ELF playoff preview: What to watch for in the league’s inaugural post-season

After twelve weeks of unpredictable regular-season action in the European League of Football, four teams have earned themselves post-season bids and a shot at the league’s first-ever championship.

The top-seeded Frankfurt Galaxy will host the Cologne Centurions in a rematch of the last week’s regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon. The following day, the second-seeded Hamburg Seadevils host the league’s lone Polish franchise, the Wroclaw Panthers. All four teams are eager to make a run at ELF’s first championship in a league that has produced plenty of upsets in its inaugural season.

Frankfurt Galaxy (9-1) vs Cologne Centurions (5-5) Saturday 14:45 CET

Frankfurt Galaxy vs Cologne Centurions Photo: Cologne Centurions

The top-seeded Galaxy enter the postseason as the hottest team in the league. Frankfurt aims to defend its home turf riding a nine-game win streak into the playoffs. Offensively, they are a talented group averaging a league-best 35.7 points per game. The efficient offense is engineered by quarterback Jakeb Sullivan, who leads the team with 2,037 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. Without a doubt, Sullivan’s favorite target is former Philadelphia Eagle Anthony Mahoungou. The 6’3 Frenchmen has racked up an impressive 468 yards and six touchdowns this season. On the ground, Gennadiy Adams, Justin Rodney, and Gerald Ameln are three versatile ball carriers that can move the chains and control the clock. Adams and the Galaxy are feeling confident heading into the playoffs:

“The team is feeling good going into the postseason, we feel we have had a nice rhythm on both offense and defense the last few games of the season and are trying to carry that over against our playoff opponents. “

Frankfurt QB Jakeb Sullivan Photo: Frankfurt Galaxy

The one knock on Frankfurt’s offense has been turnovers, as Sullivan has thrown eight interceptions in nine games. Centurions defensive back Dartez Jacobs will look to get his hands on any errant passes and swing the momentum of the game. While defensive end Mike Taylor is determined to contain one of the league’s most exciting quarterbacks. Taylor commented on what it will take to knock off the league’s top team:

“First off it’s going to take a team game. We got our playmakers back on offense. If the defense can fly to the ball and execute we got a chance. It’s going to take all 11 men to win their one on one battles.”

Cologne’s offense features the likely MVP of the league in running back Madre London. London has been far and away the single most exciting player in the league, rushing for 2,009 yards and 23 touchdowns in only nine games. Despite London’s big numbers, Cologne’s passing game has been improving week to week. ELF’s lone German starting quarterback Jan Weinreich has been an excellent choice for Cologne throwing for 1,689 yards and 16 touchdowns. Weinreich has used the strong running game to his advantage, completing play-action passes to import Quinton Pounds (Washington NCAA D1) and German Paul Lenhardt week in and week out.

Cologne’s Madre London Photo: Marc Junge

Even with ELF’s best running game, Cologne has struggled mightily against Frankfurt in their two matchups. The swarming Galaxy defense features strength in German defensive tackle Marc Anthony Hor, and speed in Swedish linebacker Sebastian Gauthier. On the back end, Frankfurt’s Joshua Poznanski has five interceptions and two pick-sixes, showing the ability to change the game at a moment’s notice. In the face of a litany of injuries to key players, the Galaxy still have the most impressive defense in ELF and maybe even all of Europe.

Frankfurt has handled their business against the Centurions this season, beating them comfortably 41-20 in Week four and then blowing them out 45-7 in last week’s meaningless game. Rest assured, Centurion’s coach head coach Kirk Heidelberg will have some adjustments ready for facing the Galaxy a third time.

Hamburg Seadevils (7-3) vs Wroclaw Panthers (5-5) Sunday 14:45 CET

Hamburg Seadevils vs Wroclaw Panthers Photo: Wroclaw Panthers

The Seadevils host the Wroclaw Panthers in this Sunday afternoon semi-final. These teams met only three weeks ago with the Panthers stealing in a win in Hamburg 30-24. The win was huge for Wroclaw, as they redeemed themselves in the rematch from a 26-23 loss in Poland on July 24th.

Wroclaw’s high-flying offense enters the postseason ranked number one in passing. The veteran signal-caller Lukas O’Connor has excelled since arriving in Poland, throwing for a league-best 2,879 yards and 24 touchdowns. O’Connor has primarily used the Polish talent around him, spreading the ball around to domestic standouts Jakub Mazon and Przemysław Banat. However, the late addition of American receiver Kavontae Turbin (TCU NCAA D1) has leveled up this offense, giving them game-changing speed from the former All-American return man. French running back Philéas Pasqualini brings physicality to this pass-happy offense as the league’s fourth-leading rusher averaged over five yards a carry this season. Pasqualini knows that Hamburg will be tough to beat:

“For us to beat Hamburg we will need to execute without any mistakes, like the last game against them. We will need to be focused from the first whistle to the last. Because we know they are a top three team in the league.”

Wroclaw Panthers RB Phileas Pasqualini #25 Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

The Seadevils have made some late-season additions to bolster their beat-up defense bringing in veteran safety Curtis Slater and Dutch defensive back Jeffrey Juurlink. Hamburg will need a big game from those two along with defensive tackle Evans Yeboah to slow down a red-hot Wroclaw offense.

Offensively Hamburg’s Jadrian Clark aims to return under center after missing the team’s regular-season finale. Clark is no stranger to big games leading the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns and New Yorker Lions to German Bowls in consecutive seasons. Expect the veteran passer to target 6’4 tight end Adria Moreno Botella and receiver Jeane-Claude Cerezo Madin as the two have been among the league’s best pass catchers. Xavier Johnson should get plenty of carries in this matchup along with backup running back Julian Ampaw. Fans can anticipate for Hamburg to run the ball behind their large and experienced offensive line. Seadevils offensive tackle Keanu Ebanks remains highly confident in the rematch with Wroclaw:

” We are still the team to beat,” said Ebanks “We have adjusted for number 12 (Kavontae Turbin) and it’s going to be similar to the first game except we’ll put a few more points on them.”

Seadevils defensive lineman Evans Yeboah Photo: Photo Freitag

If the Seadevils want to advance to the championship they’ll have to neutralize defensive end Karlis Brauns and hard-hitting linebacker William Lloyd (Troy University NCAA D1). In the secondary, Serbian Goran Zec and Darius Robinson (Clemson NCAA D1) are sure to have an impact in this one as the two have combined for seven interceptions this season. Wroclaw’s well-coached defense is fast and physical making this a tough matchup for any European offense.

The Panthers would love nothing more to represent Poland in the first ELF championship game shaking up the primarily German league. Expect this to be one of the weekend’s best matchups as Wroclaw travels to Hamburg with a ton of momentum. Awaiting them is a talented Seadevils team hoping to get healthy and in rhythm before it’s too late. In a close game, the X-factor could be Seadevils kicker Phillip Andersen. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer hit a 59-yarder in the rain during Hamburg’s regular-season finale.

Many fans expected a Hamburg vs Frankfurt final in the preseason as the two most talented teams seemed to be on a collision course for the championship. Now, after a long regular season, Cologne and Wroclaw have added themselves to the mix looking to make their own distinct imprint on the still-wet concrete of the European League of Football’s first season.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football