By Matthew Slinn

The Regular Season is done and dusted, Wildcard Wednesday has come and gone and the whirlwind continues with the SFL Playoffs Quarterfinals, coming tonight and tomorrow. The eight best teams will go to battle leaving four winners and four losers…#1 Alaska, #2 Tallahassee, #3 Baltimore, #4 Houston, #5 Chicago, #6 Mexico City, #7 Queen City, # Sioux Falls…Any of them could see themselves lifting the SFL Championship in late October. Who will it be? Here are the Q/F matchup previews to help you make your pick.

#6 Mexico City Aztecs @ #3 Baltimore Vultures

History

Despite being fixtures of the SFL for many seasons, these two teams have only met each other 3 times, two of those being in Season 5, with both clubs playing under different guises (Santa Fe Gorillas and Baltimore Crabs). In those early days, the teams split the season series at one home win apiece, with Santa Fe eventually going on to lose the Season 5 Championship game by a single point. Obviously we can’t base too much on those distant meetings, however, one game we can look at is a game from earlier this season, with the Aztecs coming out on top, at home, in a defensive struggle, 15-7. At that point in the season, Baltimore were still finding their feet as an expansion team in a league with a vastly different landscape than last time they suited up, whilst Mexico City were possibly playing the best defensive football in the SFL. Things have changed since then, and Head Coach Thomas Paterniti will be looking for sweet revenge come Sunday night.

Form

No team has entered these playoffs hotter than the Baltimore Vultures. Since suffering from a shaky start (going 1-3 over the first four weeks) the Vultures have rattled off 8 consecutive wins, showing an uncanny ability to always come out on top in the tight games. Half of those games were decided by less than 7 points, including a Week 13 victory against the tough Carolina Skyhawks, at home, 36-38. This is a squad in a vastly different place to where they were when the Aztecs triumphed in Week 4.

Mexico City have been one of the more streaky teams in the SFL this season, following a 5-game winning run with 3 consecutive defeats before ending the regular season 2-1. During the winning stint that had them sparring with Alaska for top spot in the West, the Aztecs pulled off impressive victories over Baltimore and Las Vegas, aswell as beating up the Sioux Falls Sparrows, 16-0, whilst on the road. On the flip side, Mexico City have succumbed to a couple of very disappointing defeats including a loss at the hands of the Vancouver Legion in an uncharacteristically high scoring game. Ramos Lynn’s side are also coming into this game off of a tight defeat on the road in Las Vegas, so you just know they’ll have a chip on their shoulder.

Tale of the Tape

Mexico City Aztecs – Offense

Points Per Game: 20.08 (17th)
Passing Yards:187.6 (20th)
Rushing Yards: 107.3 (7th)
3rd Down %: 37% (20th)
Turnovers: 12 (1st)

Baltimore Vultures Offense

Points Per Game: 23.00 (10th)
Passing Yards: 258.4 (9th)
Rushing Yards: 105.4 (9th)
3rd Down %: 51% (7th)
Turnovers: 24 (17th)

Mexico City Aztecs Defence

Points Against Per Game: 17.58 (3rd)
Passing Yards Against: 231.7 (4th)
Rushing Yards Against: 79.7 (5th)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 48% (10th)
Turnovers won: 25/+13 (1st)

Baltimore Vultures Defence

Points Against Per Game: 20.67 (8th)
Passing Yards Against: 266.8 (12th)
Rushing Yards Against: 83.6 (6th)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 44% (4th)
Turnovers won: 25/+1 (10th)

Key Matchup

T-Roy Gaines (1234 yards, 4.8 YPC, 12 TD’s) vs Jack Brown (137 tackles, 11 TFL’s)

Prediction

Baltimore to carry their excellent form into the playoffs and eek out a low scoring win, getting revenge on Mexico City for the Week 4 loss.

#5 Chicago Wildcats @ #4 Houston Hyenas

History

This will be the first meeting between the Wildcats and the Hyenas, and what a time to have it. Houston have been part of the league for the longest and bring the most playoff experience into the matchup, however Chicago aren’t exactly virgins to the sacred land either, having gone all the way to the Championship game in Season 9, where they lost the the Mexico City Aztecs (Houston had also lost to Mexico City in the first round that same season). This game could be a classic in the making, and I hope it sparks the start of a competative rivalry.

