AFI’s Year End Europe Top 20 offers plenty of surprises

The AFI team is proud to present Year-End Europe Top 20.

This has been one of the most difficult rankings we have ever had to do with the addition of the eight ELF teams to an already crowded European football scene.

Our seven-man panel includes former and current players and coaches and we have carefully reviewed all the teams and games in Europe. You may not agree with all the picks. And you may think there are a couple of surprising teams on the list. A few other teams you might have expected to be there are not. And you may disagree with the two ties. We get that so feel free to send in your comments and there are usually plenty of them.

1. Dresden Monarchs (11-1 GFL) – Won German Bowl

In early October, the Dresden Monarchs made history, winning their first ever German Bowl by knocking off the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns – the team that beat the Swarco Raiders in the CEFL cup earlier in the year. The team was borderline unstoppable, making a strong case as the best team in Europe. They were led from the front by QB Kyle Carta-Samuels Jr. who threw a staggering 54 TDs and only eight INTs in just 13 games, making it one of the best offenses the league has seen in recent years. What makes this all the more impressive is the fact that this outrageous offensive performance comes straight after a year away from football due to COVID-19.

1. Frankfurt Galaxy (11-1 ELF) – Won ELF championship

The Galaxy came out of the gate as a strong candidate for the ELF title and although they dropped the first game 15-14 to the Hamburg Sea Devils, they never lost a game after that. They had the highest scoring offense in the league led by quarterback Jakeb Sullivan who threw for 2,609 yards and 32 touchdowns in 12 games. They also had the stingiest defense giving up an average of 14 points a game. Although they were pushed to the limit in the title game, they managed to survive after a last gasp 62-yard field goal attempt by the Hamburg Sea Devils fell short.

3. Hamburg Sea Devils (8-4 ELF) – Reached ELF championship game

The Sea Devils were one of the two favorites to win the ELF title early in the season and they looked sharp running out to a 6-0 record before Frankfurt handed them an embarrassing 35-9 beating midway through the season. Hamburg struggled after that losing two of their last three regular season games but then in the playoffs caught fire again, turning away a surging Wroclaw Panthers squad and then forcing Frankfurt to score with less than two minutes remaining to win the title game.

4.  Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns (11-1 GFL; 2-0 CEFL) – Reached German Bowl, Won CEFL title

The Unicorns had another outstanding season under head coach Jordan Neuman. Playing with German quarterback Alexander Haupert, Schwäbisch Hall ran through the regular season unbeaten racking up 512 points in 10 games while surrendering a mere 90. They were finally defeated in the title game by the Dresden Monarchs 28-19 after taking a 19-6 third quarter lead. Besides Haupert, the Unicorns boasted a pair of high-caliber receivers in Moritz Böhringer and Yannick Mayr. Defensively, the Unicorns were led by hard-hitting linebacker Nick Alfieri who anchored a defense that led the league in multiple categories.

5. Swarco Raiders (7-3 Austria; 2-1 CEFL) – Won Austrian Bowl

The Raiders had what was for them a mediocre regular season in the Austrian Football League finishing with a pedestrian 5-3 record. The playoffs were a different story. After finishing the regular season with two straight losses, Swarco came alive in the post season, first downing the Danube Dragons 31-20 after having lost to them just three weeks before and then manhandling the Dacia Vienna Vikings 35-14 in the Austrian Bowl to capture their eighth title and third championship win in a row.

6. Wroclaw Panthers (6-5 ELF) – Reached ELF semifinals

The Wroclaw Panthers transitioned from the Polish Football League to the European League of Football smoothly under head coach Kuba Samel winning three of their first four games of the season. With the league’s leading passer, Lukas O’Connor, behind center (3,198 yards), and a cohesive offensive unit, the Panthers had the best offense in the ELF over the first four games. Although, the team hit a dry patch losing three in a row, they rebounded with three straight wins to close out the regular season and qualify for the playoffs. They lost in the semifinals to the Hamburg Sea Devils 30-27 but proved that they belonged and could well challenge for the title in 2022.

7. Dacia Vienna Vikings (8-2 Austria) – Reached Austrian Bowl

The Dacia Vienna Vikings opened the Austrian Football League season on fire, winning their first six games in overwhelming fashion. With Eystin Salum at quarterback, the Vikings led the league in scoring, averaging of 37 points a game. With weapons like running back Florian Wegan who rushed for 810 yards and nine touchdowns and receivers Mitchell Paige and Daniel Schwam, the Vikings were tough to outscore. However, when they reached the Austrian Bowl they faced a red hot Swarco Raiders team that beat them 35-14.

8. Kuopio Steelers (9-1 Finland) – Won Finnish championship, Maple Bowl

As they did in 2020, the Kuopio Steelers dominated the Finnish Maple League in 2021 with the highest scoring offense and stingiest defense in the league. With Joey Bradley behind center and running back  Le’Anthony Reasonover rushing for 1,252 yards (8.8 yds/carry), the Steelers had by far the best offense in the league averaging an astonishing 41.6 points a game. Kuopio’s only loss came in the final regular season game of the year. They rolled past the Seinäjoki Crocodiles in the semifinals and finally put away a stubborn Helsinki Roosters squad 14-0 in the Maple Bowl.

9. Parma Panthers (10-0 Italy) – Won Italian Championship

The Italian National Champions were one of the tightest groups this year. They were led by head coach Marc Matioli, whose experience at both Vanderbilt and Stanford shone through. The team had some stand out imports, Reilly Hennessey and Nick Diaco among them, but it was Matioli’s ability to cause mismatches on the field with his Italians that led to an undefeated season. Matioli’s willingness to dual-wield his players made them most effective, whether that be Diaco at wild-cat QB and DE or the unassuming Simone Alinovi who led the league with 13 TDs while playing high-safety on defense.

