LIVESTREAM: Japan – X League Semifinals – Panasonic Impulse v. IBM Big Blue, Sunday Nov. 25, 1p (5a CEST, 11p Nov. 25 EST)

For the second year in a row, the Panasonic Impulse take on IBM Big Blue in the Xleague Semifinals.

Last year, IBM pulled off the upset, traveling down to Osaka and knocking off the previously unbeaten Impulse and advancing to the X Bowl.

This year’s Impulse hasn’t looked nearly as dominant as that team and Big Blue have been steadily improving as the season has gone on. Neither team lost to anyone but Fujitsu. Perhaps because Panasonic did much better against the champions, will be out for revenge and have home field advantage people are seeing this as a lop-sided contest.

None of those arguments really hold any water though. IBM underwent a lot of organizational changes in the offseason and QB Kevin Craft got injured just prior to the start of the season. That could explain their flat start and up and down form early on, but as mentioned they are peaking at the right time. Revenge is a motivator sure, but with a place in the JXB at stake will there really be any players on the field not fired up to win?

As for home field advantage…no one that has ever seen a game in Expo Flash Field would accuse it of being an intimidating venue. Impulse also suffers from the fact that football fans in Kansai seem far more interested in the college game.

While Fujitsu Stadium will be a cacophony on key plays on Sunday, it’s unlikely that you will even need to raise your voice to talk to the person beside you in Expo on third down. IBM and Panasonic are fairly evenly matched on paper but they question once again will be can Impulse score enough points to match what Big Blue is sure to do?

The two sides had very similar schedules this year and IBM put up an average of 22 points a game more against Elecom, Challengers and Silver Star. Fujitsu game aside Big Blue has also been able to limit teams to about three TDs or less while scoring 30+ points with ease. Impulse are not the New Orleans Saints. Their wins against good sides come mostly by limiting what the opposition can do and reaching the endzone roughly three times.

Given that an offensive explosion against tough IBM defense is unlikely the key to this game will be Panasonic’s ability to slow down Craft and Co. and limit them to FGs rather than TDs.  It’s a big ask. Stopping the run will be key. Impulse have a strong defensive front but every one of them will need a big game to win this matchup. Styles make fights and on paper IBM is a team built to frustrate a side like Panasonic. Of course football isn’t played on paper (though that’d be a better surface than the one in Expo) and Impulse didn’t get here by accident. If Jones, Motu and Anher click this weekend Panasonic are a good bet to be playing in Tokyo Dome next month. But while the fans think this is a shoo-in for the Osaka side  we’re still going with IBM, inconsistent and all as they have been, to repeat their win from last season.

Watch the game live here. Scroll down to the game. X League Semifinals – Panasonic Impulse v. IBM Big Blue, Sunday Nov. 25, 1p (5a CEST, 11p Nov. 25 EST)

Prediction: 34 – 28 (Big Blue)