July 6, 2021
By Evan Lepler
For the first time in two years, 10 months, and 21 days, the New York Empire experienced disc defeat on Friday night in Washington, D.C., their first loss since dropping a 32-30 shootout to the Dallas Roughnecks in the 2018 semifinals. Since that August afternoon in Madison, the Empire had taken the field on 18 different occasions and won every time, but the impressive streak found the finish line against the amazingly balanced, bold, and brilliant Breeze, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never once trailed in their 20-17 victory.
DC’s fourth consecutive win—the Breeze’s lone 2021 blemish was losing on opening night in New York at the buzzer—headlined a relatively calm weekend around the league. There were only seven games, while seven of the 19 American teams were off and presumably able to enjoy some off-field fireworks.
On the field, though, the play still crackled.
DC continued to shine in advance of its two matchups with undefeated Atlanta, scheduled for each of the next two Saturdays. The Breeze visit the Hustle this weekend in the AUDL Game of the Week prior to hosting Atlanta in DC on July 17.
Elsewhere, the two Texas teams both bounced back from west coast losses by smashing Seattle at home, setting the stage for Dallas and Austin, both 3-2 and tied for second place in their division, to play a pair of games this weekend. Yes, the Roughnecks and Sol are scheduled to compete on both Friday and Saturday night in Dallas, the first being a makeup game for the opening weekend lightning-related suspension. Hopefully the weather holds up this time around and they can provide two more thrilling results to match Austin’s shocking one-goal victory back on June 12.
Chicago remained undefeated, improving to 5-0, but the Union were pushed for the first time all season by a Madison team that looked much better in July than it did in June. The Radicals, following a comfortable win over Indianapolis on the second night of a back-to-back, are especially eager to get a rematch with the Union, and they don’t have to wait long since Chicago will visit Breese Stevens Field in Madison this Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds experienced a mighty satisfying outcome against their commonwealth rivals, outscoring Philly 7-4 in the fourth to prevail 23-20 for their first win of the season. Despite an undeniably disappointing start to the season, discovering victory for the first time since the pandemic—Pittsburgh went 714 days between victories—had to be an awesome feeling for the T-Birds, and perhaps even sweeter since it came at the expense of the Phoenix, who suffered their third straight loss after starting 2-0.
The July drama should only intensify as the month progresses, with meaningful contests set to unfold each and every weekend. This Saturday, in particular, should be special.
But before diving further into the future, let’s dig a bit deeper into the Week 5 fireworks.
The Full Field Layout
The New York Empire were already shorthanded, and their first two offensive possessions included the typically reliable Ben Katz turfing a backhand and the ever-steady Ryan Osgar dropping an under. The 2021 DC Breeze have been remarkably consistent when it comes to punishing those type of mistakes, and they quickly capitalized on Empire errors on Friday night.
“We knew things would be a little tougher with the personnel we were missing, but our missteps were fully our fault,” said Katz, who endured eight throwaways on the evening, one more than he had during the entire 2019 regular season. “Not to take anything away from DC, they played hard and incredibly well within their system, but if you look at the turns, they were drops and throwaways from the first offensive point. We need to be better no matter who is on the field.”
The Breeze led 3-0 before three minutes had elapsed, giving them plenty of early breathing room to play their patient game the rest of the evening. Over the final 45 minutes, there were only a handful of instances when the Empire possessed the disc with a chance to get back within one. They never did, as DC remained in front by between two and five goals until the final buzzer sounded on their 20-17 win.
“We had such a hard time forcing them to do anything other than dink and dunk in the middle of the field,” said New York’s Ben Jagt. “That was a problem for us, and when you are always hitting your option A, you are going to have great efficiency.”
