July 6, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Tier One: Favorites
1. Dallas Roughnecks (11-1)
The Dallas Roughnecks have separated themselves from other divisional leaders. The Roughnecks have more signature wins than any other team in the league, with victories over every team in a very strong South Division, and a nice victory over the West-leading Los Angeles Aviators on April 15. They’ve been very consistent, with nine of their eleven wins coming by four points or less. Dallas has marched steadily along, but they’ve been tested against the league’s best.
Jay Froude has settled into the position of the team’s best player, and he is a top-three MVP candidate this year. He’s an athletic freak, and with an elite handler core tossing him the disc, he’s been able to roast any defender. Whenever Dallas needs to forward, and Dalton Smith and Matt Jackson’s churning handler cuts don’t find any space, Froude is always near the disc.
Dallas is without a doubt an offensive team, with their offence scoring 71 percent of the team’s total points. They haven’t blown out many teams, which means their defence hasn’t strung together too many strings of consecutive breaks on the season. They have the ability, though. Dillon Larberg is an athletic monster who leads the team in Ds and is third in assists. He can lock up almost any opponent and then quarterback the counterattack offense after a turn.
Dallas’ team analytics are solid but not mind-blowing because of the brawler-like quality of their wins. Their offense converts 74 percent of the time, which is elite and largely owed to the athleticism of their O-line. However, they do tend to throw lots of turnovers due to the prevailing winds in Dallas, and the Roughnecks propensity to play a game of protracted field position battles. As a team, the Roughnecks only cleanly convert 45 percent of their chances, which means that more points contain turnovers than do not; all other divisional leaders are above 50 percent. Though it has worked well up to this point in the season, the Roughnecks cannot rely on the offense retrieving the disc against Championship-Weekend-quality opponents in the playoffs where possession becomes even more valuable.
2. Toronto Rush (11-1)
It’s difficult to know whether the Toronto Rush have been truly tested yet in 2018. They lead the league in point differential, with seven wins coming by five or more goals. Their defence is incredible at pounding teams into the dirt; they’ve opened six of their twelve games with two consecutive defensive breaks. As a result, 39 percent of Toronto’s scores have come from the defence. Defenders like Bretton Tan and Jason Huynh are unshakable, and the Rush play turbo down the field after a turn. Isaiah Masek-Kelly in particular is one of the best offensive talents in the league, and his presence on the D-Line is worth a few points alone for Toronto.
The Rush are significantly better in 2018 than they were last year. Newcomers Hugh Knapp, Ben Oort, and returning 2016 star Nate Hirst are huge additions. Justin Foord will debut this July for Toronto, and his athleticism will offer Toronto yet more defensive flexibility. Remember, Foord played on this year’s Dream Cup World Team in Japan; he’s as experienced and accomplished any star in the league. It’s almost unfair that Toronto will add a player the caliber of Foord just for the playoffs.
Furthermore, Toronto is deeper than any team in the league. Los Angeles and Raleigh certainly have a bevy of all-stars, but the Rush’s third line would likely demolish any other opposing third line.
But again: have they been tested in 2018? Toronto’s only loss was in D.C, missing several of their best players in Andrew Carroll, Tan, and others. They butchered the FlameThrowers early in the season and haven’t had a chance to play another team outside of their own division. Beating up on Montreal and New York is impressive, but is it equal to beating Raleigh? We know the Rush can play against other elite teams, having beaten the Roughnecks in the 2017 semifinal, and losing in the championship game by a single goal.
The Rush have played in several close games, even coming back in the fourth in separate Ottawa and New York games this year. But the Rush’s first game at Championship Weekend, assuming they make it out of the East, will be their first against another elite team. They could be shocked by the level of competition in the first quarter. They fell into deep holes early against Dallas and San Francisco last year in the playoffs, and Toronto couldn’t dig out against the FlameThrowers. A similar slow start could doom Toronto again this year.
