XFL 2016: The Logjam
By: Connor Lenahan
Last week’s XFL column was ultimately canceled in wake of a historic, shocking election. I couldn’t bring myself to consider anything last week. Frankly, I needed a few days to go outside, watch a movie, and just try to live life. This might explain why I also lost my game this week, but I digress.
The XFL season is finally coming to a head and absolutely nothing is decided yet. We have some slivers of clarity in the 9-1 Oklahoma City Lions and 1-9 Green Bay Blizzard bookending the league, but besides that? Nada. There are 11 teams between 6-4 and 4-6 with the New Orleans Tigers sitting at 7-3 just ahead of that logjam of teams. That’s also forgoing the fact that the Tigers have lost three of their last four and have failed to eclipse 1000 points in consecutive weeks. Needless to say, I have no idea what’s going on anymore, and I’m scared.
Well, maybe not scared for the XFL. These final three weeks, and largely Week 11 this Sunday, have the chance to change the entire season. The playoffs cut off at the 5-5 teams, so the five teams at 4-6 – Las Vegas, Waverly, Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia – all need to win out, and/or pick up losses from teams ahead of them. It’s kind of like how the College Football Playoff has descended into chaos and Penn State has a chance to play for the Big Ten title and in effect the National Championship. Nothing is off limits.
In wake of taking last week off of coverage, let’s blow things out today. We are going to delve into every team’s final three weeks, find out what games are most important, and what can be done to make a last second push. Because unless your XFL franchise is headquartered in the state of Wisconsin, you have a chance at the playoffs yet. And if you are taking fictional residence in Green Bay, you’re salivating at the words “First Overall Pick Ezekiel Elliott” come August 2017.
Oklahoma City Lions (9-1) – Andrew Rebensky
Remaining Games: Waverly Chargers, Las Vegas High Rollers, New York Titans
I do not mean to get ahead of ourselves out of the gate, but there is some necessary qualification for this discussion. If there were a gun to my head and I was forced to pick the XFL Champion today, the pick would be Oklahoma City without hesitation. The Lions not only grabbed Drew Brees for a third straight season, but have hit jackpots with players like Mike Evans, Jay Ajayi, and Melvin Gordon, who are all having career-best years. The Lions are leading the league in scoring and haven’t lost since Week 2. Picking against them is something I cannot do in good conscience, even though Gordon and Demaryius Thomas are on bye this week. I reserve the right to be wrong, but I would gamble that OKC finishes the season at 12-1 as the number 1 seed, meaning that Waverly and Las Vegas might be left out of the playoff picture due to bad schedule luck.
New Orleans Tigers (7-3) – Paul Bruzzano
Remaining Games: Pittsburgh Spikes, Chicago Hitmen, Green Bay Blizzard
The New Orleans Tigers are largely safe in terms of making the playoffs now that they are at 7 wins, and their next few weeks will largely be for seeding. Matching up with Pittsburgh is tough given some of their playmakers, but games against Chicago and Green Bay aren’t very scary all trends this year considered. The disconcerting part for Paul Bruzzano is about his team’s identity going forward. Yes, his game two weeks back was a bye week heavy loss, but this past week brought more misfortune. Jordan Howard might be hurt. Spencer Ware looked okay coming back from his concussion. Rob Gronkowski might be hurt again, although rumors of a punctured lung apparently aren’t true. New Orleans has an absurd collection of assets right now – oddly many coming from the New England Patriots – but those pieces might not make a champion roster. The Tigers are still in the picture, but it will be unclear how much of a threat they are when Howard and Gronk are diagnosed, we see Dion Lewis play, and Dak Prescott – who has outscored Eli Manning to this point – is installed as their quarterback. I tend to not like teams with pieces rather than players, but New Orleans has won two titles with similar rosters, so they could easily surprise.