Indeed, the still-underrated Breeze O-line was buzzing again, with Rowan McDonnell, Jonny Malks, and Zach Norrbom all completing at least 41 passes while Gus Norrbom, Garrett Braun, and Jacques Nissen went a combined 77-for-78 and Jeff Wodatch, Joe Richards, and Joe Merrill delivered dynamic downfield striking. The nine-man offense, subbing in and out freely to remain fresh, has flummoxed every opponent and played with a staggering confidence throughout the season.
“I think our O-line has become really comfortable with one another, and we can just trade off who gets the lion’s share of the goals and the touches that week,” said Nissen, who completed all 17 of his throws in Friday’s victory over New York. “Entering the game, we didn’t just think we could win, but we expected to win, and that mentality helped us withstand a comeback.”
Statistically, the Breeze’s balance was again on display. Four different O-liners shared the team lead at +5, while only Malks surpassed 200 throwing yards as five others delivered between 100 and 195 yards. Gus Norrbom dished five assists and Joe Richards scored five goals, but the team’s interchangeability and indifference toward who gets the glory each week overpowers most of the all-star chatter.
Defensively, Quinn and Rhys Bergeron each recorded two blocks apiece, while AJ Merriman, Kris Harrison, and Jasper Tom all made big plays throughout the game too.
“I think the Breeze did a great job of putting pressure on us on both sides of the disc, which can lead to mistakes,” said Empire Co-Coach Charlie Hoppes. They challenged our under cuts when we were on offense, making it hard to initiate, and when we were on defense they kept it moving with high-percentage looks, which can be frustrating and can lead to people playing out of system asa they search to disrupt or cause a block. They are obviously an excellent team, and I hope we get to have a rubber match with them this year.”
In order for the Breeze and Empire to meet again in 2021, there are a few possible scenarios. They could finish first and fourth in the final Atlantic Division regular season standings and meet for a berth to Championship Weekend. That would also happen if they finished second and third, which happens to be where they sit currently. And if they both make the playoffs and dodged each other in the first round, they could potentially meet in the AUDL title game on Saturday, September 11. (A reminder: the two Atlantic Division teams that qualify for Championship Weekend will not square off in the semifinals.)
Of course, while it’s important to understand the format, this conversation is premature. The Breeze need to maintain their otherworldly efficiency for the next couple months, while the Empire, who were playing without standouts Jack Williams and Elliott Chartock on Friday night in DC, are still looking to find their stride.
“Overall, I would say I’m confident in our chances to coalesce as a team and be the best offense in the league,” said Jagt, who tallied a game-high +6 despite experiencing defeat for the first time in 1,046 days. “We were missing two of our cornerstones in Jack and Elliott, we had more execution errors than I’ve seen playing on Empire the past four years, and we still only lost by a [few] points…In the end, we just have to work out as many of the kinks as we can against Philly this weekend and focus on being the best we can for this next game.”
The Empire will face the Phoenix in the Friday DraftKings game in just a few days, while the Breeze begin their two-weekend home-and-home with undefeated Atlanta on Saturday in the Fox Sports Game of the Week. DC knows it will be a difficult test, but are eagerly ready to see how they stack up.
“I am excited to go against [Atlanta’s] zone, which has flummoxed multiple teams,” said Nissen. “I think our handlers are excited for that challenge, and we will certainly be ready to face what looks like a great defense.”
It should be a fascinating contrast of styles on Saturday night, as two fantastic coaches, DC’s Darryl Stanley and Atlanta’s Miranda Knowles, match wits for the first time in the AUDL. And regardless of what happens, both coaches will have a chance to make adjustments when the Breeze and Hustle collide the following Saturday too.
“We are definitely looking forward to the Atlanta game,” said DC Captain David Bloodgood. “They are probably the fastest team we will see in our division, so I’m excited to see how our defense can apply pressure. This is very different from the tall New York team we just played. One of our faster defenders, Kevin Versteeg, sat out last week against New York so we could get some more height on our D-line, so I am excited to see him bring pressure on the Atlanta O-line.
