Playoff team breakdown in Chinese National Football League

With the Chinese National Football League regular season in the books, it’s time to look towards the playoffs. Due to events that happened this year, the CNFL went to a 10-team one division format, with the top six teams making the playoffs. The top two seeds earned a first-round bye and will be playing at home in the semifinals.

Here are the teams in seeded order:

#1. Hangzhou Smilodons (4-0), How they got here:

W @ Shenyang King Kong 15-0, W vs Shanghai Street Cats 21-14, W vs Guangzhou Apaches 37-23, W @ Foshan Tigers 29-0

While most experts had the Beijing Barbarians and the Shanghai Titans pegged as the favorites going into the regular season, it was the Hangzhou Smilodons who emerged from the chaos with a perfect regular season and the number one seed for the playoffs.

Their aggressive defense, one of the best in the league last year, was even better this year, notching a pair of shutouts and in their toughest contest, they took over versus the Guangzhou Apache by forcing multiple turnovers in the second half.

Players to watch: #94 Martin OL/DL, #92 Alvin DL/LB, #80 Lin Tuo WR

#2. Chengdu Pandaman (3-0-1) How they got here:

W @ Zhengzhou Steamer 32-28, T vs Guangzhou Apaches 20-20, W vs Foshan Tigers 22-0, W vs Shanghai Titans 36-7

After slightly falling off last year, the Pandaman came back in a big way this year, also going undefeated in the regular season. A tie against Guangzhou in a game that ended prematurely was the only thing keeping the Pandaman from also finishing undefeated.

The Pandaman offense, stocked with veterans, is once again the driving force for the Chengdu team, being able to almost score at will. An improved defense that held their last two opponents to a combined 7 points has the Pandaman, who have made the semifinals 3 out of the last 4 years, looking like they can break through and finally reach the title game this year.

Players to watch:  #11 RiversZ WR, # 30 Ly RB, #22 UltraHot RB/CB

#3. Beijing Barbarians (3-1), How they got here: 

W vs Qingdao Conquerors 60-8, W @ Shenyang King Kong 34-7, L @ Shanghai Titans 20-28, W vs Shanghai Street Cats 21-0 (FF)

The Beijing Barbarians have made the playoffs every year since joining the league in 2018, and this year was no exception as they looked dominant in their victories this year. Their lone hiccup was yet another loss to a team from Shanghai.

As usual, the Barbarians are big, brutal, and want to maul you with a physical defense and a ground-based attack, although the Barbarians have tried to open up the playbook this year. As the third-placed team in the league, they will have the opportunity to play their first-round game at home.

Players to watch: #84 Cao Yu RB, #77 Terry Xing WR, #3 Hester QB

#4. Qingdao Conquerors (3-1). How they got there:

L @ Beijing Barbarians 8-60, W vs Zhengzhou Steamer 28-3, W @ Shanghai Street Cats 21-0 (FF), W vs Shenyang King Kong 21-0 (FF) 

The Qingdao Conquerors return to the playoffs after a strange year. After a lopsided opening loss to the Barbarians, Qingdao redeemed themselves by completely shutting down a Zhengzhou Steamer team that probably should have beaten the #2 seed Chengdu Pandaman. However, that would be the last game they would play in the regular season as two forfeit victories saw them sail into the playoffs with a 3-1 record and the right to host a first-round game.

Despite losing about half their team from last year, the Conquerors are still a decent looking squad that showcased a balanced offensive attack and solid defense in their last game.

Players to watch: #17 Tony QB, #2 Sasha WR/SS, #86 Jerry FB

#5. Guangzhou Apaches (2-1-1), How they got there:

W @ Foshan Tigers 8-6, T vs Chengdu Pandaman 20-20, L @ Hangzhou Smilodons 23-37 W vs Zhengzhou Steamer 33-20

The Guangzhou Apaches make their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, a huge turnaround after only winning 1 game in the past 3 seasons. A huge win against their backyard rivals the Foshan Tigers was the signal that this was a different Apaches team from the past few seasons, but a tie and a loss put them in a precarious position entering the final week of the regular season. The Apaches would come through with flying colors, as twenty-one straight points against the Zhengzhou Steamer punched their ticket to the playoffs.

The Apaches have a strong defense that is anchored by an excellent defensive line, and their offense is led by workhorse Running Back Lun Wenjun, who had a hat-trick of rushing touchdowns in their previous game.

Players to watch:  #27 Lun Wenjun RB, #20 Robin DB, #28 Huang Xiaoyu QB

#6. Shanghai Titans (2-2), How they got there:

W vs Shanghai Street Cats 21-0 (FF), L @ Foshan Tigers 20-22, W vs Beijing Barbarians 28-20, L @ Chengdu Pandaman 7-36

It was certainly an interesting season for the Titans, who narrowly avoided missing the playoffs for the first time in team history, dating back to the very first year of the CNFL in 2013.

The Titans began the season poorly, but after retooling their offense almost overnight after losing their starting QB for the year with a torn ACL, they pulled out a surprisingly dominant victory over the Beijing Barbarians in Week 3 that had the Titans’ stock skyrocketing as they looked like contenders and seemingly had the inside track for the number two seed. A lopsided loss to Chengdu in Week 4 brought the Titans back to earth and dropped to the sixth seed.

Just like last year, the Titans are carried by their running game and a salty defense. If they can get their running game going, the Titans have the potential to make it to the championship game for the fifth year in a row.

Players to watch: #73 Joshua Robinson LT, #77 Wallace K/QB, #26 Zhang Xiaoming DB

Allen Hu is a Chinese-American who grew up playing American Football in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. He primarily spends his time in both the United States and China