by Brian Darrey, RFFL Director

Playoff time is here!  At this point on June 8th, two days before we kicked off our first postseason, I found myself nervous and anxious.  Five months and a day later, I am excited. I know I have said this several times already, but it can’t be stressed enough, how great our second season has been.  Seven out of eleven teams finished with a winning record, ranging from 8-2 to 6-4. While admittedly, our first season went as many would have expected, Fall was rife with parity.  I have had a chance to get to know each of our teams more and more, the last eleven months since we first announced the arrival of Revolution. Let’s have a look back on the past two and a half months and ahead to the next two weekends.

During the Summer offseason, I watched two teams specifically, lick their wounds and make it a goal to improve upon their Spring seasons.  Wild Bunch, admittedly fell below expectations in the Spring, going 6-4 in the regular season. Despite a rather convincing opening round win over Villains (the other team I have in mind), their season ended on a hard fought, but heartbreaking final minute loss to Alphas.  While maintaining their longtime core, Nick Gianatasio and bros added a few pieces to the mix, who have provided an added boost at different times during the Fall season.  Lead by player award finalists, Mike Padron and Aaron Hall, the result was a two-win improvement and the top seed in our Fall playoffs.  As long as the stay healthy, the Bunch are built to make a deep, possibly championship winning run the next two weekends. Meanwhile, the Villains stayed loose by participating in a nearby Summer league, while heavily recruiting.  A rather interesting change at QB from longtime veteran, Rich Nix to Mike Oliver, was seen as possibly drastic, but one they stood by.  The change seemed to have paid off, despite an opening day loss to Wild Bunch, the Villains rolled to a 3-1 start that included a win over the defending champions, Alphas.  Unfortunately, that win came at a cost, with Oliver suffering a season ending knee injury and was replaced by a young QB (Sammie Hines) with a completely different skill/mindset as Oliver. The Villains moved to a more ground based attack and leaned on their impressive defense. Anchored by three of our six Most Valuable Defensive Player candidates (Streeter, Hasan, and Bucaro), they improved upon their Spring record, improving by two wins also.  If Villains can limit their turnovers/mistakes, continuing to play their brand of defense, they can definitely make a run from the 7 seed.

Which was a bigger surprise this season? Gladiators going from 4-6 to 8-2? Or Alphas late season struggles, finishing 7-3?  Let’s start with the Gladiators, who shed the blue camo for red and black and brought in a new QB to add to the stable of one, maybe two quarterbacks they already had. Bryce Carlson, a Spring Offensive MVP finalist, stepped out from under center, to make room for a new quarterback. His replacement? His own brother, Eric. Eric immediately became a factor, finishing not only as a Most Valuable Offensive Rookie candidate, but a candidate for Most Valuable Player. With Bryce, along with athletic talents such as Ryan Tuma and Mike Fan, Gladiators had one of the best offenses this season. For any and every one of Gladiator’s negatives you may be able to point out, they have a counterpoint.  Gladiators themselves, will tell you they need more linemen. How do they counter? They are able to move up field under pressure and are hard to catch. They have very little depth? They’re young, don’t appear to tire easily, and play 48 full minutes of football. They have given up some big points at times? They believe they can score every time they have the ball and the numbers back it up. They made it to the semifinals last year, where they met a juggernaut Blackshirts team in very hot temperatures, while low on bodies. While their finish was less than ideal, it laid the ground work to their success this season. I don’t think it’s a surprise they had such a great season as much as it’s us not taking them seriously.

If anyone is worried about the Alphas, it’s not the Alphas. Alphas came into the season with a championship winning target on their backs.  They kicked off the season with a stats racking, record breaking, opening day doubleheader.  From there, everyone had the same narrative of, this is Alpha’s league and we are all just playing in it.  Except something happened, they lost.  A Week 4 loss to Villains reset the narrative and made everyone realize that there were indeed ten other teams in the league. This didn’t bother Alphas one bit and they got right back to business, rolling off three-straight before ending the season on their first ever RFFL losing streak of two games.  Alphas will be in rather unfamiliar territory this Sunday, with their latest kickoff time ever of 2:00. Don’t be fooled though, as the Alphas are in the great words of the late Dennis Green, who we thought they are. They’re winners, they have one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen in Chicagoland flag football, a defense that doesn’t often give up a lot of points (second best 76 points allowed this season), and the ability to make plays when they really count.  While their regular season was a bit unexpected, not favoring them would be a grave mistake.

The hype was real, then it wasn’t, then it was, then maybe it was, you get the point.  Super Friends came to the Revolution with an impressive resume, a lot of fanfare, and high expectations.  Those high expectations were only affirmed by their own likening of their recent Chicagoland flag football league conquests, to that of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones. An opening day schedule request, along with other circumstances, had Super Friends not really getting into their full stride until Week 4 or 5. While everyone understandably focuses on Fall 2018 MVP, Josh Pasek, every other member of Super Friends plays their part, including Most Valuable Defensive Rookie, Chico Bueno, who lead the Friends and league rookies in sacks. Two of their three losses were by 1 and 3 points, they had the third highest point differential (94) and finished third in scoring (217). They game plan and are methodical, if a team manages to alter that game plan, Super Friends can be beat.  But as we saw this season, that isn’t very frequent at all. Their road to Revolution Bowl II, starts with a rematch against the team that handed them their first loss, the next team we will talk about.

