Pulling The Flag

Regional Playoffs Predictions – North

Yep, the playoffs are but a mere few days away and the mouth watering encounters that await are looking to be rather exciting indeed!

The first of our previews focuses on the North, where the Glasgow Hornets will be the hosts for the day.

Sheffield Giants vs Edinburgh Outlaws

The Sheffield Giants (13-1) enter the post season off the back of yet another dominating regular season performance. The only blot of their copy book being the unexpected 31-20 loss to the ever improving Newcastle Blackhawks. There was obviously a lot of emotion spent that day by the Giants, with the tragic loss of team mate Paul Oates.

That being said, the Giants are still very much a force from the MEC and the Outlaws have got an almighty mountain to climb to be anywhere near considered within a chance in this first round match-up.

If you remember last year? The Giants got caught cold in the third round of the playoffs, playing host to the rest of the North. They only had the one game to play that day and had to wait around to play what was by then, an Aberdeen Oilcats team, that had by which point found its groove. So potentially having to go the long way round, may actually work in their favour this time, as they will be plenty warmed up.

The Outlaws on the other hand have surprisingly seen their previous campaigns progression regress this season. A rather disappointing (4-6-1) record saw them have to shake off a slow start and get the wheels in motion to post a respectable record.

With the down sizing of the HNC East to three teams, they never really looked threatened for making the playoffs, as one of the two teams from each division to get in, but finding late season form was key if they had any ambitions to advance past the first round and what was likely a very difficult pairing.

Prediction 

Sorry Outlaws fans, but we cant see anything but a Giants routing here in round one. The Sheffield unit have been blasting teams, with the exception of the Newcastle Blackhawks and a couple of close outings against the Mansfield Honey Badgers and the Sheffield Vipers. So, this could see the likes of Josh Allen, Tim Darracott and Lula Fadrique having a bit of a field day off the back of Dean Whittingslow and his ever impressing quarterback play.

Defensively, we could see Dean and stalwarts Max Verlint and Chris Winrow put the Giants endzone in lockdown. That defence only allowed 277pts all season and is the third best defence in the whole of the league, behind the Glasgow Hornets and Newcastle Blackhawks.

If the Outlaws are to somehow win this one, they will have to up their game on both sides of the ball and then some.

Giants stand tall and take this one!

Grangemouth Broncos vs Leeds Samurai

HNC central champions, the Grangemouth Broncos have a genuine shot at their first ever finals place. A favourable first round draw against the Leeds Samurai and only having to take the short trip to Glasgow is ideally set up for them to have a run at getting there.

A (10-1) record, which the one loss to Glasgow Hornets (41-20) oddly worked in their favour at the time, meaning they wouldn’t have to travel to Newcastle or Sheffield, sees them have the best of the first round games on paper.

Taking the close one against the Oilcats (35-31) will boost their confidence should they meet them in the later rounds too.

Leeds (6-8), will be happy with their first trip to the playoffs in their history. They looked dead certs to make the post season, but the Calderdale Knights did give them a scare, running the table late on.

Their (21-18) win over Calderdale in game one set the tone and put the Knights on the back foot, that and the Knights being unable to match the same game day win over the Darlington Steam, that Leeds did manage (26-14). That win is the key difference between why the Samurai had the edge over the Knights.

Prediction

This is going to be a long and arduous journey for the Samurai to be able to compete with the power and speed that the Broncos can showcase. We’d expect the Broncos to handily overcome the Samurai and be able to rotate in some players, to save on some legs for the later rounds.

No disrespect to the Samurai, as they are clearly a team who are showing real signs of improvement, but the likes of Chieftain, Scott McKenzie firing on all cylinders at quarterback, hitting the his favourite targets Callum Woods and Liam Fleming, who have all had heavily productive seasons. It’s going to be a tough day at the office.

If Leeds quarterback, Kyle Taylor can find a grove with top target Jonny Dudley, they may rack up some points, but the emphasis will be on their defence to keep the game tight. With a defence that shipped 429pts and only recorded one pick six all season, that’s going to be a tough ask.

Grangemouth ride the W train to round two with ease.

Aberdeen Oilcats vs Manchester Crows

The HNC East champions had a season that is maybe a little hard to quantify. They breezed to a division title with a (9-2) record, but the nauseating sensation they must be feeling, seeing the two losses sitting in the column must be almost tangible up their in the far East of Scotland?

Those two losses came against their traditional powerhouse rivalries, the Glasgow Hornets (53-19) and Grangemouth Broncos (35-31). That potentially leaves them with a tough path to navigate, if they are to repeat last years platform of powering through all the playoff rounds to the finals, where they’ve finished third the past two years

If they are to repeat their annual trip to Brit Bowl, they will likely have to defeat one of those two teams as they circumnavigate the first two rounds of the playoffs to get there. But first they have to deal with the unpredictable dirty birds from the MEC Central, the Manchester Crows.

If the Crows, form was as good as their online presence and banter, they would be national champions for sure. However, they have seemingly stagnated this season, which seems odd considering the amount of talent they have within their ranks.

