The American Football League of China has expanded to a new high of 18 teams for its 2017 regular season, and has also added a North Division. Life in the Huddle previews the upcoming each of the teams starting with the North and West divisions with one game already having been played in these two divisions. The Beijing Iron Brothers defeated the new Taiyuan Troops 18-14.
Beijing Iron Brothers, 2016 record: 2-2, missed playoffs
The Iron Brothers, still only a year and a half old, narrowly missed out on a playoff spot in last year’s hyper-competitive East Division, which featured the Shanghai Big Three (Titans, Warriors, and Nighthawks). Quarterback Joe Cheng (#1) and wide receiver Fu Yu (#19), both CAFL draftees a year ago, will lead the team on offense, while last season’s AFLC Defensive Player of the Year, cornerback Guo Ruibin (#2) will be a star on the defensive side of the ball, as well as a big-play threat on offense from the wildcat formation. Beijing figures to face little trouble making the playoffs this year, as they are joined in the new North Division by two teams new to the league.
Taiyuan Troops, newly joined for 2017
The Troops have many similarities to last season’s Iron Brothers, in that they have existed for only half a year, and are still fairly small in numbers, but have many gifted athletes from some of China’s sports universities with flag football experience. Two-way lineman Yang Hao (#52) is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team, having excelled for the CAFL’s Guangzhou Power last year, but expect contributions from wide receivers Zhang Wenpeng (#22) and Zhou Xiaochen (#80) as well.
Tianjin Pirates, newly joined for 2017
The Pirates, one of China’s oldest teams, were actually one of the founding members of the AFLC in 2013, but dropped out of the league after that and joined the City Bowl for a few years. Now back in the league, they face a tall task ahead of them in the North Division, with only one playoff spot up for grabs.
Chengdu Pandamen, 2016 record: 4-2, reached semifinals
Chengdu comes back even stronger this year, with just about every player returning to the team, as well as a few new additions. Stefan Daniels (#2) and Ivan Yuan (#7) will most likely split time at quarterback again, and top targets Rivers Zhang (#11) and Duke Huang (#71) are expected to be a prolific wide receiver duo. In addition, running back Zhang Zhengzhi (#14) and lineman Du Xuanting (#36) were early-round selections in this year’s CAFL Draft, and lineman Du Feng (#52), the second overall selection in last year’s draft, has joined the team as well. Chengdu thus figures to once again make a deep playoff run in 2017.
Chongqing Centaurs, 2016 record: 0-4, missed playoffs
The Centaurs endured a tough first campaign in the AFLC West last year, but with two new teams joining the division for 2017, they figure to have a much better shot at capturing a playoff spot. Some of the team’s more promising players include tight end Zhang Yang (#87), running back/linebacker Luo Gang (#18), and wide receiver/safety Chen Yuwen (#83). A new Chongqing derby will also begin this year with the Mountain City Fury joining the league, as the fight for a playoff spot in the West should be fierce this season.
Mountain City Fury (Chongqing), newly joined for 2017
Most teams new to the AFLC have a tough time in their first year in the league, but there is definitely reason to believe that the McFury (a shorter version of their full name) will have a chance to compete for a playoff spot in the West. With multiple former Chongqing Dockers on the roster, much of the team has significant game experience, led by quarterback/safety Kam Liu (#2), who is as much of a threat running the ball as passing. Key players on defense will be agile defensive end Tonger Xie (#98), a team captain who can also play running back, and linebacker Rock Wen (#58), who can also play tight end. As is the case with many new teams, one of the McFury’s biggest concerns may end up being the number of players they have available on the roster, particularly towards the end of the season.
Xi’an Dark Tide, newly joined for 2017
The Dark Tide are yet another new team that has joined the AFLC for 2017. The Dark Tide will be led on offense by wide receiver Cui Zihao (#15), a short and shifty wide receiver with good hands, as well as Xuan Zi (#81) who can play tight end, as well as any position on the defensive line. The defense will be led by linebacker Bao He (#59), who just recently joined the team, but whose dedication and commitment to the improvement has made quite an impact on the team so far. It might be a tough year for the Dark Tide, but it will certainly be helped by a manageable schedule of three games, one less than most other AFLC teams.