Week one is in the books and it went out with a bang. IBM getting their first ever win over Obic in thrilling fashion.
The Xleague regular season has only six games so you'll see a lot more change here than you would in the NFL rankings as each game basically has three times the value.
Ok enough talk, let's get straight to the
hot takes carefully considered rankings.
IBM Big Blue
IBM took down a team they'd never previously beaten - and one ranked #2 - in a very impressive fashion to close out week one. They did it with their pass rush not getting going until the second half too. Running back Takagi didn't show up at Tokyo Dome until the second quarter and a couple of the wideouts didn't show up at all, but TE John Stanton put in a monster performance to help keep the game close in the first half and in the third quarter the defense exploded. The big takeaway from the game was that IBM, even when not firing on all cylinders, are a force this year.
Fujitsu eased past a good team in Lixil without problem. They were impressive on all sides of the ball and were it not for IBM's heroics they would have taken top slot. Trashuan Nixon shows no sign of being anything but the terror to opposing offenses he has been. We won't know Fujitsu's true level until the back half of the regular season but it'd be no surprise to see them make a fifth straight X Bowl appearance. Silver Star (with three Americans making their debut) are up next for the Frontiers. Obviously Colby Cameron coming out of the game after jamming his fingers is a concern but it seem to have been more a precaution than anything serious.
Yes you can be number 1, win your opener and drop two places. To paraphrase the Trainman in the Matrix: We built this place. Down here we make the rules. Had Impulse kept going at the torrid pace they opened the season at, then they'd still be top but after racing out to a quick 21-0 lead the struggled the rest of the way against a Finies team they had crushed 55-3 just three months earlier. they are still one of the best teams in the league and perhaps it was just teething problems but it'll be interesting to see if they can bounce back with a big win over a Challengers team that didn't impress against a newly promoted side.
Nojima Sagamihara Rise
Just as Devin Gardner can feel miffed at not winning player of the week with six TDs in one half of play, Nojima might argue they deserve to 'Rise' more than one slot after destroying the Bulls 84-0. We'll reserve judgement though because, as impressive and all as that result was, it came against by far the worst team in X1. We don't have long to wait to see Nojima's true worth. In the highlight matchup of week two they'll face an Obic team next that will be fired up coming off a tough loss.
Early on in the IBM game Obic looked like their dominance over Chiba neighbors Big Blue would continue as Shun Sugawara led two lighting fast scoring drives. Once IBM's D-Line started getting continuous pressure though mistakes started to creep in with a pick-six and several sacks allowed. A few big hits aside the Seagulls defense didn't really stand out in any area and it was only drops and missed throws that prevented IBM from doing more damage. Ikaika Woolsey was on crutches on the sideline which is never a good sight. It doesn't get easier for the seven time national champions with Nojima up next. Woolsey being out isn't the end of the world as Sugawara is one of the best QB's in the league but he doesn't have the Hawaiian's scrambling ability at this stage which makes it a bit easier for teams with strong pass rushes to just focus on closing the pocket.
Asahi Beer Silver star
Silver Star dealt with Minerva without any fuss and have three new American players going a team that seems to be going places under rookie head coach Hayato Arima. There is a still a gap between them and the top five but you wouldn't bet against them if they were facing any other side. A winning record this season isn't beyond them.
Elecom Kobe Finies
Credit to the Finies for fighting back from being down 21-0 early on and actually outscoring Impulse the rest of the way. Opening aside it was a much better performance than in the spring but of course reinforcements have arrived in the meantime. Finies have three games on the schedule which could go either way (Challengers / Silver Star / Deers). Those will decide their season. Big Blue and Frontiers. Will they be 4-2 or 1-5? Regardless next week is a gimme.
The way the Frontiers handled the Deers is an ominous sign if you are a Lixil fan. It’s a different league than even a few seasons ago and basically the team needs to start recruiting American players if it’s going to get back to being competitive. Eighth is probably not a true reflection of their level but on current form it’s hard to see them beating any of the top five. The signs were there in the spring when they struggled against the Lions. Next week will be straightforward but week three against Silver Star is a game to circle. That one will be crucial to both teams’ hopes.
Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers
Some Challengers players talked this offseason about an exciting new offense that would come into play but there wasn’t much of it on show after a quick opening TD. Hawkeye are better than many people think as we’ve said before but really Challengers should have broken the game open earlier. We’ll put it down to teething problems but things get really tough really fast with Impulse up next. It’s hard to see anything but a Panasonic win in week two. Challengers have a tough schedule this year and it’ll probably be the latter half of the season before things get fully up and running. The Finies game in week three will probably decide whether they finish 3-3 or 2-4.
Tokyo Gas Creators
The Creators went old school on Monday night football getting off the bus running as Lovie Smith used to (and probably still does) say. Worked well against a limited Eagles outfit though and they took their shots when the had them. With Minerva up next they are on course for 2-0
All Mitsubishi Lions
The Lions stole the Pirate treasure but they are getting nothing from us. You can win and still drop as Panasonic found out. We put stock into the quality of the performance and the Lions just didn't win they way they were expected to, though that's partly down to an improved Pirates outfit. Bulls are up next so a big score to reestablish momentum is a must.
Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates
Coffee is for closers and the Pirates couldn't close so no joe for them. On the bright side the team is improving all the time and as their coach said they are a lot closer to teams like the Lions than they were a year ago. Next week they'll face the number one ranked Big Blue. A win would be the upset of the year. Improved focus and less penalties at crucial times is a must.
As One Black Eagles
As One got a fumbled ball by their RB picked up and carried into the endzone in a rolling maul by captain and OL Kimiya Sugiura. That sealed the win for the Osaka side but it wasn't an impressive one given the opposition.
Hawkeye went toe to toe with Challengers at a blisteringly hot Expo Flash Field in week one and only faded late. It was a very impressive performance against a theoretically much stronger team. Shoma Endo stood out for the newly promoted side. They'll fancy their chances against Black Eagles in week two and an upset could be on the cards.
Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC
New uniforms, new position. Minerva took a beating at the hands of a Silver Star side that was sans Americans. That's not a good sign. Week two is against a team of a similar level and they'll be hoping to put in a better performance. For teams like Minerva avoiding the promotion / relegation battle with X2 sides at the end of the season is one of the main objectives.
Cyclones gave a decent account of themselves in week one. They might even have gotten the win had they not made errors at crucial times. They'll get a chance for revenge in week four. Cyclones actually face two teams twice which means they only have four opponents to prep for this season.
Metropolitan Police Eagles
The Eagles face the Bulls in week six so there is that to look forward to. can't see them beating anyone else though. The travel costs and logistics means games against Hawkeye and Cyclones aren't on the schedule which is a pity as those would likely be better contests.
Bulls Football Club
Starting the season with a surprise onside kick was a bold move but going down 14-0 before that season was even two minutes old had to hurt. There is no easy way to say it. Bulls are in for a long season. When you are ranked dead last and then ship 84 points even when the opponent pulled players in the second half you aren't going anywhere. Can't see the bottom of the rankings changing much all year.