Russia Premier Division; Moscow’s Patriots and Spartans, St. Petersburg Griffins lead the pack at season’s midpoint

As the regular season in Russia has reached the halfway point, the three major contenders have separated themselves from the pack, while the battle for the final playoff spot is only getting hotter and hotter.

The competition system this year pitches the top eight teams of the nation against each other in the Premier Division with three playoff spots on the line; the other teams are divided into three regional divisions, the top teams of which will battle in the Regional Final Four for the last playoff spot. Here’s a review of the current standings in the divisions:

Premier Division

It may have been easy or difficult, but the three teams that were considered the favorites for the title before the season began (the perennial champions Moscow Patriots; 2015 title holders the St. Petersburg Griffins; and the surging Moscow Spartans) have all confirmed their status so far, going through the first half of the regular season without a loss so far.

The Patriots now boast probably the most talented receiving corps in the country, highlighted by their newest addition of 2016 Offensive POTY WR Denis Pisarev and another young transfer Alexander Belov. The Spartans rely on their outstanding offensive line to produce misdirectional running game that no defense has been able to stop so far. The Griffins rely on the big-play ability of their playmakers in space.

All three teams feature a sturdy defense and have so far allowed less than three points between them on average. And with all of their games still to be played in the later half of the regular season, the fans have plenty of great football to look forward to even if it is all but certain that this trio will take all of the playoff spots of the division.

Among the other participants, the biggest surprise is probably the St. Petersburg North Legion that hasn’t been able to live up to the preseason hype, as they were soundly beaten by all of the top three teams. Moscow United, on the other hand, may be a pleasant surprise – having successfully survived a generational change, they finally look like a team on the rise again. Podolsk Knight appear to be having somewhat of a down year, having lost their biggest playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Moscow Bruins can’t seem to find the right scheme for their coveted signee QB Matthew Kershey and haven’t been able to win a game so far. While the Yaroslavl Rebels continue on their path of gradual, albeit slow, improvement from the status of the worst team in the Division.

Anton Potapov of the Moscow Patriots runs the ball against St. Petersburg North Legion / photo courtesy Yuri Marin

Division North

The Karelian Gunners, who have skipped the 2016 season to retool, appear to be the early favorites to win the divisional crown here. To the large extent, it can be contributed to one of the brightest new players in the nation in RB/KR Oleg Tarzalainen, who is the League’s leading scorer by a large margin and a home run threat every time he touches the football.

But right on their heels, they have the fundamentally sound Cherepovets Rhinos and the Moscow Dragons, who’s young core finally appears having matured and ready to compete at the highest level. The last two teams appear to be out of contention at this point: St. Petersburg MUT still have a long rebuilding project ahead of them, while the Obninsk Cyborgs play in a competition of this level for the first time and still have a lot of room to grow.

Oleg Tarzalainen makes it look easy / photo credit Vasily Rodin

Division Volga

Widely considered to the top football program in the nation outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Perm Steel Tigers didn’t surprise anyone this season and are soundly dominating their division, highlighted by both the arm and legs of their experienced QB Evgeny Zakharov. However, having experienced a “one and done” playoff appearance after an easy divisional title a year ago, it appears that they are not about to relax and take a foot of the pedal just yet.

The other two teams of the division – Izhevsk Steelers and Samara Stormbringers are relative newcomers to LAF, but both have a young talented core as well as sound organizational foundations to keep growing in the future, and the improved quality of their on the field product appears to be only a matter of time.

Steel Tigers QB Evgeny Zakharov is more than happy to run the ball given an opportunity / photo credit Pavel Semyannikov

Division Urals

As expected, the division is dominated by the Yekaterinburg Lightnings and Chelyabinsk Tanks, coming from the cities that have among the richest American football traditions in Russia. The physical brand of football that the Lightnings offer has not found a match within the division so far, while the Tanks offer a tough matchup of fundamental balance between all facets of the offense – running inside and outside, as well as passing the ball all over the field. But before they meet each other in the most anticipated game in the entire region, the divisional crown appears to still be in the air.

As for the other teams, the Chelyabinsk Scouts appear to be on a negative curve as of now, as it appears that their project of putting together a team out of several programs in the different cities hasn’t produced much result. While not being able to show much for it results-wise, the Astana Wolves (the first team from Kazakhstan playing in LAF), are fighting it out in every game that they play and are bringing a much-needed exposure and growth to the sport in their Central Asian nation.

Lightnings defender corrals Wolves RB Photo: Sergey Kurzanov

After being involved in bringing American football to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya would go on to play in the Japanese X-League, helping his side Tokyo Bullseyes advance all the way to the top tier of the league and become the only