Regular season wraps up in Russia with the undefeated Moscow Patriots topping the table

The regular season in Russia wound up last weekend with all five division leaders finishing with unbeaten records. With the playoffs looming, we take a look at how each team arrived in the post season.

Premier Division

The perennial champions Moscow Patriots have been on a mission ever since losing the last year’s final to the St. Petersburg Griffins for the first time ever. They have recruited plenty of local talent in the offseason, strengthened their coaching staff, and acquired running back Talib Wise. Wise may well be the most successful import to ever play in Russia as the former Chicago Bear and Swarco Raider (Austria), has helped the Moscow Black Storm to a couple of titles in the past.

Having thoroughly dominated all of their opponents, they look like the team to beat this year and are coming off an undefeated regular season an clinching an overall number one spot, which means that their playoffs will only start at the semifinal stage.

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The other team that earned a bye for the first two rounds of the playoffs is the newcomers from Belarus in the Minsk Litwins from Belarus, who have previously participated in the Eastern League of American Football. Riding their versatile running attack and fundamentally sound defense, they have only lost to the Patriots, and taken the Russian football community by surprise, while also bringing some international flavor to the competition.

Third place goes to the last year’s champions the St. Petersburg Griffins, who have been hit by an injury plague this season, losing their starting quarterback as well as offensive and defensive MVPs in week one. Nevertheless, they showed a lot of resilience in overcoming the tough schedule, which has also included an unsuccessful IFAF Europe Champions League stint, and have only lost to the two teams mentioned above. But that means that they don’t get a playoff bye and will start the playoffs in the first round.

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Joining them in the round of 16 will be the Moscow Spartans, another team that had a lot of hype around them in the offseason, culminating in a preseason win against the Patriots. And while three losses against the more experienced teams above have cooled them down a bit, they have still proven that they made a huge progress and will be a tough challenge to anyone in the postseason, with arguably toughest defensive front seven in the league combined with a creative aerial attack.

The last team to make it to the playoffs from the top division is the Podolsk Knights, who reached the semifinals along with the Spartans in 2015. The development of their quarterback Pavel Levashov as well as the addition of some young talent to the receiving corps, allowed them to add a vastly improved offense to their traditionally strong defense, which still features among the best defensive lines in the country.

 

The first team out of the playoff picture in the Premier division is the Yaroslavl Rebels, who have still managed to get two wins this season (both in the overtime) and became one of the most surprising teams in the nation after going winless in 2015.

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At the bottom of the division are one of the biggest disappointments Moscow United, who lost some of their best players to the Patriots in the offseason and only managed to get one win against the Moscow Bruins, also playing in Russian championship for the first time after years in ELAF.

Division North

The division was dominated by the St. Petersburg North Legion, who participated in the Premier Division a season ago, but decided to take a step back and regroup in 2016 due to the poor results there. However, they failed to find a match at the lower level and have easily run the table, and will now face the defending champion Griffins in the first round of the playoffs, in what is among the most bitter rivalries in the nation.

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The MUT (also from St. Petersburg) finished second, with the newcomers Cherepovets Rhinos ending up in third and the Moscow Dragons finishing last in the division. In fact, the placing of these teams was decided by the points differential, as all three have finished with the same record.

Division South

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Just like a year ago, a Crimean powerhouse (and among the oldest franchises in the former Soviet Union) the Sevastopol Titans went unbeaten in a tough division that featured some emerging and intriguing teams such as the Stavropol Stones (who finished second) and Krasnodar Bisons who went third. The Titans now start their playoff run hosting the Moscow Spartans. The other Crimean team, the Simferopol Taurus seemed to have taken a step back with some personnel problems, and only managed one win against the Volzhsky Kites from the mainland, who went winless.

Division Urals

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Perhaps the most competitive division in Russia was won by the Perm Steel Tigers, but their journey to the top wasn’t easy with some close games, including against the last year divisional title holders the Yekaterinburg Lightings, who have finished third. Perm will now host the Podolsk Knights in the playoffs.

The second spot in the division (and another playoff birth) went to the young and rapidly developing  Chelyabinsk Tanks, with their inter-city rivals Team South Urals ending up in fourth. The Piranhas, the other team from Yekaterinburg, was second to last, only managing one win against the young Kurgan Hornets who went winless.

Division Volga

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The Nizhny Novgorod Raiders 52, being perhaps the most experienced team in the country outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, have easily run the table against the newcomers Penza Phoenix and Samara Stormbringers. Having lost in the opening round of the playoffs for three seasons in a row now, they seem to have their best chance yet to overcome this obstacle this year when the Chelyabinsk Tanks come to town for their game in the round of 16.

Photo credits: Polina Stepanyuk, Vasily Markov, Stanislav Kireev, Anastasia Shtokaylo, Katerina Zotkina, Pavel Semiannikov 

Ilya Kravtsov
After being involved in bringing American football to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya would go on to play in the Japanese X-League, helping his side Tokyo Bullseyes advance all the way to the top tier of the league and become the only non-corporate team in X-1. He's currently the defensive coordinator of St. Petersburg Griffins, as well as the head coach of St. Petersburg Valkyries.
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