Pittsburgh Spikes (6-4) – Matt Gronsky & Brooke Chapple
Remaining Games: New Orleans Tigers, Washington Senators, Las Vegas High Rollers
The rumors of the Pittsburgh Spikes demise were greatly exaggerated by your’s truly. Marcus Mariota helped right the ship during a unbelievable-until-you-remember-he’s-a-sentient-Mack-truck Ben Roethlisberger absence and have kept the Spikes as a leading team heading towards the playoffs. For one, that Steelers-Cowboys game this past week was absurdly fun, and further, the Roethlisberger-Le’Veon Bell pairing continues to be one of the most daunting in the league given that both can succeed simultaneously. The Steelers getting hot means that the Spikes get hot. Games against the Tigers and High Rollers are entirely winnable, and I would imagine the Spikes would be favored in both. The game against the Senators could decide Cary Lenahan’s season (more on this soon), and I would continue to imagine the Spikes as favorites. The obvious worst case scenario is 6-7, but I would bet on the Spikes finishing 8-5 if only to hedge against sweeping through the last few weeks and factoring in a big game from Prescott, Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson down the stretch.
Denver Blaze (6-4) – Pat Haggerty & Ryan Gilbert
Remaining Games: Las Vegas High Rollers, Waverly Chargers, Washington Senators
Here’s where things get interesting. I’m not sure there will be a more critical team for the remainder of the regular season than the Denver Blaze. The rushing powerhouse has a chance to end two seasons outright in Weeks 11 and 12, and could potentially knock the Senators out depending on the next few weeks as well. That said, they are not safe just yet. So far the Blaze have looked great at points, but have somehow remained largely consistent all year long. They have yet to have a game below 1000 points and regularly put up 1100-1300. Given that bye weeks end after this week’s games, the Blaze will be able to trot out Cam Newton, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, and Kelvin Benjamin for the home stretch. This is no small feat, as the McCoy/Murray pairing is the best running back combination in the league. The Blaze might be the team that no one wants to play in the playoffs, and might be the best friend to any team hoping their next three opponents will lose before season’s end.
New York Titans (6-4) – Chase Lenahan
Remaining Games: Kansas City Killers, Seattle Rage, Oklahoma City Lions
Let’s not bury the lede here: I am predicting the Titans to go 8-5 on the season and end up as a top 4 seed in the playoffs. I firmly believe this is the best team Chase Lenahan has put together since his championship winning squad in 2012. This team isn’t better, but Ezekiel Elliott might be the best player on either. In similar fashion to that team, the Titans are riding an NFL MVP candidate (Adrian Peterson in 2012) to glory, and it’s been incredible football to watch. I’m conflicted on Elliott as a person given his domestic abuse allegations and the ongoing inquiry into those claims, but on the field, he is a generational talent. I see the Titans knocking off the Killers this week, taking down the delightfully-resurgent-but-now-Alshon-Jeffrey-less Seattle Rage over Thanksgiving, and losing a hard-fought battle to the Lions in Week 13. The chance of a New York Titans-Denver Blaze playoff game is mouth-watering. Please let me have this.
Baltimore Bears (5-5) – Laura LaBrecque
Remaining Games: Washington Senators, Green Bay Blizzard, Seattle Rage
The Baltimore Bears are sitting in a strange spot given their success last year. The reigning champion has looked invincible at times, and mortal at others. In many ways, they are the embodiment of a 5-5 team. Part of this is the reality of life without Tom Brady early, although the Bears still went 2-2 without him, and lost again during his bye last week. The Bears have one terrific part of their roster with one frustrating one. Tom Brady, David Johnson, and Matt Forte provide a base for points that’s fairly horrifying. Brady has yet to score under 300 this season, Johnson looks like the second best back in football, and Forte is playing far beyond what we expected of him. This trio should dictate the Bears chances as repeating as champions but then there are the wide receivers. The Bears currently roster Jamison Crowder, Corey Coleman, DeAndre Hopkins, DeVante Parker, Sammie Coates, and Anquan Boldin. None have been particularly good this season, save for Crowder, which is especially frustrating given Hopkins’s status as a second round pick. If three of these receivers can play even decently well through the last three weeks then the Bears closing slate should honestly be a walk, and 8-5 would be likely. But this isn’t a time for complatency for the Bears, and nothing is set in stone for the next few games.
