ELF: Breaking down the impressive start of the Madrid Bravos’ season

Nearly halfway through the 2024 European League of Football season, there are just three undefeated teams remaining.  Not surprisingly, two of them are the Stuttgart Surge and Vienna Vikings, each of whom have made appearances in the league championship game over the past two seasons.  The third team, though, is a completely new franchise, having played its first-ever game just last month.

At 3-0, the Madrid Bravos remain unconquered going into this Saturday’s second showdown with the Rhein Fire.  They opened their season with a dominating 42-12 victory over their Spanish rivals in the Barcelona Dragons at home, before going on the road and stunning the defending champion Fire, who had won their previous 16 games.  They followed that up with a road victory over the Cologne Centurions before a bye week last week.

Bravos WR Willie Patterson hauling in a pass against the Rhein Fire Photo: Madrid Bravos

So how has Madrid done it?  First off, they had a fantastic offseason, signing high-quality import players and prying many talented Spanish players away from teams like Barcelona.  Offensively, their biggest signings were quarterback Chris Helbig, who was with the Vienna Vikings last year, D’wayne Obi, a leading rusher in the German Football League last season, and receiver Willie Patterson, who shined last year with the Rhein Fire.  Unfortunately, Helbig’s season was cut short due to a brutal leg injury suffered in their second game, so the Fire brought in Steven Duncan as a replacement.  Early into this 2024 season, the trio of Duncan, Obi, and Patterson already looks like one of the top offensive groups in the league.

As good as their offense is, the Bravos’ defense has been arguably more impressive.  With offseason additions like safety Luke Glenna, a standout American from the Dragons last year, and Alejandro Fernandez, a dominant Spanish pass rusher who played with the Fire in 2023, the defense was expected to be respectable but not necessarily dominant given the uncertainty at other positions.  However, they have shut down opposing offenses so far this season, limiting them to just about 15 points per game, which includes when they held the mighty Fire offense to just 10 points.  The defense has also been headlined by Ja’len Embry, who has 3 interceptions in 3 games, and homegrown talent Pablo Araya, who leads the team in tackles with 23.  Such a dominant defense can make the offense’s life much easier by forcing turnovers and setting them up with good field position.

Bravos new QB Steven Duncan in action against the Cologne Centurions Photo: Madrid Bravos

Looking ahead to Saturday, we can expect that the Fire will put up a much better performance against Madrid than they did last time.  But the Bravos will have home-field advantage this time, and hopefully a healthy quarterback for the duration of the game, as Helbig was injured midway through the previous matchup.  

The Western Conference is so tough that Madrid must always bring their A-game week in and week out.  With opponents like the Fire, Paris Musketeers, and Frankfurt Galaxy, the Bravos have a slew of difficult opponents in their schedule.  Now we will see if they can withstand this gauntlet and make the playoffs as an expansion team, which would be an incredible feat.

A current student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carter played football in high school and has been a lifelong avid football fan.