The drinking team with a football problem, or Hungover as you may know them, are a dark horse.  And I am positive that’s how they like it.  A veteran team, they use knowledge and experience to give their opponents fits. Just ask Alphas who could only muster a 6-0 win or Super Friends who watched Hungover steal a 22-21 win, by marching down the field to score on 4th and goal (overcoming a blown call on an inadvertent whistle), in the closing seconds.  But as good as they are at giving fits, they’re no stranger to fits of their own.  Their other two losses were not so pleasant showings against Villains (8-24, Week 2) and Wild Bunch (0-20, Week 6).  I have noticed that the most successful recipe for a Hungover win, is when KUDYBA is under center and any combo of Givens, Cole, and Maxwell are lining up wide.  A slight downtick on defense this season hasn’t hurt them much, but it is definitely something to watch for Sunday in their quarterfinal matchup with Super Friends.  Either way, our first game on Sunday will be a great game to kick off the postseason with.

The Ravens are a lot better than their 6-4 record would indicate.  Their season kicked off in a rather perplexing manner.  They opened up the season in a RB1 semifinal rematch with Alphas, who they lost to twice in Spring, by scores of 2-0 and 15-14.  A rather humbling 33-0 loss to Alphas, was quickly followed by a 6-2 loss to Gladiators.  From there it has been quite a roller coaster.  A switch to rookie Jake Gorsuch at QB, stabilized their offense, and a no quit attitude lead to some interesting games for the Ravens.  I have been trying to come up with a nickname for them this season and the best I have come up with is the Cardiac Crows (please feel free to do better).  Starting with their fourth game of the season, they trailed Super Friends by 17 in the second half, 30-13.  14 unanswered points later including a touchdown in the closing seconds, a botched three-point conversion is all that kept them from completing the comeback and forcing overtime.  After a 1-3 start, the Ravens went 5-1 in their last six, including a come from behind win against Tropics.  Trailing 12-7 with under two minutes to go, Ravens pinned Tropics on their own 1, forcing a safety.  On the ensuing possession, it was Gorsuch to Padilla down the side for the go-ahead touchdown and a 16-12 win.  Not to be outdone, the Ravens capped off the season with an 18-point second half comeback against Soldiers, behind George Ortiz’s two passing TD and a pick six.  A week later, with playoff positioning on the line, cold temps, rain pouring, and a limited roster, the Ravens upset the #1 Wild Bunch.  Oh, and let’s not forget the RFFL’s first ever on field marriage proposal by Andre Cargo of the Ravens (CONGRATS!). The Ravens may be the quietest, yet hottest team heading into the playoffs.  Two points short of a Revolution Bowl I appearance, they have a lot of unfinished business. They’ll need to avoid overlooking a Soldier’s team they barely beat two weeks ago, if they intend to get their FOURTH crack at Alphas in 2018.

The rest of the bracket is a mixture of should’ve, could’ve, and only ifs.  Tropics showed promise early in the season, starting 2-1, including a close but no cigar loss to Alphas in Week 2.  Since then it has been one disappointment after another.  Defensively, the Tropics were one of the mainstays of the season, nearing the top of most defensive categories, including Most Valuable Defensive Player, Joe Wasik’s record setting 15 sacks. Offensively, the Tropics relied too much on certain players at times and never found continuity. Nothing is guaranteed for Tropics, as they draw a wild card rematch of their Week 3 win over United.  There isn’t much to report on United, who has been heavily plagued by injuries all season and the sudden departure of Spring 18 top receiver, Josh Lara. While certain players have stepped up week to week, the results have been far from consistent. T-Man and United are due for their moment, hopefully it comes soon or it could be a long four months till Spring opening day.

How do I offer my complete analysis without coming off as a complete jackass moving forward? Rhetorical question, so let’s get to Bandits and Soldiers. While sounding like an episode of Westworld, it has been anything but fun to watch.  To each of their credits though, they show up.  Bandits, have shown up for 21 consecutive games, believing they have every chance to win.  In Week 1, they did just that, against the Soldiers.  Soldiers have been around for a couple years, up and down with mixed results.  Looking for a change of scenery, they dove in head first.  Both teams have struggle to score, Soldiers with slightly better results than Bandits. While the chips are undoubtedly stacked against these two, they will head into their playoff matchups hopeful, looking for an upset.

Sunday should make for some fun playoff football in the cold, as this could be anybody’s championship to win. By the time we leave the field Sunday afternoon, seven teams will be heading into the holidays and offseason, while four will be making plans for the three-game slate on Championship Sunday, November 18th. We look forward to seeing everyone out there and wish good luck to all of our teams!