The playoffs are just around the corner and the playoff picture is starting to come together with just five weeks left in the season.
In the National Conference, both division winners have been crowned, but it just so happens to be that those two teams are the only teams in the National Conference with winning records. Once again, Arizona (12-2) and San Jose (13-1) have dominated their conference.
In the American Conference, the only thing that is clear is that Philadelphia has claimed their third East Division championship in four years. All three teams in the South Division conference still stand a chance with Orlando (8-6), Tampa Bay (6-7), and Jacksonville (7-6) all still in control of their own destinies. If any of these three teams win out, they will be named South Division champions.
The most interesting part about that scenario is that all three teams in the South Division will face each other at least once during the last five weeks of the season. Orlando will travel to Tampa to face the Storm in Week 16 in the second installment of the War on I-4. In Week 18, the Storm will head to Jacksonville to face the Sharks and in Week 19 the Sharks will travel to Orlando to face the Predators. The regular season will be capped off with the oldest rivalry in the history of the League – the third meeting of the year between the Storm and the Predators at the Amway Center in Orlando, FL in Week 20.
And after all that drama, it’s already clear that at least two teams from the South Division will go to the playoffs. After seven straight losses, New Orleans (2-11) is virtually eliminated from the playoffs already. If the VooDoo were to win out and Cleveland (7-7) lost their last five games, both Cleveland and New Orleans’ record would be 7-11. However, Cleveland has already defeated New Orleans twice this year, giving them the head-to-head edge in a tiebreaker situation.
Cleveland’s postseason life will only be a reality if they can finish the season with a better record than one of the teams in the South Division. One possible scenario is if Cleveland and Tampa Bay end up with a tied record and the Predators and Jacksonville have locked in one of the top three playoff spots in the conference, the fourth seed will go to head-to-head competition. In this case, the Gladiators will win the tie after having beaten the Storm 2-of-3 times this season.
The Wildcard spots in the National Conference are far from determined. Las Vegas (5-8) is now just three wins away from officially sealing their first ever playoff berth in their inaugural season. However, things are a bit more wide open in the rest of the conference. All four teams have a valid shot to make it to the postseason, but the LA KISS (2-11) will need the most help, as they sit two games behind the fourth seed as the rankings currently stand. Portland (3-10) and Spokane (4-10) will each need to string together some wins, and a head-to-head matchup in Week 18 could go a long way in determining which team, if either, will secure a playoff spot. Each of the final five weeks of the season has a matchup between two of these four teams jockeying for playoff positions.
There is still a lot to be determined in the playoff race, but the final five weeks of play will provide heightened excitement, with every game becoming more and more crucial to the extension of the season for each team in the hunt for the playoffs and a shot at the ArenaBowl title. The fight for the playoffs will most likely come down to the final week of the season before we will know what the final playoff picture looks like. Each week is sure to make the race more interesting.