NIFL Weekly

05/31/02 Rapid City Journal
On the road again. I just can't wait to be on the road again. OK, so I can't sing even when I'm just typing. But the sentiment is true enough. Road teams in the NIFL swept six of the nine games played last week. They averaged a respectable 48 points per game as opposed to their hosts, who brought in a 40 point average. My tally for the week was 6-3, bringing my yearly total to 61-29, or 67.7 percent accuracy.

The playoff race isn't only heating up, it is set to boil over. Thanks to Josh Stein of , we are able to take a closer look at the playoff race. If the playoffs started today we would see:

Atlantic Conference - Tennessee ThunderCats (6-3) at Lake Charles Land Sharks (8-0) and Louisiana Rangers (4-4) at Ohio Valley Greyhounds (7-0).

Pacific Conference - Lincoln Capitols (6-3) at Billings Outlaws (7-2) and Bismarck Roughriders (7-2) at Sioux City Bandits (6-2).

At this point, only two teams have been knocked out of playoff contention. They are the River City Renegades (0-8) and the Wyoming Cavalry (1-7). You can read all of Josh's playoff wrangling at .

Nine games are on the card this weekend in the NIFL with Austin Knights (5-4), Oklahoma Crude (1-8) and Tri City Diesel (4-6) idle. Eight games have playoff implications.

Tonight's games

* Sioux City Bandits (6-2) at Omaha Beef (5-4) - This Pacific-North battle features two teams that are fighting to be on top of the division come playoff time. Sioux City has held that distinction for some time, but was caught napping at home and beaten by the Lincoln Capitols. Omaha has lost its last three games and tempers are beginning to rise. Word out of the Sioux City office is that Omaha sent them a blank game tape this week. Coach Buda, you have to hit the red "rec" button. The Beef are expecting to suit QB-stud Troy Travis for this game and they are a perfect 4-0 at home. That, along with Buda's stealth campaign, will result in a win. Omaha improves to 6-4.

*La Crosse Night Train (1-6) at Lincoln Capitols (6-3) - Last week, the Night Train hung tough with NIFL power-house Ohio Valley only to end up losing by 10 at the buzzer. The Capitols traveled into hostile Sioux City and kept the Bandits offense grounded. Despite their record, I expect the Night Train to put on a show this week in Lincoln. Will they win? No, but it will be an entertaining, high-scoring affair. Capitols move to 7-3.

Saturday's games

* Louisiana Rangers (4-4) at Winston-Salem Energy (4-4) - Louisiana sits atop the Atlantic-East division and controls its playoff fate. Winston-Salem is not only in a tooth-and-claw battle for the single wild card spot in the Atlantic Conference but also for its very existence. Sources tell me Winston-Salem is teetering financially. Coach Goodman of the Rangers confirmed that the league is looking into moving the game from Winston-Salem to Alexandria, and local television is reporting that the venue change could be due to financial problems. What a mess. All in all, the better organization wins. The Rangers finally show they are a true playoff team.

* Sioux Falls Storm (6-4) at Billings Outlaws (7-2) - Just a few short weeks ago, the Storm were one of the top teams in the NIFL. Now they aren't even the top team in their division as they've slipped to third in the Pacific West and are currently suffering through a two-game skid. Billings is tied for first place in the Pacific West with Bismarck and needs to keep the pressure on. These two teams match up well against each other but it's hard to not go with the home team. Hard as it is, the "football hairs" on the back of my neck are telling me to go with Sioux Falls. The Storm catch the Outlaws napping and steal a win.

* Bismarck Roughriders (7-2) at Rapid City Red Dogs (5-5) - Bismarck possesses an offense that can score almost at will in the NIFL. On the flip-side, the Roughriders also have a defense that has more holes than Swiss cheese. It took the 'Riders overtime to finally beat the hapless Wyoming Cavalry at home last week. Rapid City is coming on strong of late but is fighting the clock and a poor early-season record. The Red Dogs can't afford another loss if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. This game could get nasty. I predict the Roughriders pull off a late-game win.

* Lake Charles Land Sharks (8-0) at Tennessee Thundercats (6-3) - If any team is going to knock off the Land Sharks, the team with the best shot is the Tennessee Thundercats. The 'Cats are undefeated at home. Couple that fact with a degree of uncertainty at the QB position for Lake Charles and this could turn into a defensive struggle. But there lies the problem for Tennessee: Nobody is tougher on defense than Lake Charles. I predict special teams and defense will score almost as many points as the respective offenses. I have to go with the Land Sharks.

