The 2017 American Football League of China playoffs are set to begin on November 25th. Here is a look at the league’s regular season standings.
Below is a full preview of the AFLC’s first round playoff matchups:
Shanghai Nighthawks (2-2, East #3) @Beijing Iron Brothers (4-0, North #1)
Saturday, November 25th, 1:30pm, Beijing International Polo Club
The Iron Brothers will be facing a step up in competition in the first round of the playoffs, after finishing their AFLC North regular season schedule at 4-0. Their opponent, the Shanghai Nighthawks, ended their season last year with a last-minute touchdown that eliminated them from playoff contention. Beijing possesses a talented duo at quarterback and running back, as Hasiter (#13), a threat as both a passer and runner, and Chen Chao (#27), a top performer at this year’s CAFL Combine, form the nucleus of the Iron Brothers’ offense, and will be major threats against the Nighthawks’ aggressive defense.
The Nighthawks are coming off two bad losses to their Shanghai rivals, the Titans and the Warriors, and with the cold weather that usually hits Beijing by late November, may take a while to get used to the conditions in Beijing at game time. Jackson Chen (#89), once the team’s kicker, has taken over at quarterback, while Tianshou Zhang (#44), once a running back, is now also playing linebacker. Expect a low-scoring, tough, physical battle that goes down to the wire, as both teams have major size on the offensive and defensive lines, with this also potentially being the coldest game in AFLC history.
Mountain City Fury (3-2, West #2) @Shanghai Titans (4-0, East #1)
Saturday, November 25th, 6:45pm, Zhangjiang Sports Center, Shanghai
The defending champion Shanghai Titans are rolling on all cylinders at the moment, and host the McFury in the first round of the playoffs. This is familiar territory for a few players on the McFury, as some of them made the same trip to Shanghai to play the Titans in the first round of last year’s playoffs as members of the Chongqing Dockers. The McFury’s two regular season losses both came against the Chengdu Pandamen, and the Titans will be an even tougher hurdle.
The Titans enter the game fully loaded at the skill positions, with Cam Shubert (#4) and Matt Smith (#3) being quarterback Kyle Moran’s (#13) top target at wide receiver, and Lane Shen (#1) and Erwin Wu (#5) sharing the load at running back. Although the Titans are expected to cruise through this matchup, major upsets have happened before in the AFLC, and the McFury have showed signs of improvement throughout their first season in the league.
Shanghai Warriors (3-1, East #2) @Hong Kong Warhawks (4-0, South #1)
Sunday, November 26th, 1:30pm, Happy Valley Racecourse Pitch #1, Hong Kong
Both of these teams are flying high entering this matchup, as the Warriors have won three straight, and the Warhawks have won four in a row. The Warriors have had a revolving door at quarterback this year, but whoever does play will have to deal with the loss of top target Kébé Sanha (#14) to a broken arm from the regular season finale against the Nighthawks. Defensively, Ibrahim Ma (#30) has burst onto the scene as a tackling machine for a defensive unit that has shut out their last three opponents. The Warhawks started off the season with two close wins, but gained momentum with two bigger wins against two of the better teams in the South Division, including a decisive 19-6 home win against the Foshan Tigers that won them the division.
Running back Ka Yip (#9) and fullback Leung Wing Kit (#85) are the Warhawks’ two main offensive threats, while defensive back Lui Sze Ting (#10) anchors a defense that has allowed less than 5 points per game to opposing offenses. Hong Kong can be a difficult place to travel for teams in the mainland due to visa requirements, and with just three weeks notice, the Warriors may not be able to bring a full squad for the game. If they can pull out a win, the Warriors would become the second mainland-based team in AFLC history to travel to Hong Kong and knock off the South Division’s undefeated #1 seed in the playoffs, after the Chongqing Dockers traveled to Hong Kong and edged the Cobras in the 2015 playoffs. That Cobras squad was missing some key players however, and the Warhawks will have a full team awaiting the Warriors for this game.
Foshan Tigers (3-1, South #2) @Chengdu Pandamen (5-0, West #1)
Sunday, November 26th, 2:00pm, Sichuan University Wangjiang Campus, Chengdu
The undefeated Pandamen accomplished an otherworldly feat during the regular season, as their defense, led by 2016 CAFL #2 overall pick, defensive tackle Wade Du (#52) and safety Wang Yun (#9), did not allow a single point over five games. Quarterback Ivan Yuan (#7) has led the Pandamen offense to more than 48 points per game, with Duke Huang (#71) and Rivers Zheng (#11) as his main targets through the air, and French running back Florian Wanesse (#36) leading the ground game. This will be their toughest test of the season yet, as the Tigers come to town with talented, fast skill players, and major size on the offensive and defensive lines.
The Tigers offense has seemingly under-performed so far this season, but remains dangerous, led by their young quarterback Fisher Yu (#1), a big, fast athlete with a strong throwing arm, as well as his main threat through the air Al Qian (#15), and on the ground, in running back Liang Jianbang (#30). The Tigers performed well in their one long-distance trip last season, narrowly losing to the eventual champion Shanghai Titans in the semifinals, so they should have a good chance to shock the West Division champions, and make their way to the semifinals for the second-straight year. Chengdu is stacked at almost every position however, making this possibly THE must-watch game of the weekend.