Conference Championships! Luckily for the fans, the competition is closer this year than any in recent memory. There are no shoo-ins, folks. Enjoy!
Commentary and picks by Backseat Coach. Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Elite.
Last week’s record: 10-2 (83%)
Record in 2017: 206-39 (84%)
Chicago Force @ Boston Renegades — Chicago is coming off an eye-popping victory in which they obliterated the #5 ranked Pittsburgh Passion 45-0. The Massey Ratings has Chicago favored over Boston by 6 points with a 59% probability of victory. Boston is favored in the Pure Points method by a small margin of three points.
For the last two seasons, Boston and Chicago have met twice, splitting each time. Interestingly enough, the visiting team is 4-0 in those 4 games.
While Boston excels at many things as a team and an organization, the thing they may excel most spectacularly at is spoiling Chicago’s best laid plans. They came away with a stunning 50-23 playoff victory on the road against the Force in 2011; that victory helped propel Boston to their second national title, as well as lit a fire under the Force in the years to come. In 2014, Boston soundly defeated Chicago not once but twice, as the Force fought to reach the championship game that they were hosting in their hometown, a game they desperately wanted to play in. And last season it looked like Chicago had a good shot to topple the reigning champion D.C. Divas were it not for a suffocating Renegades defense that stopped the Force in the conference semis.
Now, with Force owner Linda Bache bringing the band back together for one last hurrah, one last chance at a ring, Boston again stands in the way. Will this be Chicago’s swan song or will they replay their greatest hits from 2013 with a championship berth?
Massey prediction: Chicago Force 28-22
Pure Points prediction: Chicago Force 29-27
Backseat Coach picks: Boston
San Diego Surge @ Dallas Elite — Sooo…When was the last time in women’s football that you saw a team in the playoffs overcome not just one, but TWO opponents who had beaten them in the regular season? Probably never*, right? But San Diego did just that when they sent Los Angeles and Central Cal packing. That’s history being made right there. The Surge have peaked at just the right time to get to the conference final, but has the long break cooled the jets?
In the entire history of the Diamonds and Elite, Dallas has reached the conference finals twelve times in fifteen seasons, including their sixth consecutive appearance this year. Dallas is undefeated this season, but that is par for the course; Dallas hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2010 when they were the Diamonds. As impressive as all that is, 2017 is the first season Dallas has ever held all its opponents scoreless. One can criticize that the Elite have not seen much competition this season, but they did dispatch a prolific Minnesota Vixen team in the playoffs without surrendering a point. With the 2017 additions of middle linebacker DeVon Goldsmith, and defensive backs Jamie Fornal and Rasan Gore, it could be argued that the Elite has the best defense they have ever put on the field.
Massey prediction: Dallas 36-22
Pure Points prediction: Dallas 52-18
Backseat Coach picks: Dallas
*Closest I could find was in 2001. The Jacksonville Dixie Blues lost twice in the regular season to the Orlando Fire, and defeated them in the WAFL Atlantic Conference Championship. Previous to that, the Blues defeated the Indianapolis Vipers in the quarterfinal after forfeiting a match to them in the regular season.
Mile High Blaze @ St. Louis Slam — The dearth of Division 2 teams in the American Conference is a concern that must be addressed by the league in the offseason. As things are, I expect to see this matchup repeated in the American Conference Championship until St. Louis or Mile High expand their roster and step up to Division 1.
With a perfect regular-season record and a defense that allowed exactly zero points over that time, this has been a banner year for the Blaze. They knocked off the team that ended their playoff run last season to advance to their first conference championship. It is clear that Head Coach Terry Lister and General Manager Wyn Flato-Dominy have been moving the team in the right direction.
Aside from a single loss to the Chicago Force, St. Louis has put dominance on display this season, even defeating a Division 1 team. It appears that the reigning Division 2 champions have not lost focus on what it takes to win. They look even stronger than last season.
Massey prediction: St. Louis 40-24
Pure Points prediction: St. Louis 38-25
Backseat Coach picks: St. Louis
Tampa Bay Inferno vs Montreal Blitz — Although this game had been slated to be hosted by the Montreal Blitz at their home stadium in Quebec, the WFA Board of Representatives voted to move the game to a venue with U.S. borders, due to “concerns about Tampa Bay players having to deal with travel delays while crossing” into Canada. Presumably these concerns arose following accounts of the New York Sharks’ experiences crossing the border to play the Blitz twice this season. The game will instead be played at Melissa L. Penfield Park in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
One can only speculate what impact the Board’s decision will have on future WFA games scheduled outside the states, or the league’s ongoing relationship with the Blitz or other prospective teams in Canada (or Mexico for that matter), but for this specific game the change of venue is certainly of benefit to Tampa Bay.
Sure, the Inferno still have to travel a major distance and contend with most of the pitfalls of team travel, and Plattsburgh is close enough to Montreal so as to not be an undue logistical burden to the Blitz, but there is likely to be a confidence boost for Tampa Bay knowing they don’t have to contend with Canadian border officials, not to mention Canadian game officials. The referees will be local to Plattsburgh too. The playing field is about as even as it gets for a conference championship game.
Massey prediction: Montreal Blitz 48-32
Pure Points prediction: Montreal Blitz 42-37
Backseat Coach picks: Tampa Bay
Orlando Anarchy @ Toledo Reign — It is pretty exciting to see these two teams in the conference finals. For many seasons, Toledo and Orlando have been long out of playoff contention by the time June comes around.
Orlando’s awe-inspiring turnaround has been the topic of much conversation, and understandably so. The motivations of the Anarchy are on a different level. Still, their 6-2 regular season record includes three forfeits in addition to victories against the Daytona Waverunners, North Florida Pumas, and Jacksonville Dixie Blues, three teams who won zero games on the field this season. Orlando’s most impressive victory is a 57-6 thumping of the Cincinnati Sizzle in the quarterfinals.
Toledo has mounted an impressive campaign of their own with a 5-3 regular season record that includes two victories over Division 2 teams. Most impressive has been the Reign’s defense, which has been a turnover machine, collecting 15 interceptions and 4 fumbles in 7 regular season games. They have garnered over 20 sacks in those games, with Kristi Lillie accounting for ten of them. And they defeated a strong Maine Mayhem team in the quarterfinals
Massey prediction: Orlando 22-17
Pure Points prediction: Orlando 24-17
Backseat Coach picks: Toledo
Arkansas Wildcats @ Southern Oregon Lady Gades — Southern Oregon will be the toughest Division 3 squad Arkansas will have faced this season. The Lady Gades have faced Division 1 and 2 teams all season long finishing with two wins against Division 2 teams. They crushed the only Division 3 they met so far (the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz) 46-6 in Round 1 of the playoffs. They are well organized and home field advantage in this instance includes a 32-hour drive for their opponents.
The Wildcats are 14-point underdogs according to Massey, and 10-point underdogs according to Pure Points. With a 12-person roster — the fewest in the league — just a couple of injuries could spell the end for their season. But know this: every player is making the long trip and will be in Medford. So their roster hasn’t been diminished by travel. They have finished games with fewer than 11 players and actually won. This is not a team to take lightly.
Win or lose, Wildcats Head Coach Earnest Dukes has earned recognition as a Coach of the Year finalist. I think he deserves the nod. It would be a fitting recognition for the entire team that has played with the heart of a champion.
Massey prediction: Southern Oregon 20-6
Pure Points prediction: Southern Oregon 22-12
Backseat Coach picks: Arkansas
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