3. Los Angeles Aviators (11-2)
The West Division has been represented in the AUDL championship game every year since its creation as a division in 2014, winning three times. The Aviators dramatically improved their talent level this year and are definitely on the level of their divisional predecessors, adding speedster Jesse Cohen and throwing maven Chris Mazur. Internal development within the team was incredible, as Sean McDougall and others took huge steps forward. McDougall was my leader in the MVP race several weeks ago, and he hasn’t slowed down. Mark Elbogen has returned from a severe injury that held him out of most of 2017.
The resulting team is the clear descendant of the 2017 FlameThrowers and 2014-15 San Jose Spiders. The Aviators are so talented that Eli Friedman and Tom Doi, two exceptional offensive players, actually cleat up on the D-Line when the roster has full availability. The Aviators are a powerhouse that has only lost this season during an early road trip in Texas.
The Aviators have better analytics than either the Roughnecks or Rush. Their offence scores 72 percent of the time when receiving the disc. Their total conversion rate is one of the best in the league, at 51 percent; an Aviators possession ends more often with a score than a turnover. The Aviators turn the disc less often than the Rush or the Roughnecks, and their defence has consistently produced scores; deep defender Zach Theodore is second on the team in plus-minus.
Like the Rush, the Aviators haven’t yet won this season against the league’s best. The Rush haven’t faced elite competition, but the Aviators are 0-1, after losing in Dallas. Their offence threw more than 30 turnovers in the debacle. Will McDougall prove unguardable by the best defenders in Toronto or Dallas? He’s run rampant in the West this year, unfazed by defenders as incredible as the Spiders’ Andrew Moore and others. Will Toronto’s Mike MacKenzie be able to keep up, or Raleigh’s Shane Sisco? The Aviators have never before attended Championship Weekend, and how their players perform in matchups they’ve never seen will largely determine their success.
4. Raleigh Flyers (9-4)
The Raleigh Flyers are the most unsolvable enigma in the AUDL this year. They have dominated difficult matchups, as the only team to have bested the Roughnecks yet this year. They also offered the single most frightening performance of the season in their humiliation of Madison in Madison, where Championship Weekend will take place. The Flyers have also lost as many games as Dallas, Toronto, and Los Angeles combined. Despite not sporting their ideal rosters in most of their losses, consistency questions linger.
The Flyers have more elite talent than any other team in the league. They have two former MVPs in Jonathan Nethercutt and Jonathan Helton. Mischa Freystaetter is a uniquely skilled giant who happens to hold a ridiculous league record with 95 goals scored in 2016. None of those three have even been the team’s best player this year. That distinction belongs to Jack Williams, who has been a top-3 MVP candidate in 2018. Other talents like Noah Saul, Sisco, Brett Matzuka, and Justin Allen could be superstars on most other teams; in Raleigh, they’re supporting cast members.
The Flyers convert a possession cleanly into a score better than any other team in the AUDL. In fact, their 55 percent conversion rate is higher than the AUDL champions from 2014, 2016, and 2017. Raleigh is converting at a historic rate, despite having lost four games this year.
Raleigh has not had a full roster in any of their losses. They’ve missed a combination of Helton, Fairfax, Freystaetter, and others in their losses. They will not have such availability issues if they reach Championship Weekend in Madison. If there has been one issue that’s plagued Raleigh beyond availability, it’s been an inability for the offence to play defence after a turnover.
Raleigh has had lower lows and higher highs than any other team this year, but which Flyers team will make an appearance in the playoffs?
5. Madison Radicals (11-2)
No team has had more of an emotional roller coaster this season than the Madison Radicals. After starting the season 6-0, they put up no resistance in a home loss to Raleigh and lost a few weeks later to an Indianapolis AlleyCats team that has never before beaten Madison. They followed that up by uppercutting the Cats the following week at home; the Radicals seem to have rediscovered their mojo. They’re out for blood in these last few weeks heading into the playoffs.
Their numbers are incredible on the season. Their defence scores a league-leading 42 percent of Madison’s points. However, Madison plays in the weakest division and has wilted in their only true test this year.
We’ve learned truths about the Radicals throughout the year. Their defence is unsettlingly good, incredible at stifling an opponent’s flow in fractions of a second, even when it seems that the Radical’s defence was already beaten. They have an incredible wealth of talent and depth, with newcomers like Tarik Akyuz. They haven’t missed a beat after losing stars like Jay Froude and Ross Barker in past years.
