The quarterfinals in the top league in Italy – the Italian Football League – kick off this weekend and although history seems to indicate an advantage to the four teams from the North – Milano Rhinos, Milano Seamen, Parma Panthers and Bolzano Giants – anything can happen in the playoffs. The four South divisions include the Ancona Dolphins, Lazio Marines, Ferrara Aquile and Firenze Guelfi.
In 2015, all four North teams advanced to the semifinals.
Milano Rhinos (North 10-0) – Ferrara Aquile (South 4-6)
Under head coach Chris Ault, the Rhinos have improved from 5-5 in 2015 to becoming one of two undefeated teams in Italy in 2016. Their run to the top of the North standings has been impressive. The Rhinos keep finding ways to win games. They enter the game against the Aquile from Ferrara as heavy favorites although Ferrara could surprise. The Aquile have proven they can score as they did against the Lazio Marines this season. Nevertheless, coach Ault will have his Rhinos well prepared. Expect Milano to advance in this game.
Panthers Parma (North 6-4) – Firenze Guelfi (South 6-4)
The Panthers are looking to qualify for the Italian championship game for the seventh year in a row but having lost two of the last three games of the year, they are struggling some. The Guelfi on the other hand have won three of their last four including an impressive 31-6 win over the Lazio Marines in early May. The Guelfi have been steadily improving through the season. Nevertheless, Parma is a veteran team and accustomed to playoff atmosphere. The Panthers should prevail in this one.
Lazio Marines (South 7-3) – Milano Seamen (North 5-5)
This could be the game to watch in Italy this weekend. The Seamen struggled out of the gate in Italy but have gradually regained the form that won them the championship title in 2015 and 2014. After finishing the regular season with three straight wins and a narrow one point loss to the Milano Rhinos, the Seamen look poised to battle for the title. However, they are up against a Marines team that is getting many of its injured players back and with a quarterback in Anders Hermodsson who is tough to defend.
The Seamen have added insurance as two-time championship quarterback Jonathan Dalley has returned to the club in a coaching capacity. Marines head coach Stan Bedwell was under pressure earlier in the week as the league suspended him for a vague infraction related to the game officials. However, the suspension was lifted and Bedwell will be on the sideline Sunday.
Ancona Dolphins (South 10-0) – Bolzano Giants (North 5-5)
Many are predicting that the Dolphins are the only team from the South to have a chance to advance. The Dolphins have built a solid team in all departments. Quarterback Ryan Kasdorf is one of the most efficient signal callers in the league and manages games well. Ancona is undefeated so far for a reason.
The Giants opened the year with three straight losses before finding their footing. They reeled off three wins in a row and in the final game of the regular season pushed the Rhinos before losing 29-27.
This game is a toss up.