* Wyoming Cavalry (1-7) at River City Renegades (0-8) - Both teams are playing for pride as they each have no chance of making the playoffs. The Cavalry are better than their 1-7 record and have a potent offense. The Renegades are potent as well, but in a different, less kind way. They stink. The Cavalry are going to walk all over the Renegades.

* Tupelo Fire Ants (3-5) at OV Greyhounds (7-0) - Believe it or not, the Fire Ants are only a few wins away from leading their division and making the playoffs. Yes, they are 3-5. Yes, they don't score much or often. Welcome to the Atlantic-East Divison. The Greyhounds are having a frustrating time trying to reschedule a missed game with Winston-Salem. In the NIFL, that is easier said than done. At least they'll be able to let off some steam this week. The Greyhounds will score more points in the first half than the Fire Ants will the whole game. Bank on it.

* Louisiana Bayou Bucks (2-7) at Mississippi Firedogs (2-6) - Both teams still have a chance to make the playoffs. Neither will. These teams aren't a combined 4-13 by accident. Even then, the game has to be played, and these two teams should make it a good one. Although the Bucks are stronger statistically, I like the Firedogs to win at home.

NIFL Power Poll

The power poll is a ranking system voted upon by a host of NIFL fans and experts from around the league. The pollster ranks each team from best to worst, first to 21st. A first-place vote is worth 21 points; a last-place vote is worth 1. The points are averaged and each team is ranked according to power.

* 1, (tie) 20 points, Ohio Valley Greyhounds, 7-0 - Not only are they good, but now they're mad!

1, 20 points, Lake Charles Land Sharks 8-0 - A win over Omaha put them back into a tie for first. Another win this week will all but guarantee an undefeated season.

* 3, 19 points, Bismarck Roughriders, 7-2 - The offense looks great but the defense needs to step up.

* 4, 18 points, Billings Outlaws, 7-2 - To quote Han Solo "That's great kid. Don't get cocky." Sioux Falls can sting you.

* 5, 17 points, Sioux City Bandits, 6-2 - Are they a top team? Playing Omaha in Omaha is an excellent way to measure.

* 6, (tie) 15 points, Lincoln Capitols, 6-3 - I predict they'll be first in their division after this week.

6, 15 points, Sioux Falls Storm, 6-4 - If they run the table they can get into the playoffs under their own power.

* 8, 14 points, Omaha Beef, 5-4 - They are very close to a win-or-go-home scenario. It's that simple.

* 9, (tie) 13 points, Tennessee Thundercats, 6-3 - Beating the Land Sharks this week would put Tennessee among the elite of the Atlantic.

9, 13 points, Rapid City Red Dogs, 5-5 - The good news: They're looking great. The bad news: They haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet.

* 11, 11 points, Winston Salem Energy, 4-4 - News reports are that this team is all but a memory in Winston-Salem.

* 12, (tie) 9 points, Austin Knights, 5-4 - Austin is enjoying its bye and watching the playoff race intently.

12, 9 points, Louisiana Rangers, 4-4 - A division leader should not be at .500 and sitting 12th in the poll.

12, 9 points, Tri City Diesel, 4-6 - This team is making a habit out of knocking around playoff-bound squads.

* 15, (tie) 6 points, Mississippi Firedogs, 2-6 - Pride alone doesn't win many football games, but it will win one this week.

15, 6 points, Bayou Bucks, 2-7 - They play similar teams tough.

* 17, 5 points, Tupelo Fire Ants, 3-5 - They're home for three games after this week in OV.

* 18, (tie) 4 points, Wyoming Cavalry, 1-7 - They want to play the spoiler in the worst way. A few more defensive stands and it could happen.

18, 4 points, La Crosse Night Train, 1-6 - They looked good against Ohio Valley. Watch out.

* 20, 3 points, Oklahoma Crude, 1-8 - The players are hungry, but can they pull things together and finish with a few W's?

* 21, 1 point, RiverCity Renegades, 0-8 - Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon.

Rocky Larson of Rapid City is a freelance reporter who covers the National Indoor Football League for several sports Web sites and newspapers.

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