10. Potsdam Royals (8-4 GFL) – Reached German semifinals

The Potsdam Royals started the season strong with an unprecedented running game from Jake Mayon. The Euro import first-year racked up a staggering 21 TDs and 1747 yards, eating up massive chunks of the clock as he went. Although teams struggled to contain Mayon, they soon found out that when they did the offense had little else to offer causing the Royals to trail off in the back end of the season. Still, the Royals made it to the semifinals where they were eliminated 28-18 by the number four ranked Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns.

11. Cologne Centurions (5-6 ELF) – Reached ELF semifinals

The Cologne Centurions opened the ELF season by winning four of their first six games but went on a semi skid dropping three of their last four games. Still, they reached the semifinals but were knocked off by the eventual champions, the Frankfurt Galaxy. Behind an amazing running game featuring Madre London who averaged 217.7 yards per carry and German quarterback Jan Weinreich (4th leading passer averaging 180.9 yards a game) Cologne had the second highest scoring offense in the league.

12 – Milano Seamen (7-3; Italy 0-1 CEFL) – Reached Italian Bowl

The Seamen reached the Italian final for the 7th time since 2013 but were unable to capture their sixth title, losing a heartbreaker to the Parma Panthers 40-34 in overtime. In fact, Milano had trouble with Parma all season having lost twice to them in the regular season also in close games. Milano also reached the Central European Football League semifinals where they were turned away by Austria’s Swarco Raiders. Still, quarterback Luke Zahradka threw for 1,908 yards and a league-leading 27 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

13. Saarland Hurricanes (9-3 GFL) – Reached GFL semifinals

The Saarland Hurricanes emerged midway through the German Football League season as a surprise playoff contender in their very first season in the league. In fact, this was the most successful season for the Hurricanes in their 39 years of existence. With little known Josh Goldin at quarterback, Saarland marched through the GFL South losing only two games in the regular season, both to the German Bowl finalists, the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. Goldin threw for 3,385 yards and 37 touchdowns with just five interceptions with a 71.6 completion percentage – ranking him first among all starting quarterbacks in the league and on par with some of the best passers in Europe. Saarland also boasted the third best defense in the conference and knocked off the Cologne Crocodiles in the quarterfinals.

14. Helsinki Roosters (7-3 Finland) – Reached Maple Bowl

The Roosters were back in the Maple Bowl after missing the playoffs in 2020. Helsinki will have to wait to reclaim the title another year as they fell short to the Kuopio Steelers in the Championship game. Head coach Juha Hakala and his veteran squad were still one of the best teams in Scandinavia as their offense and defense ranked second in the Maple League. However, the Roosters will have to look toward next season without homegrown passer Miro Kadmiry as the veteran announced his retirement earlier this month.

15. Leipzig Kings (5-5 ELF) – Finished 3rd in ELF North

Despite narrowly missing the playoffs the Kings were one of Europe’s most talented teams. A potent offense led by former Marshall quarterback Michael Birdsong paired with defensive player of the year Kyle Kitchens made Leipzig a tough team to beat. The Kings biggest wins included beating the Hamburg Sea Devils as massive road underdogs. When healthy, the Kings were one of the ELF’s most exciting squads to watch.

16. Danube Dragons (5-4 Austria) – Reached Austrian semifinals

The Danube Dragons behind a passing attack led by veteran quarterback Chad Jeffries who was the third leading passer in the AFL, and the league’s second leading receiver Philipp Haun, reached the semifinals. They knocked off the eventual champion Swarco Raiders in the last regular season game of the year and looked poised to reach the Austrian Bowl for the first time since 2010. But the Raiders proved too much in the semifinal beating Danube 31-20 in a game that was closer than the score indicated.

16. Graz Giants (4-5 Austria) – Reached Austrian semifinals

The Graz Giants were the silent assassins this year. On offense, they were led by one of the most dangerous tandems in European football, QB Connor Miller and WR Darrell Adams. Miller led the league with 23 TDs and 2170 yards in just eight games. Adams similarly led the league in receiving with 11 TDs and 823 yards. Adams’ ability to be bigger, stronger and faster than anyone else on the field caused issues for every defense in Austria. Along with all-star league-leading Austrian linebacker Thomas Schnurrer, the team looked to be one of the more dominant teams in one of the best leagues in Europe. But consistency and a lack of other players to turn to hampered their success in the end.

18. Cologne Crocodiles (6-5 GFL) – Reached GFL quarterfinals

The Cologne Crocodiles were back in the GFL playoffs. Their biggest wins included defeating the eventual GFL champions the Dresden Monarchs, as well as beating the defending champion New Yorker Lions on their home turf. The Crocodiles explosive offense helped them reach the post season as quarterback Christian Strong guided them to 28 points and over 400 yards a game. However, Cologne was bounced from the playoffs by the surprising Saarland Hurricanes.

19. Calanda Broncos (9-1 Switzerland) – Swiss champions

Another season in Switzerland and another championship for the Broncos. The recent championship is the 10th time in 12 years the Broncos have hoisted the championship trophy, and fourth consecutive. Head coach Geoff Buffum and his Broncos were able to win the title again behind an experienced offensive line and former Georgia State quarterback Connor Manning. The Broncos also participated in the CEFL losing the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns in the semifinals.

20. Bydgoszcz Archers (8-0 Poland) – Polish champions

The Bydgoszcz Archers finished their perfect season with a commanding 27-7 win the Polish Bowl over the Tychy Falcons. The Archers were playing in the Poland’s lower leagues just a short time ago. Now, with the best scoring offense and defense in the Polish Football League, Bydgoszcz largely dominated their opponents as they cruised to a perfect season and their first championship in team history.

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