Form

The Chicago Wildcats come into this game practically on fire, currently riding a 6-game winning streak. The indifferent start to the season where they lost consecutive games to Atlanta and Vancouver is a distant memory, and a habit of losing has been replaced by a mix of blowout performances and tight conference wins. Recently, Shann Varner’s men have treated every game like it’s their last, grinding out 1-point victories over the likes of Carolina and Queen City, displaying a much needed ‘big game’ mentality. Some may point to the 17-14 win at St. Louis as a slightly concerning result, but I disagree. The Gladiators showed up in that game, and Chicago had to use every ounce of talent they have to eek out the victory. That shows real guts.

Houston are also heading into this match on a winning streak, taking the W in their last 5 outings after some decidedly average mid-season performances. A 48-31 drubbing at the unmerciful hands of Tallahassee was probably the low point, however a gritty 17-14 victory over Mexico City sparked the Hyenas’ comeback, seeing then grow in confidence from weeks 10 through to 13. This increase in belief has seen them romp to two wins by double-digit points, including a 19-point revenge message over the visiting Pride. The Hyenas will no doubt be wanting to send a similar message later on tonight.

Tale of the Tape

Chicago Wildcats Offense

Points Per Game: 22.42 (13th)
Passing Yards: 236.4 (13th)
Rushing Yards: 98.5 (11th)
3rd Down %: 46% (14th)
Turnovers: 19 (8th)

Houston Hyenas Offence

Points Per Game: 27.58 (4th)
Passing Yards: 298.2 (4th)
Rushing Yards: 79.5 (14th)
3rd Down %: 46% (15th)
Turnovers: 24 (18th)

Chicago Wildcats Defence

Points Against Per Game: 19.33 (6th)
Passing Yards Against: 221.9 (3rd)
Rushing Yards Against:115.8 (14th)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 42% (2nd)
Turnovers won: 15/-3 (15th)

Houston Hyenas Defence

Points Against Per Game: 24.33 (12th)
Passing Yards Against: 253.7 (9th)
Rushing Yards Against:116.8 (15th)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 50% (15th)
Turnovers won: 25/+1 (12th)

Key Matchup

Kentez Johnson (3573 yards, 30 TD’s, 98.0 QBR) vs Blake Hamrac (5 INT’s, 8 PD’s)

Prediction

The Hyenas to show their playoff experience and defeat the Wildcats on the arm of Kentez Johnson.

#7 Queen City Corsairs @ #2 Tallahassee Pride

History

After 3 seasons without so much as a conversation between these two powerhouses, Season 8 started off a 6-game rivalry between two of the biggest hitters in the SFL the past couple of seasons. Tallahassee currently holds the head-to-head, 4-2, having also played 4 of the games at the Lion’s Den, although Queen City arguably won the most important game between the two, besting the Pride 45-27 to advance in the Season 8 playoffs. The men in purple currently hold a 2-game winning streak vs the men in Green and black, giving Queen City something to prove. Judging on previous meetings, this game will be a double digit win, no matter who takes the victory.

Form

Queen City have done what they are experts at this season; comfortably made the playoffs. A very strong start to the season saw the Corsairs go 7-1, placing them at the business end of a very competative Eastern Conference.  A huge win on the road in Carolina paid dividends when it came to playoff seeding, although it did mask a poor run in of 3 defeats from 4 games. The 4 games that the Corsairs dropped this season came at home against London, on the road in the Windy City and Baltimore did the double over them. Fairly inexplicable losses considering the pedigree and quality that Queen City brings. With that being said, Wildcard Weekend really showed what this team are all about, culminating in a brutal 44-7 victory. I expect Queen City to carry that form into this game with the Pride.

Tallahassee, once again, looked set to put together a perfect regular season. The style had shifted to a run heavy offense but the results were still the same, and heavily weighted in the Pride’s favour. They were just dominant, plain and simple, claiming 8 of their wins via a 10-point margin or more. A 48-31 destruction if the Hyenaswas probably the marquee win of the season, however an equally brilliant showing on the road against a good Carolina team is also up there. However, very recent form has seen a major downturn. The Pride have the #2 seed in the SFL but come into this game on the back of 2 bad defeats, one a humbling experience laid on by Houston, and the other a shock loss at the hands of the Dallas Lobos. Frank Goodin’s charges will need to put that behind them now if they are to have a chance against this Queen City team.

