how the league was going to handle three then-undefeated teams and five teams with at least one win, and this bracket seems like a reasonable solution. Given that, here are the latest USWFL standings:
Cincinnati Sizzle (4-0)
New England Nightmare (3-0)
Tennessee Legacy (3-1)
West Virginia Wildfire (2-2)
Connecticut Hawks (2-2)
Erie Illusion (0-2)
Southern Indiana Storm (0-4)
As of right now, West Virginia and Connecticut would be in line to play for the right to join the final four along with Cincinnati, New England, and Tennessee. Looking at those three, meanwhile, Cincinnati’s 36-8 victory over Tennessee last weekend is looming large, as it handed a Memphis squad its first regular season league loss in quite some time.
The NMAFL-W announced that they’ll be having a four-team playoff, with the semifinals on June 18 and the NMAFL-W championship on June 25. Here are the latest NMAFL-W standings:
Roswell Destroyers (4-1)
Amarillo Lady Punishers (4-2)
Colorado Springs Voodoo (2-4)
Santa Fe Dukes (1-5)
Last but not least, the LAFL has announced that the Music City Mizfits will be hosting the league’s “national title game” on June 18 against the Tennessee Thunder. Not much more to say on that, honestly.
So there you have it! That’s the latest news on the upcoming women’s football playoffs. Here’s to an exciting playoff season!