XFL 2016: The Elite Eight
By: Connor Lenahan
“Washington Senators (5-7) – Cary Lenahan – Best: 8th Seed/Worst: Miss The Playoffs
So all that needs to happen is a Kansas City Killers victory over Chicago, a Waverly Chargers win over the Philadelphia Panthers, and an upset win over Denver without Andrew Luck (probably), Ryan Mathews, or CJ Prosise on the back of huge games by the likes of Fozzy Whittaker and Benny Cunningham all while Delanie Walker is also on bye for some reason. You know, this was way more unlikely in my head. Oh God, the Senators are going to steal this spot, aren’t they?” – Me, last Wednesday.
The Senators got very lucky in that I was wrong last week – they did have Andrew Luck, who torched the New York Jets to the tune of 470 points last night. That dominating performance pushed the Washington Senators to an upset win despite starting seven players over the Denver Blaze. Thanks to a Waverly Chargers win and Chicago Hitmen loss, Cary Lenahan did, in fact, steal a playoff spot at 6-7, becoming the first team to make the playoff with a record below .500 since the 2012 Minnesota Buzzsaws.
Chaos arrived in Week 13 in one of the more fun weekends the XFL has had this season. Now we are left with eight teams vying for the championship, including three coaches going for a second championship – Laura LaBrecque, Andrew Rebensky, and Chase Lenahan – one going for his third – Paul Bruzzano – and six trying for their first ring – Matt Gronsky/Brooke Chapple, Ryan Gilbert/Pat Haggerty, Dan Schlosser, and Cary Lenahan.
The playoffs look fairly wide open for someone to go on a run, but there are certainly two favorites in early predictions for who will meet in the championship game. Oh, did I mention this year’s championship will be played between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? This is seriously the best season – I say having missed the playoffs for the third time in 10 years.
Here’s a look at this week’s playoff matchups and what to expect:
#1 Oklahoma City Lions (11-2) – Andrew Rebensky vs. #8 Washington Senators (6-7) – Cary Lenahan
Here’s the good news for Cary, he made the playoffs despite some absurdly bad injury luck down the stretch and was able to salvage a disappointing year that was in no way his fault – tell me anyone that wasn’t also betting on the Packers to be good this year instead of the semi-garbage fire they have flirted with all season. The Senators are now in a bind against the most talented team in the league and look like they will likely lose, only because the Lions are projected to score an absurd 1500 points this week. Note: the projections are normally low, making this number for the Lions somewhat impossible. I wouldn’t rule out a Senators victory, only because we have seen wonky things happen to #1 seeds in the past, as the last two top seeds have fallen in the first round. We just saw two weeks ago that the Lions are mortal, falling to the Waverly Chargers in a crazy upset. A Senators win would be huge – not impossible given that Andrew Luck plays the Texans this week – but a loss without stars CJ Anderson, Ryan Mathews, CJ Prosise, and more would more than make sense. This is still a happy season for the Senators based on last week’s chaos, and Cary would certainly trade a loss here for a Boston University acceptance next week anyway – then again, who wouldn’t?
Andrew Rebensky has to be the odds-on favorite to make his third consecutive title game with his current collection of talent. I’m not entirely convinced that Jay Ajayi and more aren’t going to turn back into pumpkins before the season is out, but I’ve been wrong about Ajayi and Melvin Gordon all season. Weird things happen down the stretch, but the Lions have looked like the best team in the league this season. They’re far from untouchable, but they should rightly be favored in every matchup until proven otherwise.
#2 Pittsburgh Spikes (9-4) – Matt Gronsky & Brooke Chapple vs. #7 Kansas City Killers (7-6) – Dan Schlosser
Were it not for an absurd playoff game we are getting to soon, this would be my matchup of the weekend. The team that Andrew Rebensky is most terrified to draw in the championship game has to get past one of the more potentially dangerous teams in the playoffs in round one. The Pittsburgh Spikes are an absurdly talented squad that has been rolling along all season, even enduring a Ben Roethlisberger that feels like it happened a season ago. The Roethlisberger-Le’Veon Bell combo is fruitful enough to feed a small village and breakout star/awful person Tyreek Hill (Google his background, it’s not pretty) has given the Spikes a terrific supporting cast as the season has continued. Fittingly in a year where Penn State took the football world by storm, it appears as though the Spikes might also cause some havoc for the favorites up top. I believe that there is some bad mojo with being the top seed, so I’m going on record with my bet that the Spikes capture their first ring this season.
