The 2018 National Arena League (NAL) season is now at its halfway point in the 18-week season. We are currently complete with nine weeks and looking at who the top four teams are for the playoffs.
National Arena League Playoff bracket taking shape
Over the past few weeks, there have been many lead changes. Three teams have constantly fought for the number one spot in the Carolina Cobras, Columbus Lions, and the Massachusetts Pirates.
The NAL Playoffs consist of four teams, and the only team in the top four spots that hasn’t seen first place this season is the Jacksonville Sharks. Their dominant 11-1 season last year can’t come back to save them this year, as early-season struggles took over at the in the first month.
The Maine Mammoths and Lehigh Valley Steelhawks have struggled this season with 1-6 and 0-7 records, respectively. Can they bounce back and make it to the playoffs?
The Cobras are currently sitting at first place with a 6-2 (0.750) record. They have been in this situation before. They moved down to third in the league after a loss to the Columbus Lions in Week Six. If the Cobras defeat the Sharks this week, then they will stay in first place since the Pirates have a bye week. In the case that the Cobras lose, the Sharks will take first place if the Lions lose to the Mammoths. If the Lions win, then they will take first place back.
The Cobras made it known early in the season that they would be the team to beat. They have seen number one multiple times this season, despite losing in Week One. They have shown no signs of slowing down, which makes them look great for a home field playoff run.
The Pirates have been in this rotation of being in first place. They are currently sitting in second place with a 6-3 record. The Pirates have lost two of their last three games, which has sent them all over the leader board. They are currently one game behind the number one spot, which is the Cobras. The Cobras have defeated the Pirates two times this season so far.
The Pirates started the season with an incredible 3-1 start. That didn’t last long, as they have lost two of their last three games. The Pirates are off this week, which gives the team plenty of time to prepare for their next game. This extra time helps the team get back on the right page and back to how they started the season.
It is a rare thing to see the Jacksonville Sharks this low on the rankings. All that especially after dominating the league last year with an 11-1 performance. They also went 2-0 in the playoffs to win the NAL Championship. Things have changed since then. Their quarterback situation has been all over the place this year with four different quarterbacks since training camp, three different kickers since training camp, and constant defensive changes. They started the season 1-3, which was their slowest start since the 2016 season.
After their 1-3 start, the Sharks have yet to lose a game, bringing their current win streak to five wins in a row, which is currently the highest win streak of any team in the NAL so far this season. The Sharks are looking strong, but they have a road block in the way this weekend against the number one Carolina Cobras. The Sharks are very familiar with facing number one teams in the league. So far this season, the Sharks are 2-2 against number one teams in the league. In their last two games, they have defeated the number one Massachusetts Pirates and the number one Columbus Lions, respectively.
The Lions took the biggest hit in Week Nine, falling from first to fourth in their 65-67 loss to the Sharks and falling to 4-2. This shows that the competition is tight for first place and it’s anybody’s game, especially now that the season is in full swing. The Lions have played less games than everybody else in the league, which makes it easier for the Mammoths or Steelhawks to catch up and take over that four spot. The Lions are currently three games ahead of the Mammoths, who are at number five in the league. The way that they have played this season, this Lions team doesn’t look like they are giving up any time soon.
The Lions have seen number one a couple of times this season, but they have been knocked close to the bottom of the playoffs hunt every time they haven’t seen number one. After the loss to Jacksonville last week, the Lions dropped from first to fourth. The Sharks only rose from fourth to third. That shows that it hurts more to lose than it helps to win in the NAL this season.
The Maine Mammoths have seen fifth place since Week One. Their current record of 1-6 barely keeps them from falling to last place, but the team who claims that spot is currently 0-7. The Mammoths were slow to get things started to their season and have never looked like they could be in mid-season form any time soon. The offense is great, jumping over walls, moving down the field, and finding the end zone multiple times. The thing that is killing the Mammoths so far this season is their defense. The Mammoths defense can’t seem to keep their opponents out of the end zone, which ends up killing the Mammoths when they try to make a comeback.
The Mammoths are a fourth quarter team, which means that they have outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter than anything else. Last week against the Pirates, the Mammoths allowed many scores in the third quarter, which instantly changed the momentum and took the Mammoths out of the game. The playoffs are very unlikely for the Mammoths, but they are only three games behind the 4-2 Columbus Lions.
Lehigh Valley Steelhawks
The Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, who are sitting at the perfect 0-7 record, has been the biggest disappointment to the NAL this season. Many people expected them to be like the team that they were last season, going 9-1 and making the playoffs. Unfortunately, they lost their head coach last off-season to the Arena Football League (AFL) after a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) contract has been reached. Since then, they found a head coach, but he ended up leaving the Steelhawks for health reasons. The Steelhawks haven’t found much success anywhere around the ball. They have gone through multiple different quarterbacks, in which none of them have performed well.
The only thing that can turn this Steelhawks team around is if they start to build each other up. The game of football is a team sport, not just an individual sport. Over the past couple weeks, the Steelhawks have improved, scoring their season’s highest points in two consecutive games, but neither of which were even close to getting a victory.
It is pretty obvious that if all six teams keep playing the way that they have been playing all season, the four teams making the playoffs would be the Carolina Cobras, Massachusetts Pirates, Jacksonville Sharks, and the Columbus Lions. None of those teams have to be in that order. It is anybody’s game at this point.
In fact, the Lions can take back first place in Week 10 if the Jacksonville Sharks defeat the Carolina Cobras and the Lions defeat the Mammoths. If these two games were to end that way, the Lions would be 5-2 (0.714), the Sharks would be 7-3 (0.700), the Cobras would be 6-3 (0.667), then the Massachusetts Pirates, with their Bye Week, would still be 6-3 (0.667). Not only would that bump the Lions back to first, it would make Jacksonville rise to second, knock the Cobras down two spots to third, and the Pirates down two spots to fourth.
If the Cobras were to beat the Sharks and the Lions were to beat the Mammoths this week, the Cobras would remain in first place with a 7-2 record. The Sharks would fall to fourth place with a 6-4 record. The Lions would jump to second place with a 5-2 record. The Pirates would fall to third place, keeping their 6-3 record. No matter what happens this week, if the Lions defeat the Mammoths, the Pirates are dropping at least one spot.
NAL Standings and More
|2018 National Arena League Standings|
|Rank||Team||Record||Win Percentage||Games Behind First Place||Games Behind Fourth Place (Playoffs)||Games Played||Games Remaining||Points For||Points Against|
|6||Lehigh Valley Steelhawks||0-7||0.000||6||4||7||8||162||411|
Stay tuned later in the season as we will break down every playoff scenario. We will also keep track of who is eliminated from the playoffs and who clinches the playoffs.
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