After an exciting wild-card weekend that saw the field of playoff teams narrowed from 12 to 8, the Chinese National Football League playoffs marches forward as the four quarterfinal matchups will be taking place on November 30th and December 1st. Here’s why each team has a chance to win and make the semifinals:
Shanghai Titans (E1) vs Taiyuan Troops (N2)
Saturday, November 30, 1 pm, Zhangjiang Sports Center, Shanghai
Why the Titans can win:
As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Titans are a well-established team and are one of the league’s founding members. They’ve played for the big enchilada four times, winning one, and have been in the AFLC/CNFL championship game the past 3 years. Taiyuan has a number of good players, but the Titans are proven winners, play in a tougher division from top to bottom, and have the luxury of playing at home at full strength. It’s been an all-Shanghai final since 2014, so don’t bet against the Shanghai teams until it actually happens.
Why the Troops can win:
Yang Hao. Yang Hao. Yang Hao.
As Taiyuan is named the “Troops”, Yang Hao is their commander and the heart and soul of his Taiyuan squad. Lining up at linebacker and running back at 6 feet and 250 pounds, Yang is an absolute unit who is the best player in the North, and the superstar of the Taiyuan team. Having representing China internationally in the 2014 University games and with CAFL experience, Yang founded an American Football team in his hometown and this year he has led them into the quarterfinals for the first time. While the Troops have several other talented players, Yang Hao is their biggest weapon, and the Troops will only go as far as Yang is able to lead them.
Hong Kong Warhawks (S1) vs Chengdu Pandaman (W2)
Why the Warhawks can win:
The Warhawks have played in several close games this season, and every time, they’ve found a way to pull out the win. Despite trailing in the second half against the Taipei Predators and the Hong Kong Cobras, they made the big plays late when they needed it. Against the Cobras, it was the offense finding a score late, and against the Predators, it was the defense rising up and stopping the Predators on downs inside the red zone. When the game is on the line, the Warhawks have the belief that they will be the ones coming out with the W.
Why the Pandaman can win:
While real-life Giant Pandas may only travel less than a mile a day, these Pandaman have speed in bunches. With a terrifying group of receivers and cornerbacks, the Pandaman have a number of outside threats capable of breaking off a big play at any time. This speed was showcased back in the summer when the Pandaman traveled to Beijing in an exhibition game and the Barbarians had no effective answer to the speed of Chengdu’s fleet-footed wideouts. If the Warhawks defense can’t contain the Chengdu wideouts, the Pandaman could be on their way to the semi-finals.
Beijing Barbarians (N1) vs Shanghai Warriors (E2)
Saturday, November 30, 12 pm, Elite Lion Sports Park, Beijing
Why the Barbarians can win:
The Barbarians are gifted with size and power along the defensive and offensive lines, but can be vulnerable to teams with a lot of outside speed, such as when the Barbarians faced the Chengdu Pandaman in a pre-season matchup. Having shifted their offense to emphasize a power running game this season, if the Barbarians can win the battle up front against a tough Warriors front 7, then it will be the Kings of the North dictating the flow of the game and that will give them their best chance to win.
Why the Warriors can win:
The Warriors appear to be peaking at the right time. After a sluggish (By Past-Warrior standards) regular season, the Warriors cranked it up in their first-round game against the Predators. After shredding Taipei’s pass defense for nearly 400 yards and 5 touchdowns, the Warriors appear to be ramping up at the right time. If they can successfully bomb away against the Barbarian defense, the Warriors will be on their way to the semifinals.
Wuhan Berserkers (W1) vs Foshan Tigers (S2)
Sunday, December 1, 10 am, Wuhan Oceanwide CBD International Sports Center, Wuhan
Why Wuhan can win:
After taking the league by storm last year in their first season and advancing all the way to the Quarterfinals, the Berserkers have been on a roll this year, rolling through the regular season undefeated, avenging last year’s loss against Chengdu in dominating fashion, and have given up only 6 points at home. The Berserkers are coming into the playoffs hotter than a dish of Wuhan’s famous hot-dry noodles, and look as if they have no clear weaknesses on offense and defense. If they can keep up the performance they showed in the regular season, they’re a championship-level team.
Why the Tigers can win:
The calling card for the Foshan Tigers the past few years has been a physical, aggressive defense and this year’s version of the Tigers has been no different. However, after off-field events nearly caused the Tigers to miss the playoffs, Foshan was given a second chance when the Hong Kong Combat Orcas shocked the Hong Kong Cobras to knock the Cobras out of the playoff race.
Foshan took full advantage of their second lease on playoff life by turning in a fantastic performance in their wild-card win over the Smilodons. The Tigers are hungry and are playing like a team on a mission, and they will bring that hunger to Wuhan as they look to return to the semifinals for the first time since 2016, when a blocked field goal was all that stood between them and a championship game appearance. If Wuhan shows any signs of rust and complacency in their first game in over a month, a strong Tigers defense and an improved passing game could spring the upset.