A Precarious Postseason Position

The Way I See It...

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

July 24, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. - With two weekends left in the 1997 Arena Football League season, five teams have clinched winning records. Three more would be in the playoffs if they started today.

The Storm is not in either of those groups of teams.

"We've got our backs to the wall now," Storm coach Tim Marcum admitted.

Following Saturday's loss to Iowa, Tampa Bay dropped to 6-6, their worst record ever so late into the season. In order to avoid a non-winning season, the Storm must win their final two games. But winning seasons and losing seasons are mere red herrings. Getting into the playoffs is what matters. And although the Storm is currently on the outside looking in, their playoff chances are still fairly strong.

Storm Coach Tim Marcum"If we win two, no one can keep us out. We have our own destiny in our hands. Now it's up to us to do it."

The first playoff scenario as it relates to the Storm is simple...If the Storm wins both of their games, they are in the playoffs. When it comes to seeding, though, that's where matters get complicated, as other teams become involved.

So let's take a look at the Storm's competition.

Red Dogs New Jersey Red Dogs (8-4): at New York, vs. Nashville.

The Storm have no chance of catching the Red Dogs. Even if New Jersey lost both games and the Storm won both of theirs, Tampa Bay would lose the tiebreaker thanks to a 44-28 loss in the team's June 14 meeting. The chances of a tiebreaker are slim, anyway, because even though the Red Dogs are losers of three straight, they should be able to beat New York handily this weekend. Win or lose, their game against Nashville to close the season could have home field advantage for the first round riding on the result. If the clubs end up tied at 9-5, then it will come down to their season series. New Jersey has a 59-55 win over the Kats in Week Six already in hand. In order for Nashville to win the tiebreaker, the Kats must beat the Red Dogs by five or more points.

Best guess: A win over New York and a substantial loss to Nashville gives the Red Dogs the No. 5 seed and a first round trip to Music City.

Nashville Kats Nashville Kats (8-4): vs. Orlando, at New Jersey.

With two Storm wins and two Kats losses, these teams would be tied. Tampa Bay would win a head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 42-26 win over Nashville on May 23. Tampa Bay stands a chance of catching the Kats, who lost 48-41 last week at fading Milwaukee. The loss was the first for the Kats after a five-game winning streak that saw the Kats beat up on four clubs with non-winning records.

Best guess: Orlando clobbers the Kats, but Nashville rebounds to defeat the Red Dogs, who still have it worse than the Kats at this point, gaining a rematch with New Jersey in Nashville.

San Jose Sabercats San Jose SaberCats (7-5): at Portland, vs. Tampa Bay.

Coming down the stretch, the SaberCats are flying, and are winners of five in their last six. But who were the wins against? 2-10 Portland, 4-8 Florida, 2-10 Anaheim, fading New Jersey (who also provided the lone loss in that stretch) and Iowa, although that win came way back in Week Seven. San Jose has played solid, if unspectacular football, thanks to the steady hand of QB Scott Wood. Wood doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but he doesn't make mistakes. The only question is, how will this heretofore career AFL backup handle real pressure?

Best guess: San Jose clobbers Portland, then loses to Tampa Bay, dropping into a three-way tie with the Storm and Milwaukee at 8-6.

Milwaukee Mustangs Milwaukee Mustangs (6-6): at Anaheim, vs. Portland.

Sure, Milwaukee beat Nashville last week. But is that enough to stop the bleeding of a four-game losing streak? In all likelihood, yes, because the four losses came to Iowa and Arizona, twice each, in a murderous stretch. Playing two 2-10 clubs to close out the season is just the breather this team needs. Of course, in this wacky season, anything is possible, and further, the the Forest Dragons will have confidence before their season-ender, thanks to an opening night upset over the Mustangs.

Best guess: Milwaukee struggles to a win over the Piranahas, then pounds the Forest Dragons to complete their second straight winning season.

Albany Firebirds Albany Firebirds (6-6): at Arizona, at Iowa.

Albany controls its own destiny, but it may not be much of a help, as they face a suicidal close to the regular season. If they win them both, then crown the Firebirds as AFL champions right there and then. Howver, Albany has only a 1-4 record against teams with winning records. They did beat New Jersey last weekend, but since the Red Dogs' win at San Jose on June 27, eveyone has beaten the Dogs.

Best guess: Albany will score a lot of points. Then they'll give up more. Two high-scoring but close losses will keep them at home for the postseason for the first time since 1990.

Texas Terror Texas Terror (5-7): at Iowa, vs. Anaheim.

Texas is hanging on by a wing and a prayer. To make the playoffs, they must not only win both games, but hope that two of the following four teams lose twice: Milwaukee, Albany, San Jose and Tampa Bay.

Best guess: Texas loses in Des Moines and wins a meaningless season-ender over the Piranhas to close out the season and, more than likely, their franchise, unless they are kept together via relocation or major cash influx.

If our predictions come through, then there will be a three-way logjam for sixth place between Milwaukee, San Jose and Tampa Bay. In such a case, the tiebreaker would skip past the head-to-head results, because all three teams have not played each other. (The missing matchup is San Jose vs. Milwaukee.) The second tiebreaker, win-loss percentage against common opponents, would be utilized. And the winner is...Tampa Bay. Assuming that Milwaukee beats Anaheim this weekend, the Mustangs would still only have a 5-5 record against common opponents. San Jose's would be 4-4, but the Storm's would be 4-2.

As for breaking the tie that would still exist between Milwaukee and San Jose---that would go back to common opponents, and they would still be tied. Then it would proceed to strength of schedule, and, frankly, I have no clue about that one.

There is, though, another, less direct route for the Storm to make the playoffs. If the Storm win only once, they can make it only if Albany and Milwaukee both lose twice. The Storm loses a three-way tiebreaker with the Firebirds and Mustangs, and would also lose two-way tiebreakers with each team.

As mentioned earlier, though, the Firebirds have a hellish two weeks coming up. Assuming the Storm wins on Saturday against the Bobcats and that Albany loses at Arizona, then the Storm should know exactly what it needs to do by the time they kick off at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, August 2. If word comes in that the Firebirds have lost to Iowa to end the season at 6-8, then the Storm will not have to do a thing to get in. But if Albany has managed to win one of its final two games, then the Storm will need to beat San Jose to get into the postseason.

There is also a chance that the Storm could be knocked out before the end of this coming weekend. Should the Storm lose to Florida, and Albany, Milwaukee and San Jose all win, Tampa Bay will be forced to play a meaningless season ender in the South Bay.

After all of that, one fact remains: the Storm controls its own destiny. These last two games are winnable---Florida, a team the Storm have won nine straight against dating back to their days in Denver in 1991, and San Jose, who has won five of six but has not set the world on fire in doing so. Barring a tremendous Albany upset in the next two weeks, the Storm will only need one win, but the simplest path to the postseason involves the Storm taking care of its own business. If they do not make the playoffs, then they will have only themselves to blame.

And that's the way I see it.

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