“They have some good athletes, but so do we. We know Atlanta runs a lot of zone, but this plays into our strength as a patient O-line, who will happily take open looks to work it up the field, but they are dynamic enough to stretch the field when Atlanta comes person defense or makes bad switches in their zone.”
Unlike the Empire, the Chicago Union escaped their tense Friday night affair with a three-goal win over Madison.
Union Coach Dave Woods had been curious how his team would respond to their first adversity of the season, and there were certainly plenty of second-half moments for Chicago to rejoice over as they transformed a 9-all game at the half into an 18-15 victory.
“It definitely felt different not being up by five-plus at halftime,” said Pawel Janas, who again led the Union with 684 total yards. “In the first half, I think we were a little scared to make plays defensively—not Drew [Swanson], but he’s special—and the O was certainly challenged more than in other games. Credit the Radicals’ D for forcing us into small under spaces and denying our deep-shots. A couple of lucky breaks for the Radicals—halftime shot, missed throws that ended up being caught—and all of a sudden we’re tied at halftime; it did not feel great going into the locker room; felt like we lost.”
As Janas mentioned, Sterling Knoche made a tumbling, juggling catch as the second quarter clock expired to even the score, but the Union refocused and dialed up the defensive intensity at halftime. Chicago began the third quarter on defense, but broke Madison’s O-line on three consecutive points to begin the second half. Swanson recorded two blocks and two goals for the game, while Peter Graffy and Von Alanguilan also registered two blocks apiece. As a team, the Union only got seven blocks on the night, but the team only turned it over seven times, compared to Madison’s 13.
“The last four weeks seemed like a walk in the park, but I think we finally got a nice kick in the butt to wake us up a little bit,” added Janas, who had four assists on Friday and leads the AUDL with 26 dimes through five weeks. “Internally, I think it’s obvious to everyone what our weaknesses are, so I expect practices to be more focused.”
Madison, meanwhile, felt encouraged by their performance in Chicago. Compared to a month earlier in the season opener against Minnesota, the Radicals’ offense was vastly improved, crisply executing much of the night behind the playmaking of Rami Paust, Victor Luo, and Logan Pruess. Each member of that trio threw for over 300 yards against the Union.
A night later against the AlleyCats, Paust, Luo, and Pruess dazzled again, as they threw for 271, 390, and 481 yards, respectively, in Madison’s 26-22 victory over Indy in a game that was not quite as close as the final score indicated. The AlleyCats only had one break opportunity in the first three and half quarters and trailed by eight with six minutes remaining before closing the game with a 4-0 spurt.
“I don’t think we needed to bounce back or have a short memory,” said Radicals’ Captain Josh Wilson, about Madison’s 1-1 weekend. “We needed to keep the energy and level of play from the Chicago game and use it in Indy.”
The Radicals are now 3-0 on the season in the second game of a weekend. Even though these results are against Detroit and Indy, it still is a credit to Madison’s ability to regroup quickly and rediscover their winning form.
“A big part of us winning on day two is our commitment to conditioning,” said Wilson. “We knew early in the year that the season was going to be short and intense. This gave us time to prepare physically and mentally. We had two practices in May and small group workouts that started in April. I would purposely schedule my small group workouts for the day after practice. I knew we had four weekends with multiple games. This has helped us keep our intensity on the second day of the long weekends.”
At 4-3, the Radicals only have one contest this coming weekend, a massively important and potentially season-defining home game against undefeated Chicago. The Union, in addition to their Saturday matchup in Madison, have a Sunday afternoon home matinee against 3-1 Minnesota. If Chicago can win both games, they will virtually wrap up a playoff spot, but the Union certainly have bigger goals than that.
“I already knew that we are capable of winning a championship,” said Janas, when asked what he learned about his team this past weekend. “I think passing the first adversity test is a step in that direction.”