Kansas City Killers (5-5) – Dan Schlosser
Remaining Games: New York Titans, Philadelphia Panthers, Chicago Hitmen
Don’t look now, but the Kansas City Killers are very much alive late into the season. Here’s why I like them as a potential surprise team late: They are getting production at just the right time, and might have more in store. Antonio Brown has started playing like the #1 pick again, Theo Riddick/Darren Sproles isn’t a terrible running back crew, Doug Baldwin apparently hates me to the tune of three touchdowns on Sunday, and Carson Palmer has been throwing enough to get big yardage numbers the last few weeks. Baldwin and Brown cannot and should not be overlooked for their spikes in production because upticks from them make the Killers dangerous. Lest we forget the Baldwin explosion over the second half of last year. Thomas Rawls may finally see playing time soon, and if he can manage to replace Sproles in the starting lineup, or Kenneth Dixon instead, then maybe the Killers could be feisty late. Their next three games aren’t out of reach, and they just scored 1500 points. Guys, I think the Killers might actually be pretty good?
Washington Senators (5-5) – Cary Lenahan
Remaining Games: Baltimore Bears, Pittsburgh Spikes, Denver Blaze
When God closes a door he opens a window. CJ Anderson heads to the injured reserve only to see CJ Prosise emerge against the Patriots as a top option for the Seattle Seahawks. This development is important, and not just because it killed whatever value Christine Michael had left. Prosise answers the single biggest question facing the Senators, and a great week from Ryan Mathews only helps matters. This is far from a perfect team, as the Packers are still struggling, the Eagles are still splitting carries among their three main backs, and Andrew Luck still might get decapitated before the end of the season. The Senators are far from dead in the water, but they have a massive uphill battle to fight. They have the most difficult slate of anyone ahead, and no win is guaranteed. If Cary can tag the Bears this week and split the final two games of the year he should be in the playoff picture, and those wins would completely dictate seeding. The Senators might end up as the X Factor for everyone regarding who is looking at the best path to the title this year.
Las Vegas High Rollers (4-6) – Dan Griffith
Remaining Games: Denver Blaze, Oklahoma City Lions, Pittsburgh Spikes
There’s some good news for the High Rollers here, and it’s that Russell Wilson finally looks healthy and dangerous again. The bad news, and the stark reality surrounding it, is that this might be too late. I would absolutely adore to be wrong about this, but I do not think that this High Rollers team can rip off three straight wins against three of the four best teams in the league. It would be incredible, and the recent play of Wilson, AJ Green, and LeGarrette Blount might prove this possible, but I can’t reasonably expect it. The High Rollers have a lot – a lot – of sway in the playoffs as a disrupter, but I’m not sure they will have much say as a competitor. Sorry that it doesn’t look better, but that’s just a nightmare stretch to take on late in the playoffs, let alone while fighting for a playoff spot.
Waverly Chargers (4-6) – Connor Lenahan
Remaining Games: Oklahoma City Lions, Denver Blaze, Philadelphia Panthers
One more receiving yard from Giovani Bernard would have left the Chargers and Killers tied last night, and three more rushing yards on top of that would have the Chargers at 5-5. The Killers won a comeback for the ages thanks to huge yardage gains from Antonio Brown in the final seconds of the Pittsburgh game and Doug Baldwin’s huge night Sunday. The Chargers now have to face the Lions, Blaze, and Panthers to try and steal a low seed, and it looks pretty much impossible. The Chargers are almost certainly going to lose this week, ending their season. Had Bernard come through, this loss to the Lions would have been an acceptable hit with the Blaze and Panthers games being big down the stretch. But alas, this wasn’t to be. The only point of optimism comes from the fact that this team managed 1490 without Matt Stafford and with a terrible Alex Smith game. The roster has a lot of talent on it but has never put together a performance together that could garner a big win. The Chargers are immensely frustrating and perfectly strange. This is true: The Points For/Points Against differential for the team is 0. Both totals are 12060. I’m fairly confident this has never happened before, and even more confident that I need a drink.
