NIFL Weekly Report
06/29/02 Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY -- With only two weeks remaining in the NIFL regular season, the race for the playoffs is starting to clear.
Teams that are either playoff-bound or still have a chance in the Atlantic Conference are: 1, Lake Charles Land Sharks (clinched division), 12-1 overall, 5-0 division; 2, Ohio Valley Greyhounds (clinched division), 11-1 overall, 6-1 division; 3, Louisiana Rangers, 6-6, 1-1; 4, Tennessee ThunderCats, 8-4, 3-3; On the bubble, Austin Knights, 7-5, 2-3; Tupelo Fire Ants, 4-8, 1-2; Mississippi Firedogs, 3-9, 2-1.
The Pacific Conference is rounding out with the following teams still alive: 1, Bismarck Roughriders (clinched division), 10-3 overall, 7-2 division; 2, Lincoln Capitols, 8-4, 5-2; 3, Billings Outlaws, 9-4, 6-4; 4, Sioux City Bandits 8-4, 4-3; On the bubble, Omaha Beef, 7-5, 4-3; Sioux Falls Storm, 7-6, 4-3; Tri-City Diesel, 6-6, 4-2.
Convention wisdom dictates that the current top-four teams in each conference will indeed be in the playoffs. My wisdom, unconventional as it is, tends to agree. After this weekend the playoff-bound teams should all but be decided.
Just in time for the playoffs, the importance of home-field advantage was driven home as only one visiting squad managed a victory last week. Home teams took eight of the nine games played with an average of 46 points scored per contest. Their guests brought in an average of 29 points a game. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, I once again accurately predicted six of nine contests last week. My to-date accuracy now stands at 88-40, or 68.7 percent.
* Tennessee ThunderCats (8-4) at Mississippi Firedogs (3-9).
* St. Louis Renegades-St. Joe Explorers (1-11) at Lincoln Capitols (8-4) - How is this for futile? The Renegades-Explorers sport two 25-man rosters, have two coaching staffs, two sets of uniforms and two arenas. Yet they share one record, an abysmal 1-11 mark. How is this possible? Well, there is a reason that they call this minor league football. Anyway, the Renegades-Explorers, whoever shows up, is in for a long night of humiliation when they travel to Lincoln. The Capitols are a professional football team in every sense of the word and will take it to the visiting squad. Or is that squads? Heck, all 50 of the Renegades-Explorers could show up and it wouldn't make a difference. Lincoln wins easy at home.
* Tri-City Diesel (6-6) at Sioux City Bandits (8-4) - There is no doubt about it, the Diesel are a team that can hurt you. They've won four of their last five games, own the best divisional record in the tough Pacific North Conference and specialize in beating teams that hold better records than they do. The Bandits are coming off of a huge win over Omaha last week and should have no problems getting into the playoffs if they can secure a win this weekend. The Diesel will make a game of it, but Sioux City is too tough at home. The Bandits win by less than a touchdown.
* Rapid City Red Dogs (6-7) at Sioux Falls Storm (7-6) - It is hard to believe that both of these teams made the playoffs just last season. The Red Dogs have made a habit of playing every game close, but victories simply have not come their way. The Storm started the season off red-hot but have fallen apart in the second half of the season, losers in four of their last five games. The Storm have a slight chance of making the playoffs, but I'll be the first person to tell you that it isn't going to happen. This game is for pride only, but it will be a good one. These two teams and cities have a rivalry and dislike for each other that runs deep and their play will be playoff-caliber. In the end, I predict both South Dakota entries in the NIFL will finish the season at .500. Rapid City wins.
* Lake Charles Land Sharks (12-1) at Louisiana Bayou Bucks (5-7) - With the NIFL forcing a forfeit upon the now 11-1 Ohio Valley Greyhounds, Lake Charles finds itself in a good position to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bucks have been playing much better football as of late, but the Land Sharks simply have too much riding on this game. The Sharks gobble up the Bucks, although they won't kick things into gear until the second half.