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead against Seattle on Friday night, the Austin Sol found themselves down 5-4 late in the first quarter. The Cascades had the momentum, forced another turn, and took a timeout to get the O-line out there and try and stretch the lead to two, with a chance to widen the gap even more because they would receive to start the second quarter too.
Austin, back home after losing two straight games on the west coast, needed someone to step up and make a big play. Jake Worthington, a 20-year-old rookie making his AUDL debut, was up to the task.
“After Seattle called a timeout, [Sol Coach Steven] Naji decided to throw on my line to possibly get a D and hold for the Sol,” said Worthington. “We each had our own matchups, but Bob Lewis and I saw an opportunity to bracket in the middle of the field. My man went deep and I pointed him off to Bob for a switch. At this point I realized Bob’s man going under for the long swing, and I started to shuffle towards him. Once the disc left [Manny] Eckert’s hands for the around to [Tarik] Akyuz, I realized that I might have a play on the disc.”
The young Austin-native closed the gap, deflected the disc up in the air, and then adjusted to the floating frisbee to make the catch in the end zone! In a blink of an eye, Worthington simultaneously had his first AUDL block and goal, and even more importantly, the thrilling Callahan tied the game with just 48 seconds left in the quarter.
“It almost seemed like a dream waiting to happen,” said Worthington. “The roar from the crowd and from my teammates was just ecstatic, and I believe we took that energy into the second quarter.”
We’ve seen Seattle’s O-line experience lengthy droughts throughout the season, and the Cascades were overwhelmed by Austin’s defensive pressure to begin the second quarter. The Sol followed up Worthington’s Callahan with a ridiculous five straight breaks, extending the lead to 10-5 midway through the second period. Seattle finally responded with a 3-0 run to make it 10-8, but the Sol led 11-8 at halftime and extended the lead to 16-9 with another 5-1 blitz to begin the third.
One week after suffering a 28-24 loss at Seattle, the Sol responded with a 23-16 home win over the Cascades.
“We knew the Cascades game was going to be different in Austin,” said Jake Sames, another Sol rookie, who has completed 97.4 percent of his throws as a high-usage handler through five games. “After watching some film and making defensive adjustments to cause more throws and offensive adjustments to hit more open hands, we had a better game-plan coming into the home game…Going forward, we need to keep momentum and continue being patient. Winning with our legs as a young team should be our focus rather than hoping to get lucky from deep shots.”
Evan Swiatek had another big game for Austin with five goals, one assist, one block, and no turns, while Paul Starkel and Eric Brodbeck each threw four scores and totaled over 300 yards of offense. But Worthington, who finished +5 with three blocks and two goals in his first AUDL game, was the individual story of the night.
“The whole experience of playing in my first AUDL game was surreal,” said Worthington. “The fans were amazing and the guys on the Sol were all super supportive and excited for me to see the field. Prior to the game starting, I definitely had some butterflies in my stomach, and coming off a loss to Seattle the week before, I was skeptical on how the game would turn out. But being at home and having a large crowd, I knew the Sol would give it our all.”
Austin improved to 3-2 with their Seattle win, and Dallas matched the Sol at 3-2 about 24 hours later. On Saturday night, the Roughnecks D-line registered three breaks on the game’s first five points, bolting to a 4-1 lead en route to a 24-16 victory. While both teams finished the game with exactly 11 blocks, the Roughnecks managed far fewer unforced turns, completing 95.2 percent of their throws compared to the Cascades’ 89.9 percent.
A major part of the Roughnecks’ consistency revolved around Kaplan Maurer orchestrating the offense. Despite never previously finishing a game better than +6, the former D-line standout and now O-line anchor delivered a +11 performance against the Cascades, with five goals, six assists, and 39 completions with no turns.
“Last year, I was a little skeptical about moving [Kaplan] to offense because he’s such a great defensive player too, but he can do it all,” said Roughnecks Coach Jim Davis. “Not only is he making great plays, but he’s also not making mistakes, which is just as important. He’s been outstanding.”
