The playoffs are still a little while away but as we draw ever closer I will explore the standings and how the seasons could play out, who’s playoff bound, who’s fighting relegation and who’s already rebuilding for next season.
NFC II NORTH.
The division was interesting as it saw the reformation of a couple of teams (Newcastle Vikings) and the new Northumberland Lightning mixing with the West Coast Trojans who were as recently as 2012 a Division 1 winning team. This was really a mixed bag.
Current division standings have West Coast Trojans (unsurprisingly) as leaders with a perfect 6-0 conceding only 8 points in their worst defensive performances. Last weekend’s 52-8 win over 2nd placed Newcastle Vikings showed that the Trojans are a class above the rest of the division and the win all but guaranteed them as Champions. That’s not to take away from Newcastle who haven’t completed as a team in the past few season but have clearly put together a strong unit. The Vikings who currently have a 6-2 record have controlled and comfortably won all their games apart from when facing the Trojans. They have built up a solid lead and with just two games left against the bottom two teams should also be guaranteed a playoff spot.
Aberdeen Roughnecks currently sit at .500 with their 3-3 record which is a great representation of their growth from a 1st year team last year. Last year they managed just 1 win and 1 tie but you could see their progress as the season moved on. They will be happy with the progress they have shown this year and finishing with a .500 record in a division with such strong teams above will definitely be something to be proud of and if they can win all their remaining games they could still sneak into the playoffs as one of the best 3rd place teams. Glasgow Tigers will not be as happy with their season after last year showing that they could compete with West Coast Trojans and Edinburgh Wolves (losing close games against both) they have seemingly taken a step back. They have lost twice to Aberdeen this season and still have two games against West Coast Trojans where they will need to cause an upset to show they are still capable of competing and to show they are a better team than their results this season have shown. Glasgow can still get something out of this season but they need to start winning games now and hope other results work in their favour if they still have playoff aspirations.
The basement dwellers of the division are the first year Northumberland Lightning and Dundee Hurricanes with just 1 win each coming in the fixtures against each other. Dundee seem stuck in the funk that saw them finish bottom of the National 1 division last year and haven’t shown a great deal of progress whereas for Northumberland have made the normal steps needed for a first year team.
NFC II WEST
Manchester Titans have this all in their own hands. It is as simple as that. They have dominated this division this season having shutout the last 4 teams they faced and when you take off the 33 points scored by 2nd place Staffordshire they have only conceded a field goal. Manchester has showed why they were the last team to face the Nighthawks and not lose (last season bizarre 43-43 tie). While 2nd place Staffordshire did manage to score 33 points on the Titans they were unable to stop the Titans offence which scored 58 on the day. Staffordshire Surge (the hardest name to say in BAFA, don’t believe me? Say it 5 times fast) are having another solid season and have really found their feet in this division. Apart from the defeat mentioned above they have kept the division close and will look at the week 17 (02/08/15) game in Manchester as a chance to steal the division title away from Manchester. Either way this division seems to have already confirmed its playoff teams.
The next two team in the division are currently separated by just one win and 30 miles. The teams have played each other twice with the travelling team taking the win each time. The Railroaders are a team who seem better suited to the level of competition, at least for now. The Halton Spartans are another of the new teams and spent the whole of last season training and playing scrimmages where they could in order to prepare and it seems to have paid off so far. As we have seen from previous new teams a .500 season is a big plus and will only see the team develop over the next few season. Both the Railroaders and the Spartans have to play the Surge and Titans and I can’t see either team causing an upset. The Spartans have a double header with Walney which I expect them to win both and Crewe face Carlisle so I see both teams finishing with a 5-5 record but unfortunately not a playoff spot.
Carlisle are back and rebranded but they won’t be happy with this season. Just 1 win so far will not be enough to keep them happy. That being said a 1 win season is standard for a new team. That 1 win came over the only team without a win in the division the Walney Terriers. The Terries are a 2nd year team who have not shown much progress from last season 0-10 season. They have the opportunity to upset Crewe on the last day of the season and maybe jump ahead.
NFC II SOUTH
The NFC II South is currently split in 2. At the top we have the Sandwell Steelers currently perfect at 6-0, closely followed by Peterborough Saxons and just a game back Leicester Falcons. This looks to be an exciting divisional race with all three teams playing each other over the remainder of the season and a week 18 battle between the Steelers and Saxons possibly deciding the division championship. The Steelers comfortably beat the Saxons 41-14 in week 10 and the earlier win away at the Falcons should leave them in the position to win the division and a playoff appearance. Peterbrough will need to win the last game of the season and show like all good teams that they have adjusted to the Steelers. A win for the Falcons against the Steelers would really through the division into a frenzy and isn’t that unforeseeable after they lost by just 4 points in the previous games. This would see the top three teams separated by 1 game and add some weight and pressure to that final game of the season. From a fan perspective that’s what I would love to see but I’m sure the coaches in Sandwell will be gearing their team to pick up 4 straight wins anyway they can.
