Power Rankings - Week Six・Wildcard
Business end of the season. Those can can, do. Those that can't, write power rankings.
Panasonic continue to bully the field and finish the regular season unbeaten. It'll all be for nothing if they don't win the next four games though. They're on the "easy" side of the draw if you consider how Big Blue have continued to underwhelm the last few weeks. How much of those performances was weather related though? We've already had one upset in the playoffs. Could we have more? From next week it'll only be the playoff teams ranked for obvious reasons.
Impulse players mocked Inside Sport: Japan's prediction that Nojima would put up 28 points on their defense. The Sagamihara outfit came within one play of doing so, but, as has happened for three straight weeks, Panasonic found that edge down the home straight and got the win. It's a game of inches but since this isn't one of the three remaining countries that don't use the metric system lets call it a game of centimeters and agree that whatever the units, Impulse have found the measure of every team they faced this year. Does Panasonic have a weakness? Hard to say. Maybe if they wear their all-white uniforms and it snows they won't be able to see each other.
Ok we had our fun with the Frontiers, but the time for games is over. Or at least it will be for whomever this team faces on their way back to the JXB. Fujitsu has been there and done that so much that they know exactly how to pace themselves. Peaking at just the right time. Looking at their side of the draw it's hard to bet against them making the final for a fifth year running. There is a lot of love for Nojima, which is understandable but Frontiers' depth gives them the edge when players get injured, which is almost inevitable in a contact sport. Speaking of... how's the ankle Gino?
Nojima Sagamihara Rise
Was that pass interference? Did the loss to Impulse come down to a no-call? Who knows but there have been a lot of missed infractions across the league this year so it probably evens out in the end. We drop Nojima one rank but really they could be 2B to Fujitsu's 2A. Since they didn't meet in the regular season it's hard to separate them. They have to be favorites to meet in the semis but first the Rise have to get past Obic - a team that shut them out in week two. Both of Nojima's losses have come in heavy rain, so they'll be hoping for the good conditions that suit their high powered attack the rest of the way. This is a side that seems to be gelling more and more as the season wears on and if they avoid injury they could well go all they way. To do that though they'll likely have to beat Obic, Fujitsu and Panasonic in three straights games and that's a big ask.
As they do in games, Lixil is storming down the home straight in our power rankings. Ranked 8th at one stage, they even looked in danger of missing out on the playoffs but the dramatic comeback against IBM was followed up with a strong win over a good Elecom outfit that gives Deers a quarterfinal rematch against Big Blue. Three weeks ago you'd have given them no chance but this isn't three weeks ago and now the game looks like a toss up. It's been five seasons since the Deers last appeared in the JXB and eight since they won it all. Unlikely that they get past Panasonic, even if they do beat IBM but if you had to pick the an upset that'd be the game.
Obic lost in overtime to one of the top two teams so it may seem unfair to drop them but surely no one on the team expected to finish the season 3-3.
The Chiba based outfit hasn't had a good year.
On the flip side though their quarter final is against a team they have already shut out and two of the losses came when they were without their starting QB. Can the Seagulls be called dark horses? In any one off game against Fujitsu or Nojima they have to be at least considered equal favorites. How important are wins and momentum to a championship run? We'll soon find out.
Elecom Kobe Finies
The same issue that Finies have had all year came back to haunt them against Lixil, namely their inability to score against the top teams. This is a good team on the rise but they need to figure out a way to deal with a lack of points if they want to progress. Maybe that's done by being more aggressive on defense, hoping to get turnovers, or just controlling possession for as long as possible and running (literally) down the clock to limit opposition scoring chances. Considering they are on the side of the draw with Fujitsu, Obic and Nojima - all teams that have big name QBs and strong defenses, you have to figure the odds are against them. One thing is for sure. What they've done so far won't work against the champions so look for something different on Saturday.
IBM Big Blue
Bad weather and injuries on offense have limited IBM in recent weeks. Sure they beat Challengers but ten points against the Super 9 team that didn't make the playoffs won't sit well with an organization that scored 38, 52 and 42 points in the first half of the season. It's not like they lost anyone for the season though - as least as far as we know - so if they can get things back on track health wise Big Blue should be able to avenge their week five loss to Lixil in the quarterfinals. Let's not forget that they seemed to have that game sewn up and really it was only in the last two minutes that Deers did anything.
Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers
The Challengers were shut out and are the sole Super 9 nine side not to make the playoffs but we've ranked them ahead of two teams that did. Simply put that's because they are a better team than either Lions or Silver Star. As we said at the start of the year their week three game against Finies would decide their season and so it proved. Challengers actually had the better of that game and lost it by a single score. Like their Kansai neighbors though offense has been the issue all season. That side of the ball is in the early stages of an overhaul and they'll be better prepared next year, but of course the question is can they hold on to their imports or will it be start from scratch again? If Asahi Soft Drinks want to return to respectability they need to build a culture where foreign players are kept and integrated as true members of the team they way they are at Fujitsu or Obic. You can't expect success in this type of football with constant change.
All Mitsubishi Lions
Lions went 1-1 against Silver Star the past two weeks but of course the win they got has far more value. Despite poor play and some fortunate wins early in the year the Hachioji based side came through when it counted and their win in the wildcard game was a true team effort. They have virtually no chance against Panasonic in the quarterfinals but this is a team that on its day is probably good enough to match a couple of sides at the bottom of the Super 9, and one that may be there soon enough itself. Being a company team though they are severely limited in terms of recruitment opportunities which makes it hard to see them surviving at that level, but lets focus on the present and congratulate the Lions for giving the Battle 9 something to be proud of for the second straight year.
Asahi Beer Silver Star
Joy to despair in the space of a week. Silver Star snuck into the playoffs with a win over Lions then got dumped out of them seven days later at the same venue. At the start of the season it all looked so bright with the team playing well and sticking with the likes of Fujitsu, but a lack of depth and none of the Americans brought in ever actually playing doomed them. Still and all it has to be hard to accept going out to a Battle 9 side. Asahi Beer probably expected to be preparing to travel to Kansai this week and just like that the season is over. Will they bring in more foreigners next year? If so it will have to be done soon in order to have them ready for the Spring and avoid a repeat of this season. The team has good players but just not enough of them.
Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates
Credit to Pirates. They bounced back from the humiliating defeat to Minerva by shutting out the Eagles then downing Tokyo Gas to give themselves a shot at a wildcard spot. Ultimately they lost out on a tiebreaker to a Black Eagles team that had a far easier schedule but given where they were two weeks ago they have to be feeling better about themselves. As with other teams a small squad means that when players aren't available due to work or family commitments it really hurts their chances. Recruitment is the key for the Pirates. Until the XLeague has some kind of draft or way of ensuring a more even distribution of players the best way for the lower sides to succeed is to get as many people trying out for the team as possible. Once they have a full and committed squad they can focus on improving it from the top down.
Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC
Minerva don't get a win in X1 for seven years and then they go and win three on the trot. Not only that but they shut out a Cyclones team that was a win-and-in position regarding the playoffs. The huge bulk of the attention given to the XLeague goes to the top teams but Minerva have provided one of the best feel good stories of the year. Changed their logo and changed their luck. It's an old sumo trick. Rikishi sometimes give themselves a fresh start by adopting a new shikona (ring name). One scribe whose blushes we'll spare called Fuji Xerox the worst team in the history of X1 before the season and derided their initial ranking of 13. We only mention that because we were right and want to brag about it.
Tokyo Gas Creators
Creators performance against the Pirates was a disappointment. A win would have put them in playoff contention but they were never really in the game. They looked like the best side in the Battle 9 early in the season but couldn't keep it going.
As One Black Eagles
As One made the playoffs but had a far easier schedule than the teams that didn't. That was underlined by the pasting they received at the hands of Finies in the wildcard round. We understand that financial issues etc makes it hard for smaller sides to travel but when four of six games are against HawkEye and Cyclones and three wins are enough to make the postseason..... well that's hardly fair. Just one game in Kanto would have redressed the balance significantly and given Pirates, Minerva etc a much more level playing field.
Metropolitan Police Eagles
Eagles handled the Bulls with ease. Two wins was as much as they could have hoped for but they might even have had three with a bit more luck against the Lions. All in all they did a little better than what we expected before the season started. Recruitment pool is very limited so winning a few games, and being competitive in others counts as success.
Cyclones got shut out by Minerva when a win would have put them in the playoffs. So we're rubbing salt in the wounds. Punting on fourth and short late in the game when you are in the opponent's half and down by just three isn't going to be rewarded here. We want to see teams play fearlessly and go get that win. That been said though we got to give the Nagoya based side credit for putting themselves in the position in the first place. A mixed season with some positives and plenty to work on.
HawkEye finish with a loss, albeit a close one to a team that made the playoffs. They might have ended the year 1-5 but look at their results and you'll see they didn't get blown out totally in any game and were reasonably competitive for a team coming up from X2. A first ever win in the top flight is a big positive and now the focus turns to consolidating their position and ensuring they stay at this level.
Bulls Football Club
A season to forget ends with a dispiriting loss. Not really many positives that you can take from 2017 for the Bulls. Time to forget it and focus on the future. Things can only get better.