Davis also singled out Wesley Miaw, who started on offense and completed all 34 of his throws. “It seemed like he took 100 throws and completed all of them,” said Davis, “and he made a spectacular D early in the game.”
Heading into Week 6, the Sol and Roughnecks are both feeling confident, and they certainly understand the importance of the upcoming doubleheader in Dallas.
“Going into this weekend vs. Dallas, we have to start on a clean slate, handle their defensive pressure, and use our athleticism to make plays throughout the entire game,” said Sames, who went 29-for-29 passing with three goals, an assist, and a block when Austin edged the Roughnecks 24-23 on June 12. “I love playing on this young team and am very excited for the future of the Sol. We are likely the youngest team with the least amount of reps and can only improve with more game time.”
The Roughnecks, of course, recognized that they were outworked and outplayed by the Sol in June, but they feel like they are a different team in July and are very prepared to try and take care of business at home.
“If we play our game like we’re playing now, we should do really well,” said Davis. “We’re down to number 37 on the roster, we played number 37 the other night because of injuries. But we have great depth and we’re playing very good defense. I think things will go well. We need them to go well.”
Meanwhile, the Cascades traveled back home disappointed, but still hopeful that they could contend for a playoff spot in the West.
“Tough road trip,” said Seattle’s Mark Burton. “We didn’t play our game again Austin. Lots of hiccups on our throws, and they were really good in the air and just outworked us in their environment…Dallas played really well. They beat us by playing very good offense and were athletic on defense owning us on their matchups. They were good, plain and simple.”
The Cascades are off in Week 6, but Seattle will get another crack at Dallas super soon as the Roughnecks visit the Pacific Northwest to launch Week 7 on Friday, July 16.
“We drew so much closer this weekend as a team, and I love playing for this team and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Burton. “It’s time for us to step up as a team and use this weekend field for the next games.”
Seven On The Line
The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds left the Detroit Mechanix as the lone winless team in the league by winning their fourth quarter against Philadelphia on Saturday night in the Steel City. Tied 16-all through three, the Thunderbirds got a quick 27-second hold to begin the fourth and then broke the Phoenix on three of the next five points to build a 21-17 advantage, which eventually became a 23-20 triumph.
“I challenged both D-lines to trust their marks and start clamping down,” said Pittsburgh Coach Pat Hammonds. “We had to put the hammer down and we opened the fourth quarter with massive breaks from both lines. They responded.” Jimmy Towle and Max Sheppard each finished +6 to lead the Thunderbirds’ offense, while Myles Cooper, Owen Watt, and Steve Mogielski all came up with multiple blocks on D. “The Philly game was a massive confidence boost to the entire squad,” said Towle. “We spent the practice prior reflecting on our awful turnover rate this season and we all took that to heart. The focus and energy was up, and our work paid off.” One unique aspect of the Pittsburgh-Philly AUDL rivalry is the Commonwealth Cup trophy that the two organizations created to celebrate the Pennsylvania matchup. With each game between the two teams, the trophy is hoisted by the victorious team and kept until the next meeting, adding a little extra juice every time the Thunderbirds and Phoenix collide. “Celebrating with the trophy was the cherry on top,” said Towle. “We joked about how we got the sweet end of the deal with the Commonwealth Cup. They had it for two weeks, we get it for a year. It feels like the first time I’ve really seen this team play how it should, and I’m very excited to keep battling. We have a tough schedule looking forward, but our guys are ready to step up."