Tale of the Tape 

Queen City Corsairs Offense

Points Per Game: 28.67 (3rd)
Passing Yards: 220.7 (18th)
Rushing Yards: 181.8 (2nd)
3rd Down %: 50% (8th)
Turnovers: 21 (11th)

Tallahassee Pride Offense

Points Per Game: 32.00 (2nd)
Passing Yards: 232.6 (15th)
Rushing Yards: 200.4 (1st)
3rd Down %: 47% (13th)
Turnovers: 23 (16th)

Queen City Corsairs Defence

Points Against Per Game: 17.25 (1st)
Passing Yards Against: 235.5 (6th)
Rushing Yards Against:53.4 (1st)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 46% (6th)
Turnovers won: 28/+7 (5th)

Tallahassee Pride Defence

Points Against Per Game: 21.58 (8th)
Passing Yards Against: 285.8 (16th)
Rushing Yards Against:64.6 (2nd)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 44% (3rd)
Turnovers won: 27/+4 (8th)

Key Matchup

Jaye Eniola (2387 yards, 7.2 YPC, 22 TD’s) vs Avry King (125 tackles, 7 TFL’s)

Prediction

Queen City to bottle up Eniola and win by at least 3 points.

#8 Sioux Falls Sparrows @ #1 Alaska Storm 

History

The Sparrows and the Storm have danced their way through six games over the years, playing at least once in every season since Alaska joined the league in Season 8. Both teams have enjoyed periods of dominance over the other, with the Sparrows sweeping the Storm in Season 9, only for Alaska to turn around and win the last 3 meetings, including a 28-20 victory in the Season 10 Playoff Semi-finals, a loss that has left a bruise on the players present that night. Games between these two perennial playoff contenders have always been close, although Season 11 has seen Alaska overpower and dominate the Sparrows in unceremomious fashion. Sioux Falls will have to draw on the pain from that playoff loss last season and channel it to victory on Monday night.

Form

The Sioux Falls Sparrows’ 7-5 has been essentially shaped by two division rivals who seem to have their number: Mexico City and the team they play against tomorrow (Alaska). Four of the five defeats the Sparrows have succumbed to were against those two teams, with the other a low scoring loss at the in-form Vancouver Legion. It’s almost pointless talking about how Sioux Falls’ form may affect their chances because they are going against a side they have come nowhere near to beating this season. The Sparrows fortunes against Alaska is what solely matters, and they will need to flip the script on what has transpired before.

Again, is there much depth to discussing Alaska’s form? They went undefeated. You can’t get more in-form than that. The only point I think is worth mentioning is the fact that they looked slightly beatable against Las Vegas, but even then they manufactured a comeback for the ages. If the Storm lose this game, they’ll only have themselves to blame.

Tale of the Tape

Sioux Falls Sparrows Offense

Points Per Game: 21.42 (16th)
Passing Yards: 234.8 (14th)
Rushing Yards: 143.3 (4th)
3rd Down %: 59% (2nd)
Turnovers: 18 (4th)

Alaska Storm Offense

Points Per Game: 33.33 (1st)
Passing Yards: 365.4 (2nd)
Rushing Yards: 69.8 (19th)
3rd Down %: 68% (1st)
Turnovers: 23 (14th)

Sioux Falls Sparrows Defence

Points Against Per Game: 20.42 (7th)
Passing Yards Against: 261.1 (10th)
Rushing Yards Against:68.3 (3rd)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 46% (7th)
Turnovers won: 17/-1 (14th)

Alaska Storm Defence

Points Against Per Game: 17.58 (3rd)
Passing Yards Against: 240.4 (7th)
Rushing Yards Against:86.7 (7th)
Opponent 3rd Down %: 49% (14th)
Turnovers won: 17/-6 (18th)

Key Matchup

Jason Williams (838 yards, 8 TD’s, 2 receiving TD’s) vs Sioux Falls front 7 (3rd in rushing defence, 7th in opponents’ 3rd down %)

Prediction

The Alaska Storm to win by more than 7 points.

Make sure to tune in next week as we preview the SFL Semi-finals!