IFFL – The IFFL debuted a new playoff format this season to go along with its expansion to 12 teams and 3 divisions, incorporating a brand new, Week 12/13 Divisional Championship Round. Under the new format, the top two contenders from each of the league’s newly minted divisions face off in a two-week cumulative match for division honors, and then those three Division Champs advance to the next round along with a Wild Card team based on regular season points. Early indications from the international press have been overwhelmingly positive as the set-up has appeared to work perfectly to usher the four strongest teams in the league into the semifinal round for what should be the best final four in league history.
The order of priority for the Points Wild Card this season had the AF#1 Los Angeles Dragons in the #1 spot based on their 2103.00 regular season points total, but the Dragons advanced with a Round 1 win. The first half of the game, played in Week 12 was a tightly played contest that ended 154-143, giving the Dragons just an 11 point lead over AF#21 New Orleans VooDoo. Fans who’ve been whispering that Los Angeles was just a paper dragon, waiting to be slain, with their unlikliest tandem of starting quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Case Keenum, waited for New Orleans to unleash some Black Magic in the Week 13 second half on the upstart Dragons, but those fans turned out to be gravely disappointed when it was Los Angeles that unleashed the magic. The Dragons completed almost 600 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air along with 0ver 300 yards receiving. Their defense, getting in on the rout, racked up 6 sacks, 2 interceptions and a touchdown of their own, and when the magic dust had settled, Los Angeles had produced 267 points of scoring – 8th all-time in the league record book – for a final score of 421-268 in the blowout victory to make the Los Angeles Dragons the 2017 Americas Division Champion and the #1 seed in the Final Four.
The Dragons win pushed the Wild Card opening down the list to the #2 scoring team, the AF#17 Scottish Claymores (2067.00 points) who faced the Venice Killerwhales in the Europa Division Championship. A charter member, the Claymores were the league runners-up in the very first season of the IFFL, while Venice, who joined the league in its second season, 2015, went all the way to win the Championship in their rookie season. The two have faced each other six times in the franchises’ history, including in Week 9 of this season, and the Killerwhales have gotten the victory in those meetings an impressive 5 times out of 6, with the Claymore’s only victory over Venice coming in Week 13 of the 2015 season. In the Week 12 first half of the match, the pair were going back and forth, point for point with each other until late in the day Sunday when Venice began to pull away, but then late in the half, the Claymores offense exploded to take a sizable lead. Largely on the strength of their Roethlisberger to Brown, QB to WR combo, the Scotsmen put up over a hundred points just from that tandem to take a 245-182 lead at the break. In Week 13, Scotland played from the lead through the rest of the match, although Venice did pull the score close enough to remain in striking distance, the Claymores finally beached the Whales 415-334 to be named 2017 Europa Division Champions and the #2 seed in the semifinal round.
With the Dragons and Claymores advancing to the Final Four on Division Championship wins, the next team in line for the Points Wild Card would’ve been the Perth Panthers who outscored Venice in total season points by a margin of just 3 points, putting up 1990.00 to the Whales’ 1987.00. The Panthers are no strangers to narrow margins, being knocked from the semifinal round in the 2016 playoffs by a 297-298 single point loss to the 2016 League Champion Charleston Franchise Playerz, but in this match-up they were huge favorites. Their opponent was 2017 expansion franchise Hawaiian Beach Bums who posted a respectable, but not legendary rookie campaign. Hawaii, however, gave the Panthers the fight of the season, and the match-up turned out to be the closest and most exciting of the divisional round. Perth went up early in the Week 12 first half, and pulled out to safe lead, but they plateaued, and the Beach Bums kept grinding, eventually putting up 4 touchdowns on the day, while the Panthers were hurt by 3 turnovers, though still managed to head into the break with a 208-185 lead. In the second half, Hawaii pulled just about even with Perth near the start of the day, but buoyed by strong performances from Gronkowski and Ingram, the Panthers pulled away again, and then put the game away with help from Kenyon Drake’s 120 rushing yard career day. They’ve now got back-to-back Division Championships, last year as the Champs of the short lived South Division, and now as the 2017 Pacific Division Champs and will be the #3 seed in the next round.
Perth’s victory, brings the Points Wild Card back to the Venice Killerwhales, who will advance into the semi’s despite their loss to the Claymores, and as the #4 seed, they will face the #1 seeded Los Angeles Dragons. Los Angeles beat both Scotland and Perth in the course of the Regular Season, but they were humiliated by a 133-258 Week 8 loss to Venice, and the Killerwhales could very well be the team that matches up best against this juggernaut from the World League. Three of the Killerwhales’ 4 losses came in the first 4 weeks of the season (the 4th was to Perth in Week 10), and since Week 5, they have averaged almost 200 points per week and are an even better team than their standings and scoring record shows them to be. In the other game of the Final Four, Scotland and Perth match up very evenly. The two have not faced each other since the Week 1 season opener – a distant memory by now, between two very different rosters. Scotland won that game, but Perth has won in the previous two meetings between the pair, once each in 2015 and 2016. The first half of both matches will take place in Week 14, with the second half the following week. The winners will advance to the 4th annual League Championship in Weeks 16 and 17.