But these things have been true in past years. In an effort to compete against teams that have consistently beaten the Radicals – the elite from other divisions – Madison has added to their offence this year. They rely more heavily on isolating stars like Colin Camp or Peter Graffy. Those two players are incredible, but how do they stack up against star receivers on other teams, like Andrew Carroll for Toronto or Jacob Fairfax for Raleigh? Madison can grind down their divisional opponents, but can they win in a shoot-out?
All we know is that the Radicals were embarrassed by the Flyers. That was their only regular season game that could hold any predictive power for the playoffs. Madison is incredible, but they’ll be an underdog in any Championship Weekend matchup, despite playing at home.
Tier Two: Competitors
6. Indianapolis AlleyCats (9-3)
7. DC Breeze (7-5-1)
8. Minnesota Wind Chill (7-5)
9. New York Empire (6-5)
10. San Diego Growlers (6-7)
This collection of teams would certainly need an upset win to make Championship Weekend, but they are better positioned than any others to topple the assumed favourites. Indianapolis has especially been a strong team, winning a bevy of games, including an emotional victory over the Radicals.
The Indianapolis AlleyCats have an elite productivity rate, scoring on a full three-quarters of their offensive possessions. Their offensive talent is undeniable, with superstars at every position. Rick Gross in particular has emerged as a MVP candidate and should be a lock for First Team Alll-AUDL. However, the Cats have only managed a meagre average of 17.25 points per game when playing against terrific defences in Madison or the Minnesota Wind Chill. Can they score efficiently against Madison in the playoffs, let alone against equally terrifying defences in Toronto or Los Angeles if they get a chance? Can Indianapolis’ own defence create enough scoring?
Rowan McDonnell is having an MVP-quality season for the DC Breeze. He’s been perhaps even better as a handler than a cutter, and his skills singularly will DC into games. He was a force in beating Raleigh and Toronto at home, combining for 10 assists and 12 goals in the two games. DC won’t play a home playoff game, and though the Breeze have solid talent around McDonnell, none are superstars. McDonnell may be the best player between the Toronto-DC matchup, but Toronto likely has the best 7-10 players after him.
The Wind Chill, Empire, and Growlers are terrific defensive teams, with plenty of headlining names between them. Though they’ve had a few close games, none has proved they can compete with divisional leaders Madison, Toronto, or Los Angeles, respectively, when they are firing on all cylinders. The playoffs could change that, of course, and at least one of these teams will likely have a shot to topple the divisional favourites in the playoffs.
Tier Three: Fighting To Stay Alive
11. Montreal Royal (6-6)
12. San Francisco FlameThrowers (5-8)
13. San Jose Spiders (5-8)
14. Atlanta Hustle (6-6)
15. Austin Sol (6-7)
16. Philadelphia Phoenix (5-6-1)
17. Chicago Wildfire (5-6)
All of these teams need quasi miracles to make the playoffs. One exception is that one of Atlanta and Austin will certainly qualify, but they will need to topple Raleigh and then Dallas to reach Championship Weekend. Both are limping towards the playoffs, losing must-win games against Tampa Bay and Dallas, respectively, that could have sealed a playoff spot.
These teams are not without talent. Montreal has pushed the Rush on every possible occasion, and they even beat the Rush in Toronto in 2017. Montreal is a better team this year, adding Canadian stars Morgan Hibbert, Cam Burden, and Colombian defensive star Estéban Ceballos. They haven’t put it together, and losing two consecutive games against Philadelphia and New York have knocked the Royal from second in the division to fourth.
San Francisco has the talent to win any game. They have one of the most – if not the most – talented universe point lines in the AUDL, with Byron Liu, Elliott Chartock, Eli Kerns, Greg Cohen, Antoine Davis, Lior Givol, and Hunter Corbett. Corbett’s season-ending injury, poor availability from stars, and weak depth beyond those players have doomed the FlameThrowers.
Many of these teams have taken steps forward. The Hustle are a success story, and the Philadelphia Phoenix have improved massively on their 2017 performance. But the 2018 Championship Weekend is for all intents and purposes out of reach for all in this tier.