The bottom half of the table has Lincolnshire Bombers 2-3, Leeds Bobcats 1-5 and Humber Warhawks 0-7. Lincolnshire won’t like being grouped with the two new teams and will need a few more wins to distance themselves from the teams below. Leeds Bobcats have done a good job of scoring points and as the season rolls on they will be looking to tighten the defense and pick up some more wins. Humber should not be disappointed they are a new team and will improve. A win before the end of t the season would certainly but a shine on their season but they know they will be a different team come next season.
SFC II WEST
This is the closest division in all of BAFA and this could be because of the late departure of the Gloucester Centurions but I would like to think it is what we will get across all the divisions if BAFA let the league settle in its current form. In this division you really cannot predict how things will play out.
Bristol Apache currently hold first place with a 4-1 record which has seen them split games with 2nd placed Oxford Saints. Both these games were decided by a point and ultimately this could be decided by a 3rd game in the playoffs. The Saints have also lost to Swindon Storm in a blowout which doesn’t fit with the rest of their season’s results but could ultimately cost them the division and maybe even a playoff spot. Right behind Oxford is Cornish Sharks who at 3-2 and showing a stronger defense could use the week 15 battle against Oxford to leap frog them. For the Sharks to make a real push for the playoffs they would have to beat the Apache next week and that game could really influence the whole division and the season ahead. Swindon Storm showed in their win against the Saints that they are capable of competing with the top teams in the division but they need to find some consistency and hope results go their way if they hope to sneak into the playoffs.
Adrift at the bottom of the division is Torbay Trojans who will already be planning on how to make a step forward next season and using the rest of this season to find a formula that works. Torbay could still have a say in the division as they still play both the Apache and Sharks and sometimes when the pressure is off we see teams find their groove.
SFC II EAST
The SFC II East has Bury Saints at the pinnacle with a perfect 6-0 record and a team that has won 5 of those in comfortable fashion. They look like they have the division in hand. They do have to travel to play the London Hornets who’s only defeat came against the Saints but even a defeat here (as long as it is less than 36points) would still see them atop the division and playoff bound come the end of the season. The Hornets themselves had a great first season last year and finished with a 4-6 record (although one of those defeats was a forfeit due to scheduling issues) and looked like a different team after their first win last year. They started this season where they left off last year and find themselves well positioned at 5-1 and with a game to play at home against the top team. This season barring any setbacks should see them playoff bound and that is a great achievement for a 2nd year team.
Just below the Hornets are the Wembley Stallions, Essex Spartans and London Blitz B all within 2 games of each other. The Stallions are currently sitting at .500 and have managed to pick up wins home and away against the Blitz and beat bottom club Ipswich. They still have to play both the Saints and Hornets but their crunch game comes against Essex Spartans in week 17 as both teams will need the win to stand any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. The Spartans have had a mixed bag of a season but with games the Cardinals, Hornets and Spartans they can still finish in the playoffs. London Blitz B have had a good season for a “new” team but (no doubt unfairly) for a Blitz team we expected more. They still have 3 games left and any way you look at it a couple of wins in their first season is a good year a few more makes it great.
At the bottom of the division is Ipswich Cardinals who have seemingly taken a step back from last year where they weren’t spectacular but managed two wins. A few adjustments and they can pick up a win this season but they will have their eyes set on making progress next year and building a team for the next few years. Let’s remember it was only a few years back (2012) the Merseyside Nighthawks were a 1 win team and now they are 20 unbeaten so every team at 0-6 should be ready to work hard and get there.
SFC II SOUTH
The SFC II South sees and intriguing battle at the top as Kent Exiles and Sussex Thunder both compete for the divisional crown. Both teams are all but mathematically guaranteed a playoff berth but the division is very much up for grabs. The Exiles are unbeaten at 6-0 after a convincing 43-17 win earlier in the season over Sussex Thunder. Sussex of course are a team that didn’t field a team last year after winning the division 1 title the year before. They have shown that they are still a force and will continue to do so as the season moves on and with a game against Kent Exiles this weekend (28/06/15) the divisions is still up for grabs.
Bournemouth Bobcats know that with 8 games played the best they can hope for and is a .500 season. That being said if results go their way they could still sneak into the playoffs. Portsmouth Dreadnoughts are at half way through their season can still finish above the Bobcats. The dreadnoughts will take heart from that and still have two games against winless Hastings Conquerors. This puts it firmly in the hands of themselves and they could still make the playoffs. Hastings are another of the new teams and have had a season that can be expected especially in a division with so much experience. Hastings can build on this and take the experience forward for next season.