Chicago Hitmen (4-6) – Jason Kohn
Remaining Games: Seattle Rage, New Orleans Tigers, Kansas City Killers
Here’s where the Hitmen get really fun. They have three players that can swing a game by themselves in Derek Carr, Odell Beckham Jr., and Brandin Cooks. If the Hitmen win their next two games – which is very much a possibility – and the Killers split their next two games – again, very much in play – then Week 13 could be a play-in game for the playoffs. The Hitmen are on some levels a flawed team, although nearly everyone is this season, but they have some gems that cover up for realities like Chris Ivory or Gary Barnidge. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Jason’s fate rests in the hands of Derek Carr, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t supremely excited to watch him make a run at this through December. You know what, I might be rooting for it all things considered.
Seattle Rage (4-6) – Greg Fenn
Remaining Games: Chicago Hitmen, New York Titans, Baltimore Bears
There’s no way to discuss the Seattle Rage’s prospects over the next few weeks without mentioning that lead receiver Alshon Jeffrey is suspended for the next four games, meaning that the earliest he could return to Greg Fenn’s team is in the second round of the playoffs. The Rage have been pretty fun over the last few weeks, winning three straight games to come back from a 1-6 start. Bad luck has come down on the Rage, again and again, ranging from Aaron Rodgers to Carlos Hyde, Jeffrey, and Doug Martin. This hasn’t been an easy season for Greg Fenn’s team, but I am one to root for an underdog (especially when he has already faced me). If the Rage could somehow pull out these other wins, who’s to say they couldn’t without Jeffrey? We could see a huge matchup in Week 13 if the Rage somehow makes a run, so why not hope to see it come to fruition?
Philadelphia Panthers (4-6) – Matt Pettinato
Remaining Games: Green Bay Blizzard, Kansas City Killers, Waverly Chargers
At first glance, the Panthers are very much in play for their next three games and alive for the playoffs. This hasn’t remotely been the season that Matt Pettinato, or frankly anyone, was expecting, but it’s been interesting to watch. Here’s where things get totally crazy: The Blizzard might actually pick up their second win of the season on Sunday. I am not betting on it, but I certainly don’t want to bet on a Panthers team without Matt Ryan and Brandon Marshall. The Panthers are at a crossroads currently that doesn’t particularly favor them. They can make some noise late, but they will need to run the table before they get in the playoff picture. That’s the complicated part, for the Panthers are behind all other 4-6 teams in scoring save for Seattle. The Panthers, realistically, need to win out and put up at least one big game to sway some tiebreakers towards them, or else the season might be over soon.
Green Bay Blizzard (1-9) – Matt Bruzzano
Remaining Games: Philadelphia Panthers, Baltimore Bears, New Orleans Tigers
The Blizzard have won a game! The Blizzard have won a game! Matt Bruzzano ended his defeated streak and picked up a win for the first time in 2016 this past week. It’s been a long, injury-riddled, absurdly-unlucky run, but the Blizzard have been able to at least win one game. The Blizzard are fairly locked in for the number one pick at the 2017 draft, so the next few weeks are more symbolic than anything. They could knock the Panthers out this Sunday, create havoc for the Bears in Week 12, and tag the Tigers in Week 13. Nothing is confirmed, nor is anything a guarantee, but I can promise you that this season would still be a small success if Matt picked up a win over his Dad in two weeks. Let’s Go Blizzard.
Week 11 Matchups:
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Waverly Chargers
Baltimore Bears vs. Washington Senators
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. New Orleans Tigers
Chicago Hitmen vs. Seattle Rage
Kansas City Killers vs. New York Titans
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Las Vegas High Rollers vs. Denver Blaze