Finishing two games behind their inter-city rivals the Manchester Titans will hurt for sure. Every time they seemed to be finding their form, they seemed to have a brain fart and lose. Losses to the Titans (45-40),  Giants (40-6), Vipers (22-19), Honey Badgers (20-19), Cavaliers (46-43) & Blackhawks (33-13) are real concern for the Crows. However, the real concern for the Crows is the loss of their starting quarterback Talha Javed through injury.

Prediction

We cant really see past the Oilcats for this one. Although the Oilcats are maybe not quite in the form of the previous two years, they are battle hardened and have a knack of winning when it matters, just ask the Sheffield Giants of 2016.

With the ice cold Scott Stopani, back at quarterback, as opposed to GB wide receiver Gary Elliott this year, that will only enhance their firepower. Gary did an outstanding job filling at quarterback last year, but he’s so difficult to defend against with his height, even Crows defensive back and fellow giant Nick Harris, will have his work cut out to stop him.

With fellow GB baller Calum Young wreaking havoc along side Elliott on the defence, the Oilcats will have the edge in that department too.

With Javed being side lined, the Crows will be looking to the likes of GB star Matt Wilkinson to take charge of the game on defence and keep their offence, supplemented by the ever improving play of James Durham and Phil Shanahan.

Oilcats win this one by a couple of scores though and advance once more.

Manchester Titans vs Dunbeth Dragons

The Titans came out the traps with some element of surprise to the rest of the league. They have been slowly improving their stock for a couple of years, but really seem to have found their stride in 2017. The statement (45-40) win over he Crows was the one that really made everyone take notice of their form.

Consistency at the quarterback position from signal caller Alan Mead has certainly been a key indictor to where their success has come from. The ability to rotate their squad is also a major reason they have advanced this year. A squad of approximately twenty five players, means they have been able to plug gaps and keep things fresh on game days.

They did more than enough to seal their first division title off the back of a  (10-4) record, with their losses coming in the form of the Blackhawks (53-20),  Giants (51-26), Crows (34-20) & Honey Badgers (33-14).

Those losses maybe raise the same questions, that would be asked of the Crows in terms of quality of opposition losses, but they did sneak out a (34-33) win over the Vipers too and by courtesy of winning their division, they get a much more favourable draw in the way of the Dunbeth Dragons, as opposed to the Aberdeen Oilcats.

The Dunbeth Dragons (5-5-1) didn’t have a terrible outing in the regular season, but did get turned over handsomely by the three power house teams, the Hornets, Broncos and Oilcats, to the tune of a combined total of 219 against and 31 points for. That doesn’t leave much in the way of optimism for a team who have announced that they will be dissolving after the season.

Prediction

With Alan Mead in such imperious form, firing off 70 touchdowns in the regular season, we believe that the Titans will come through this one unscathed.

If receiver Dave McInally has his way with the Dragons secondary and Mead can find him, it could literally be a case of remember the Titans. Remember, because they will likely be the Dragons last ever opponents.

The only saving grace could come in the form of the Alistair Aitken to Craig Murry combination, which has accounted for more than half of the Dragons offensive touchdowns, 25 in total. If they can hook up, they have a chance.

Titans keep the roll onto round two.

Sheffield Vipers vs Clyde Comets

Without question the hardest game to call.

The Sheffield Vipers (10-4), are arguably one of the most improved teams in the whole of the national league. Sure they have been around the block for what seems like forever, but their level of consistency has plateaued.

Their only losses have come against the MEC’s division winners. They lost to the Giants twice (32-20 & 47-28), both of which they were right in the games till the near death. The Blackhawks (12-6), loss by one score & Titans (34-33), one point.

They could have easily been the other way around, add in the caveat of the win over the London Rebels in the spring and they look to be a dark horse.

The newly formed Clyde Comets (7-5), are one of the leagues trickier teams to place. They have a large squad, a squad that had two genuine superstars in the form of Bud McFerren and Dave Pasnik within their ranks.Their rookie season may seem them a little green across the rest of the squad, but they are gelling nicely in time for the playoffs.

They snuck some close ones early doors, key wins of (33-25) over the Dragons, (7-6) over the Sabers & (20-19) over the Outlaws. But they only just lost to the Broncos, (26-18) & (32-28) over the Oilcats. That says to us, they raise their game when it matters. Boy did it matter when they played in the last game day needing a win over the Carnegie Renegades. They edged it (13-12) to get into the playoffs.

Prediction

The Vipers look to just have the edge here. Quarterback Keith Woodley will return home to Scotland and be looking to put on a show. He’s been doing just that all season with a fine receiving corps to back him up, in the sure handed Luke Bennett, Tom Fowkes and Mike Sullivan.

Their defence can be got at, but Jonas Robinson and Craig Costello have been pretty handy at locking down the secondary.

Their offence have put up a total of 537 points in comparison to the Comets 241. But bare in mind, that this rookie team didn’t have Pasnik suiting up for them until a late transfer occurred at the back end of the season.

If  the Comets are to get something from this game, expect it to be from that improving defence, with McFerren and Chris Lang doing the majority of the workload.

Those sneaky snakes break their playoff duck!

Whilst our predictions are based on our opinion, we’d love to hear yours. So please feel free to give us your feedback and don’t forget to look out for the South’s predictions tomorrow.

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