Chinese National Football League heads into 3rd round with plenty at stake

As the Chinese National Football League’s 2020 season moves into its third week, each game takes on a bigger meaning as teams begin to fight for seeding and their playoff lives. Here’s a brief look at the five games going on this week:

Saturday, October 17, 1 pm, Sanlin Sports Center Football Field, Shanghai

Beijing Barbarians @ Shanghai Titans

The Barbarians come into this game undefeated and have been dominant on both sides of the ball, with a running game powered by a pair of Running Backs in #84 Cao Yu and #37 Chang Yun Peng, and a defense led by #90 Nick “Church” Feng. With two lopsided victories in two games, the Barbarians look like the team to beat thus far this season.

Their opponents, the Shanghai Titans, would have been favorites in past seasons, as they have made the last 4 championship games. However, the Titans suffered a lot of attrition this past offseason and come in at 1-1. In their previous game, a loss to the Foshan Tigers, the Titans looked like they found their stride in the second half. The pressure will be on CB Zhang Xiao Ming (#25), DL Gary (#93), and the rest of the Titans defense to keep the Barbarians offense in check and allow QB Stone and the newfangled Titans offense more time to gel.

A win for the Barbarians practically guarantees them a spot in the playoffs and the inside track towards a top 2 finish (and the bye that comes with it), while a loss put the Titans in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time. The Titans have made the playoffs every single year since the league originally started in 2013. A win would put them right in the thick of things and serve notice to the rest of the league that the Titans aren’t going away anytime soon.

For Beijing, this is also a chance to exorcise old demons. For all their success, they have had hard times against Shanghai teams, losing 32-6 against the Titans in 2018 and then 34-6 against the Shanghai Warriors in the 2019 playoffs. This is their best chance to overcome that mental block.

Saturday, October 17, 2 pm, Huasu Lingyun Football Park, Hangzhou

Guangzhou Apache @ Hangzhou Smilodons

The only match-up between undefeated teams this week, the Guangzhou Apaches will make the trek to Eastern China to face the Hangzhou Smilodons. Both teams are undefeated, but the Smilodons are a game ahead in the standings by being 2-0 while the Apaches are 1-0-1. While a loss would not be too damaging to their playoff chances, a win would go a long way towards solidifying a playoff birth and give a much better chance at landing a top 2 seed and a first-round bye.

Both teams come in with strong defenses and game manager-type offenses. DB #4 Yang Shui Quan is the star of the Apache defense, having already returned an interception for a touchdown this season. On offense #24 Chen NanZhi (陈南志) provides a steady ground presence and Wide Receiver #77 Cen ZiLe has already shown this season he can be a big-play threat for the Apaches.

The Smilodons come in with a simple formula: Pound the ball on offense, and blitz, blitz, blitz, and blitz some more on defense. It has worked as the Smilodons are undefeated. They face their toughest test of the season as the Apaches have arguably played the tougher schedule so far and have looked strong in both games so far.

The Smilodons will be counting on DE/OLB #80 Lin Tuo (刘拓) to set the edge, both with his pass-rush and run contain, and DT #94 Martin is a vital 2-way lineman that the Smilodons are counting on.

Sunday, October 18, 1 pm, Sanfen No.2 Football Field, Lufang Sports Park, Chengdu

Foshan Tigers @ Chengdu Pandaman

The Chengdu Pandaman and Foshan Tigers meet for the first time since the 2017 American Football League of China Quarterfinals, where the Pandaman pulled out a 28-21 victory.

While many players have since departed from both squads, there are still veterans from that game still going strong in 2020 Pandaman QB #7 Ivan Yuan.

As always, Chengdu brings in a high-powered offense featuring a three-headed monster trio of Ivan, RB #15 Hins, and Receiver #11 Rivers Zheng, another veteran from 2017. It will be strength on strength as Foshan’s calling card is still their defense, and the Tigers will need DB #31 Lu Ming (卢铭) and LB #52 Cai Weijia (蔡维佳 ) in top-form if they want to slow down the Pandaman offense.

On the flip side for Foshan, QB #3 Chen Haicheng (陈海城) will have to cut down on his turnovers (he threw four interceptions in their last game against the Shanghai Titans) if Foshan wants to win, and a steady dose of Running Backs #24 Rao Zhuyi (饶珠奕) and #6 Liang Qiyu (梁其宇) will be the key to keeping the explosive Chengdu attack off the field. Chengdu will be hoping their young star defensive back, #22 UltraHot, can step up and play a big role in shutting down the Foshan offense. He’s the youngest player in the veteran Chengdu secondary, and his youthful vigor and energy are key for Chengdu.

Shenyang King Kong @ Zhengzhou Steamer

Both Shenyang and Zhengzhou come into the game 0-2 and desperately needing a win. A loss here all but guarantees that one team will be out of the playoffs and a win gives the winner hope that a 2-2 record might be enough to steal away the 6th seed.

For Zhengzhou, after a fantastic first showing against the Chengdu Pandaman in Week 1, the wheels came off in Week 2 as they were completely stonewalled by the Qingdao Conquerors. Their offense relies on a strong running game to free up QB #19 Wang Zi Le and the play-action pass.

While Shenyang might be 0-2, they’ve had the bad luck of playing both Hangzhou and Beijing, both of whom haven’t lost a game yet and sit at the top of the standings right now. Zhengzhou is a far more winnable game for the King Kong, and if the King Kong want to win their first game of the season, they will need their two best Defensive Linemen, #99 Li Haolin (李昊霖) and #22 Bi Xiaoxu (毕晓旭), to stop the Steamer running game in its tracks.

Qingdao Conquerors @ Shanghai Street Cats

Fresh off their near-flawless victory against the Zhengzhou Steamer, the Qingdao Conquerors travel to Shanghai to take on the winless Street Cats. While their record maybe 0-2, the Street Cats have been more than a tough opponent, defeating the Shanghai Titans in an exhibition and then taking the undefeated Hangzhou Smilodons into double overtime last week.

QB #1 Pony has played well for the Street Cats, posing a threat to defenses with both his legs and his arm, while RB #31 Zhong Zhigang is a bruiser on the ground.

However, Qingdao has their bruiser in FB #86 Jerry and #2 Sasha is a two-way threat at Wide Receiver and Strong Safety. Both teams need a win to stay alive in the playoff race.

Note: This game has been postponed due to outside factors.

Graphics: Igor Lazarevic


Allen Hu is a Chinese-American who grew up playing American Football in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. He primarily spends his time in both the United States and China