Power Rankings - Quarterfinals
After all the twists and turns of the season we end up with the usual suspects back in the semifinals. Lixil fell to Big Blue, a team that they seem to meet more than any other, but this time it wasn't one of the pair's countless close battles. Rise likewise got blown out by an Obic side that certainly seems to have their number. Remember though, Big Blue hadn't beaten the Seagulls before this season so there is hope going forward for Nojima. If they can fix a couple of issues they should be a match for most teams next season. It's good for the game here to see more competitive sides at the top.
Let's not forget Lions either. The Battle 9 outfit put in a great performance to limit the scoring of powerhouse Panasonic Impulse. The current season scheduling, though still not perfect, has meant we've been treated to several weeks of good close games. Should be that way on the 26th as well. Things are tight after the quarterfinals, but performances in playoff games carry more weight so things have been shaken up at the summit.
Like a cyclist hanging in the peloton most of the race, Fujitsu let the breakaways exhaust themselves, and are now stepping it up near the finish line. It took seven sets of power rankings before the champions made it to the top but they don't look like a team that will be moving from this slot anytime soon. The Kawasaki based side moved past Finies with ease and set up what should be a cracking semifinal with Obic. Star tailback Gino Gordon should be back by then as well. Trashaun Nixon is channelling his 2016 self. Three sacks capped another fine outing for the former Aggie.
It wasn't just the fact that Obic won, it was the way they won. Total domination of the league's hottest offense while scoring 41 points. Seagulls certainly seem to have Nojima's number but they'll be up against a team that has beaten them in five straight games. The semi final against Fujitsu is hard to call but one thing is certain, these two teams are getting hot right when it counts. Kevin Jackson put in some performance. Two sacks and an interception (which he batted to himself). Incredible stuff. Hope I'm playing that well when I'm 46. .........Just joking KJ.
Impulse drop two slots but arguably still have the best roster top to bottom in the Xleague. Can't get past the fact that they only put up 20 points on a Battle 9 side in the playoffs though. No disrespect to Lions, who have exceeded expectations, but a single TD in each half is more than surprising. Panasonic should still be favorites for their semi final matchup with IBM but it's looking a lot closer than it did last week. Maybe the Lions' game will help focus minds. 7-0 but a loss on the 26th would make all that came before meaningless.
IBM Big Blue
IBM put in a really strong second half to pull away from Lixil and avenge their regular season defeat. It was the best they've looked in a month and gives hope heading to Osaka to take on Impulse. Kevin Craft had his best game since playing Nojima in week three and James Brooks was a force on the DLine. Big Blue were our top ranked team at one stage and are trending back that way but can they overcome two of the top three sides and get their first ever championship? They are the only team left without one which might make them the neutral's favorite.
Nojima Sagamihara Rise
Tough way to end a great season. Those Gardner throws while horizontal in the tackle that resulted in TDs earlier in the season got picked off against Obic. The Chiba based side know what it takes to shut down the Nojima offense and they didn't do so badly on the other side of the ball either. Just one game though and if Rise can keep their three Wolverines and bring in some Line help as well as another foreigner then they'll be one of the favorites next year. Step by step. This team is trending upward appropriately enough given their name.
No heroics this time for Lixil. You always got the sense they were just a step behind the top five all year even when playing well. Will they finally import some Americans? Really at this stage it's a choice between doing that or drifting back into the pack.The team has good talent but needs more blue chips if they are to contend for titles again.
Elecom Kobe Finies
Hard loss for a team that has been better than most expected this year. Be interesting to see what Finies do in the offseason to bolster their offense. All in all though 2017 could be considered a success for Finies. They aren't a world away from the top teams.
All Mitsubishi Lions
Lions holding Panasonic to 20 points surely has to be one of the performances of the season. We had them losing 46-3 and felt that was conservative. This team got better as the year went along and performed when it counted. Beating a Super 9 team in the playoffs was the capper on a great 2017.