The American Football League of China’s schedule kicks into overdrive this weekend, with seven games scheduled. Most teams will be playing their first games of the regular season, so before the season begins, AFI’s affiliate, Life in the Huddle, has compiled a team-by-team preview of the league’s 20 teams, starting with the North and South Divisions.
The Barbarians are a new team, but filled with experienced players, such as LB Nick Feng (#90) and WR Fu Yu (#14). Numerous former members of the Beijing Cyclones and Iron Brothers are on the roster, and their experience has paid off so far, as the team has started 2-0 with blowout victories in both games. The Barbarians now possess the inside track to the North Division’s #1 seed, which would potentially give them at least two home playoff games, which could become a major advantage for them as the weather will have turned cold in Beijing by the start of the playoffs.
Beijing Iron Brothers
The Iron Brothers made their first playoff appearance last season, but face a tough task ahead of them this year with the addition of multiple teams to the North Division. Their roster numbers are comparatively low, so while the spread-out schedule of the North will help with that, their ability to fight for a playoff spot towards the end of the season may come down to how healthy they can stay. Quarterbacks Cheng Long (#1) and Kevin An (#12) are two experienced players entering their third year with the team, and will be depended on to guide the team to the playoffs for a second straight year.
The Troops received a boost earlier this year with the addition of OL/DL Du Feng (#99), and were on the cusp of playoff qualification last season. But the big question mark facing them this year will be the quarterback position, as Yang Hongliang, last year’s starter, has departed, and LB and captain Yang Hao (#52), who also has experience at QB, continues to rehab a leg injury. Taiyuan has impressive size in the trenches however, and their productive running game could be enough to push them to their first playoff berth in team history.
Player numbers have often been an issue for the Pirates, but in 2018, they finally appear to be gaining some ground. The fight for the North’s #2 and #3 playoff spots looks like it will be a fierce battle between four teams, and Tianjin, which similar to Taiyuan possesses a sound rushing attack led by speedy RB Da Fei (#9), could very likely snag a playoff spot. The Pirates’ most important game might be its matchup against the Iron Brothers on the final weekend of the regular season, as it could very well determine the playoff situation in the North Division.
With a full year of practicing under their belt, the Steamer are ready to take on a full season schedule in 2018. Although they have started 0-1, there are three more games for them to find their footing in this wide-open division. WR Guo Yu (#77) figures to be one of the team’s main playmakers, while center Guo Feng (#69) will be a leader on the offensive line. Like the Troops, the Steamer will be hoping to rely on the size they have on the offensive and defensive lines to help offset their relative lack of experience in the league.
The Tigers have turned into a legitimate title contender over the last two years, and this year should not be any different. The offense will feature plenty of dangerous and experienced players, led by RB Liang Jianbang (#30), while the defense doesn’t lack for experience either, as LBs Vega Chai (#52) and Bryce Gauw (#0, formerly of the Warhawks) will be a boost to the defensive unit. Expect the Tigers to come into the season motivated after coming in second to the Warhawks two years in a row, and being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The South Division has always had perhaps the most parity in the AFLC, and over the past few seasons, the Apaches have for the most part come up just short, never losing by much to some of the division’s better-achieving teams. Hard-working WR Qin Haopeng (#84) may be ready to take on a bigger role in the offense in his third year with the team, while 18 year-old DB Randy Liang (#29) is a player to watch for on defense. With three playoff spots up for grabs in the division this year, the Apaches may be able to claim their third playoff appearance in team history if they can come out winners in some of those close games that they seemed to lose last year.
Hong Kong Cobras
The Cobras, once the undisputed #1 of the South Division, have in recent years fallen victim to the division’s parity, as they have missed the playoffs both of the last two seasons. RB Hysan Ng (#42) was a newcomer last year, but impressed in his debut season, while Barry Chen (#20) has been a mainstay on the offensive and defensive lines over the past few years, and will be counted on for leadership there. No team in the South has really been stuck at the bottom of the division for too long, so expect the Cobras to bounce back and once again be competitive for a playoff spot this season.
Hong Kong Combat Orcas
The Combat Orcas are one of the teams that may stand to benefit from the league’s addition of playoff spots the most, as they have played strong teams like the Tigers and Warhawks very close over the last two years, and narrowly missed out on a playoff spot last year. David Cheung (#7) will guide the offense at QB, while veteran LB Ken Wong (#99) will once againb e a leader on defense. The Orcas, like the Warhawks, are a small and quick team, and will look to leverage that into the type of success that the Warhawks have had in recent years against some of the division’s bigger teams.
Hong Kong Warhawks
The South’s two-time defending champions are the Warhawks, who are on a roll momentum-wise after also capturing the South China Bowl in June. The offense will benefit from the addition of QB Jonathan Wong (#14) from the Combat Orcas, and will also rely on bruising RB Leung Wing Kit (#85) to shoulder the load in the running game. Lui Sze Ting (#10) is one of the top defensive backs in the league, and will lead an impressive defensive unit. The fight for #1 in the South may once again come down to the Warhawks and Tigers, so expect drama in the playoff race, as the two teams do not meet until the final weekend of the regular season, November 3rd-4th.