Anytime you go on the road as a favorite, it’s natural to worry slightly that perhaps the home underdog will discover something and have its best game of the year. The Philly Phoenix experienced that downside in Pittsburgh; the Raleigh Flyers, on the other hand, quickly squashed Tampa Bay’s mojo with a dominant first quarter. The Flyers led 3-0 after four minutes, were up 6-1 after eight minutes, and won all four quarters by at least three goals in their 29-15 rout over the Cannons. Raleigh’s O-line turned the disc over five times in 48 minutes, but never got broken by the Cannons’ D. Conversely, the Raleigh doffense generated 14 breaks and handed the Cannons the most lopsided result in the history of the rivalry, matching the Flyers 27-13 home win over the Cannons back in 2017. “Seth [Weaver] and Elijah [Long] played great games,” said Raleigh Coach Mike DeNardis, as his Flyers won their third straight game since starting the season 0-2. “They are doing a great job in our D backfield.” Alex Davis also merited mention for his four blocks and three goals, while Sol Yanuck and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas anchored the offense by combining to complete all 66 of their throws. Henry Fisher also gobbled up yardage downfield with 362 receiving yards and 481 total, with four goals and two assists. The Flyers’ final three games in July are all against one-win teams (vs. Tampa Bay, at Pittsburgh, vs. Pittsburgh), but the schedule will stiffen in August when Raleigh faces Boston, New York, Atlanta, and DC over the course of the final three weeks of the season, with three of those four tough matchups on the road.
The Dallas Roughnecks were already shorthanded due to various injuries, but the situation became a bit more precarious when Kyle Henke revealed that he fractured his scaphoid when he laid out against Seattle’s Khalif El-Salaam in the second quarter against San Diego on June 26. Amazingly, he played the rest of the game against the Growlers and made several key snags in the second half, but Henke found himself sidelined this past Saturday with his hand and lower arm in a hard cast. “I suppose with how I throw my body around it was bound to happen, but I thought I could keep getting away with it,” he said. He expects to be out four weeks, but is hopeful to get back on the field for the stretch run. While the Roughnecks can add Henke to the long ledger of key players who have missed time, along with Dalton Smith, Kevin Richardson, and Zach Marbach, among others, there is a bit of good news as Dallas does expect to get Henry Furuta, who suffered an injury early in the first Austin meeting, back on the field this Friday or Saturday against the Sol.
The league’s all-time leading scorer certainly looked like himself on Saturday in Indianapolis. Despite going nearly 23 months between games, Cameron Brock caught three goals in the first quarter and officially finished with four, though the stats incorrectly credited teammate Travis Carpenter with one of his goals, meaning Brock actually finished with five. That should be corrected, and Brock then will have 509 goals in 121 games (and counting) over the course of his illustrious career. “It was great to hear that Cam was wanting to return,” said Indy’s Levi Jacobs, who led the AlleyCats with a remarkable +10, 780 total yard game on Saturday in the loss to Madison. “I didn’t feel any difference once he was back on the field with us thought; it was just like playing with the same Cam from the 2019 season. Playing with him for as long as we all have, we all know what he is capable of and I don’t think he is ready to slow down anytime soon.”
Week 6 in the AUDL will begin with Philly at New York, the first meeting between the two teams after their first matchup back in Week 2 was postponed. (It will be made up on Friday, August 13.) The Phoenix and Empire Friday night clash will carry a special feel for New York’s new co-coaches, Charlie Hoppes and Anthony Nuñez, who both have spent many years honing their craft in Philadelphia. “Nuñez and I have coached in that community for a long time, and I’ve been an assistant for that team for two years back in the day, so it’s a matchup that means a lot,” said Hoppes.
It was great to welcome Tyler Kinley into the AUDL broadcasting family this past weekend in Chicago and Indianapolis. Kinley played for the Seattle Cascades back in 2015, has won multiple gold medals representing the United States at the World Championships of Beach Ultimate (WCBU), and most recently has coached the University of Michigan men’s ultimate team at the college level. He brought a fresh new insight and perspective into the booth, with his multitude of experiences all influencing his observations on the air. Kinley will rejoin me for the final two broadcasts of the month, July 30 in Madison and July 31 in Minnesota. This weekend, I’m excited to reunite with Charlie Eisenhood on Friday in New York for the Phoenix and the Empire, and Ian Toner will join me in Atlanta on Saturday to collaborate on the much-anticipated Breeze-Hustle telecast.