They’re not getting through easily, however. The Kansas City Killers came through in Week 13 to knock out the Chicago Hitmen and started to find some footing that was drastically missing all season. Carson Palmer is not the same player as last season but is playing well enough to hold down the fort. Thomas Rawls looked excellent on Sunday, and the healthy trio of Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, and DeSean Jackson is as good as any receiving corps in the league. The Killers are feisty, and the type of player they have is the wrong one to face in a one and done scenario, because Brown, Baldwin, Jackson, and Rawls are all one big play away from flipping a game on its head. I’m taking the Spikes in this one, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think the Killers could shock everyone with an upset here.
#3 Denver Blaze (8-5) – Ryan Gilbert & Pat Haggerty vs. #6 New Orleans Tigers (8-5) – Paul Bruzzano
The Denver Blaze got tagged in Week 13 by Andrew Luck in a game they didn’t necessarily need to win. This was in large part due to DeMarco Murray’s inexplicable Week 13 bye with the Tennessee Titans, but with Murray back, the best backfield combo in the league looks ready to run over the competition for as long as they stay healthy. What’s ironic for the Blaze is that they ultimately whiffed on their top pick this year of Cam Newton, who is currently the 19th ranked QB in the league, but made up for it and then some by nailing LeSean McCoy and Murray later. They can and will bank on the fact that Newton is one of the best players in the NFL and is only a season removed from being the NFL MVP. The Blaze have the big names to be able to throw up a 1300+ game that would knock anyone out of the playoffs but are also just unsure enough given the Panthers season that no win will be guaranteed. With as well as Murray & McCoy have been playing as of late, it may ultimately not matter.
All season long I have been harking on the New Orleans Tigers and I promise it isn’t purely for the sake of snark or anything personal. I have believed all season long that this team was pulling off lucky wins – they did – and were made up of pieces rather than a full roster – they largely are. The good news for Paul Bruzzano is that I’m starting to be wrong on the latter, and it doesn’t matter if I’m right on the former if it keeps happening. The Tigers have faltered greatly in the back half of the season, going 2-5 since starting 6-0, and only crossing the 1000 point threshold once in the past five games. They look to finally be getting reliable contributions out of Spencer Ware and Jordan Howard at the same time, and Dak Prescott has been a revelation this season. My heart continues to tell me that this team doesn’t have the same level of talent as the rest to make a run late, but then again that’s how New Orleans won championships in 2008 and 2013. You don’t have to be the best team to win the title, but you need to win these last three games. Paul Bruzzano isn’t going to be the best team in the playoffs, but he’s proven before that he doesn’t need to in order to crash the title game.
#4 New York Titans (8-5) – Chase Lenahan vs. #5 Baltimore Bears (8-5) – Laura LaBrecque
Kirk Cousins was drafted by the Bears and was traded to the Titans straight up for Blake Bortles due to bye week conflicts with Tom Brady. The Titans are 8-2 after beginning the season 0-3. This matchup won’t just see two of the league’s best quarterbacks face off in a terrific Cousins-Brady matchup, but will also allow us to see the presumed top two picks in 2017, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson, go head to head. All of this happens while the Syracuse Orange host the Boston University Terriers in basketball this Saturday, while Laura and I will be staying at Chase’s house at school. This is the best possible playoff matchup between two teams that legitimately could make a run and win their second titles.
The Titans and Bears share a similar weakness in their wide receivers but are unbelievably fun to watch given their QB/RB combos. From a pure excitement aspect, there is no game as much fun this weekend as this. The Titans had a bad week last week, but that was largely due to oddly down games for Washington and New Orleans that will hopefully be rectified next week. The Bears get to watch Tom Brady on Monday Night against the Baltimore Ravens as well. Toss in that this is one of the best young rivalries in the league – the smack talk between Laura and Chase has been relatively wonderful both times they have faced off, with Chase taking both previous meetings. This game is going to be a barn-burner, and will largely come down to a full team effort, as well as four of the best players the league has this season. All eyes are on New York-Baltimore this weekend.
2017 Draft Order
Well, the Green Bay Blizzard and Matt Bruzzano’s season from hell is finally over in record-setting fashion, as the Blizzard are now the first team to finish 1-12 in league history. The good news for Bru is that his time on the clock is already up, as he has announced that he is taking Ezekiel Elliott first overall next season. Of course, things can change between now and next August, but Zeke at the top overall spot should put the Blizzard in a good spot to contend next season after a lost season in 2016.
Here’s the draft order with the playoff teams decided:
- Green Bay Blizzard – Matt Bruzzano
- Seattle Rage – Greg Fenn
- Las Vegas High Rollers – Dan Griffith
- Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Pettinato
- Waverly Chargers – Connor Lenahan
- Chicago Hitmen – Jason Kohn