06/09/2011 9:58 AM
With the AFL playing its first 18-game schedule this season, it’s going to change everything I thought I knew about the playoffs.
In 16 games, it was easy. Nine or 10 wins was usually good enough to get into the playoffs. Of course nothing was guaranteed. Sometimes teams could sneak in with seven or eight wins, or teams at 11-5 would be on the outside looking in.
But after this season, the question of “What’s a good record in an 18-game schedule?” will be answered.
As of now, the Cleveland Gladiators at 6-5 would be out of the playoffs while the Utah Blaze, at 5-6, would have a date in the postseason. Last weekend, Jacksonville and Arizona picked up their 10th wins on the season, ensuring a winning season.
In the National Conference, the top three teams still on the verge, San Jose, Spokane and Tulsa, all have seven losses on the season. That means finishing 11-7 should be good enough to make the playoffs. But it’s also possible that a team like the Blaze, at 5-6 and are on pace to finish the season at 8-10, could earn a playoff berth with a sub .500 record.
In the West Division, the Arizona Rattlers’ 72-37 win over Utah earned the Rattlers (10-2) a season sweep against their division rival, guaranteeing the head-to-head tiebreaker. With a 4.5 game lead in the division, the worst the Rattlers can finish is 10-8, while the best the Blaze can do is 12-6 if it wins out. Both Spokane and San Jose have seven losses already, so they could go 11-7 at best. In that case, it looks like the magic number for Arizona and a West Division title is two, and 12 wins would be enough to win the West.
The highest stakes are in the American Conference’s East Division. With the battle brewing between Jacksonville, Orlando and Georgia in the South, the East Division champion will of course host a playoff game, while the runner up won’t make the postseason. That’s why Pittsburgh’s 35-32 win over Cleveland last week was so critical. If the season ended today, the Gladiators wouldn’t be in the playoffs. But the way the teams are playing, it’s possible that an 11-8 record may be enough to take the East Division. The Power and Gladiators meet again in Week 19 on July 15. Circle that one on your calendars.
The Chicago Rush and Dallas Vigilantes also meet for Round II in Week 19, and there’s a good chance the winner of that one will win the Central Division. A mark of 12-6 or 13-5 could earn that division title.
We’ll also get some answers after this weekend’s Jacksonville-Orlando game on Saturday. The Sharks bested the Predators last weekend. If Orlando can get the win this time around, it’ll be just one game out of first place. But if the Sharks win, they’d take a three game win in the division, and season sweep would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
As of now, the Georgia Force (7-5) has the last playoff seed, on pace to finish around 10-8. Georgia plays Cleveland this week, so the winner of that one can shake up the playoff picture big time.
The other question is how long can Jacksonville keep rolling? In AFL history, Dallas (15-1 in 2007) and San Jose (13-1 in 2002) are the only teams to only lose one game since the League began playing at least 14 games. In an 18 game schedule, going 17-1 seems like an incredible accomplishment, especially with the parity in the League today. In the past, 11 or 12 wins was usually enough to earn a top seed in the conference and very few teams have made it through the season with just a single loss.
We’ve got seven more weeks to figure it all out.