* Tupelo FireAnts (5-8) at Louisiana Rangers (6-6) - A win by the Rangers will mean that they clinch the Atlantic East Division while the FireAnts are in a win-or-go-home situation. Simply put, I don't think the FireAnts have the firepower to make the playoffs. Whichever team does take the division, their playoff run will be exactly one game long. The Rangers will be that team as they beat the FireAnts.
* LaCrosse Night Train (1-11) at Omaha Beef (7-5) - The Night Train are already building for a more successful second season in the NIFL while the Beef need victories and help in order to make the playoffs. Which team is more motivated for this game? The Beef win by 30.
* Winston-Salem Energy (5-7) at Ohio Valley Greyhounds (11-1) - The Energy are shining about as brightly as a 15-watt bulb at the moment. With money problems, ownership problems and personnel problems, all the Energy wants to do is finish the season. The Greyhounds only have one blemish on their record, a league-mandated forfeit that this very same Winston-Salem Energy team demanded earlier this season for a missed game. This contest isn't a game; it's a grudge match. I expect the Greyhounds to jump out early, beat the stuffing out of the Energy and then pull their key starters by halftime. The Greyhounds win easy.
* Oklahoma Crude (1-11) at Austin Knights (7-5) - I expect the Crude to be a "one year wonder" franchise in the NIFL - here this year, gone the next. The players know it, the owners know it and the fans know it. The Knights still have a chance at the playoffs, but they need to win out and hope that the Tennessee Thundercats lose their remaining two games. Stranger things have happened. This week the Knights have no problems in earning a victory over the hapless Crude.
1, 21, Ohio Valley Greyhounds, 11-1 - Even with the forfeit, they're the team to beat in the NIFL.
2, 20, Bismarck Roughriders, 10-3 - Ragsdale broke his foot. Thank the football gods for an opportune bye week.
3, (tie) 18, Lake Charles Land Sharks, 12-1 - The Sharks are back on track and could take it all come playoff time.
3, 18, Lincoln Capitols, 8-4 - You've got to like their chances.
3, 18, Billings Outlaws, 9-4 - The Outlaws simply cannot beat the Roughriders.
6, 17, Sioux City Bandits, 8-4 - After beating Omaha, the Bandits are in a much better position.
7, 15, Omaha Beef, 7-5 - Who would of thought that this team would need help in order to make the playoffs? Not I.
8, 14, Tennessee Thundercats, 8-4 - Even as the potential wild card in the Atlantic, they're one of three teams that could represent their Conference in the big game.
9, (tie) 12, Austin Knights, 7-5 - They're so close to the playoffs they can taste it. Not this year, fellas.
9, 12, Sioux Falls Storm, 7-6 - Does a Storm make any noise when it finally blows itself out?
11, (tie) 11, Rapid City Red Dogs, 6-7 - From 13-1 last year to a potential 7-7 or 6-8 this year. There's no joy in Mudville.
11, 11, Tri-City Diesel, 6-6 - I just love this team. Too bad they won't make the playoffs. They could have made some noise.
13, 9 points, Louisiana Rangers, 6-6 - A playoff-bound team should not be ranked this low. Don't blame the pollsters, though. The Rangers earned this spot.
14, (tie) 7 points, Bayou Bucks, 5-7 - Better play at the end of this season will pay off in off-season recruiting and play next season.
14, 7 points, Wyoming Cavalry, 3-10 - Beating Sioux Falls was like winning the Super Bowl. Next week ... the Roughriders!
16, (tie) 6 points, Winston-Salem Energy, 5-7 - All that fuss over the OV forfeit and, in the end, it won't help the Energy one bit.
16, 6 points, Tupelo Fire Ants, 4-8 - There is little fire left in the Ants.
18, 5 points, Mississippi Firedogs, 3-9 - There is no fire left in the dogs.
19, (tie) 3 points, La Crosse Night Train, 1-11 - They're preparing for next year and will be just fine.
19, 3 points, Oklahoma Crude, 1-11 - Will they even be around next year?
21, 1 point, RiverCity Renegades, 1-11 - They're twice the team off the field as anybody else and only half the team on the field.