Through five weeks, I’ve been fortunate to broadcast 10 games, and I have seen almost every championship contender in person. I’ve watched Chicago, Dallas, Raleigh, and DC twice apiece, while catching San Diego, Atlanta, Boston, and Minnesota once. This Friday night, I will finally get a glimpse of the defending champs for the first time in 2021. The obvious question lingers: who’s been the most impressive team that I’ve seen so far? If I’m focusing just on what my eyes have seen live at a stadium, I will go with the DC Breeze’s second half against Raleigh and their full-game dismantling of Boston. It’s hard to imagine a team clicking better than the Breeze did in those six quarters. Chicago’s collective speed and talent is a close second, acknowledging the Union have largely been able to cruise with an effortlessness about themselves, but they reached a new level of intensity and precision this past weekend. I’m not ready to fully waiver from preseason pick of the Dallas Roughnecks, but injuries and absences are making it difficult for the favorite to coalesce. There’s still time, but the Roughnecks have a tricky schedule ahead, with Austin twice this weekend, then road games at Seattle and San Jose, followed by the San Diego rematch in Texas on July 23. Suffice to say, there are several very good teams that could potentially still be playing at Audi Field in D.C. on September 10. The first five weeks of the season are an important foundation, but, obviously, the next month and half will be far more significant. It will be a fascinating journey, and I’m fired up to see what happens.
A quick thought exercise to close out the column, looking at the potential possibilities in the Atlantic Division. As a reminder, here are the current standings:
New York 3-1
Tampa Bay 1-6
Certainly, the schedules have been uneven thus far, so it’s important to recognize who has what left. And for the sake of this conversation, I am going to group the bottom three teams together. I understand that Boston has not beaten anyone above them either, but the Glory scored comfortable wins against the teams below them and really let their home game against Atlanta get away. That very easily could have been Atlanta’s only loss.
So, here’s what the top five each have left:
Atlanta: vs. DC, @ DC, vs. NY, @ Raleigh, and four games vs. the bottom three
DC: @ ATL, vs. ATL, vs. RAL, and four games vs. the bottom three
New York: @ BOS, @ ATL, vs. RAL, vs. BOS, and four games vs. the bottom three
Raleigh: @ BOS, @ NY, vs. ATL, @ DC, and three games vs. the bottom three
Boston: vs. NY, vs. RAL, @ NY, and four games vs. the bottom three
Now, I know that these things will not all happen. Road teams will pull off impressive victories, and I believe the bottom three will have at least two or three “upsets” over the top five. They may prove not even to be upsets as the season progresses.
But, for the sake of the exercise, if we were to imagine that the top five all won their remaining home games and beat the bottom three on the road too, here’s what the final Atlantic standings would potentially look like among the contenders:
New York 9-3
Obviously, the final standings could swing dramatically on just a couple games. If everything previously posited actually happened except Raleigh won at New York, the Flyers would vault into the three-spot above the Empire and the Glory. If Boston is able to beat New York and Raleigh at home, a slip-up in one of their two games against Philly could be the Glory’s downfall.
Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on these ifs, and we will see a plethora of meaningful matchups actually transpire on the field over the next seven weeks.
But I did want to embark on this imaginary experiment because it does showcase how well-positioned Atlanta and DC both are. Their advantage after five weeks of the season is basically this: if they beat the bottom three teams and win all their home games, they will very likely end up at Championship Weekend. Similarly, Raleigh will need to score some road wins down the stretch to have any chance of finishing in the top two and hosting a playoff game.
The landscape will change every week, and that’s what makes it so much fun. But we will reach the midway mark of the season after this coming weekend, and every game matters in the race to the playoffs.
The fireworks this past weekend were certainly solid, but the next couple months should be even more explosive.