By Neal Rozendaal, VP Communications for the DC Divas
It’s the best season of the year…playoff season! Women’s football playoffs are in full swing, and wow, it has been interesting for sure.
As most fans know, the WFA features three divisions of play. In WFA2 and WFA3, both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are divided into two regions: the Northeast and Southeast in the East and the Midwest and Pacific in the West. The same is true for the Western Conference of WFA1.
In WFA1, there are two playoff teams per region (in the West), four playoff teams per conference, and eight playoff teams total. In WFA2, there are three playoff teams per region, six per conference, and 12 playoff teams total (with one empty slot in the Midwest Region, which I’ll discuss later). In WFA3, there are four playoff teams per region, eight per conference, and 16 playoff teams total. Teams are seeded by conference based on the Massey Ratings, which primarily take into account a team’s record and their strength of schedule.
WFA1 Playoff Picture
Nine teams competed in WFA1 in 2018, which meant that eight of the nine teams in Division I made the playoffs. Ironically, the only team that missed the playoffs was the defending 2017 WFA1 champion Dallas Elite, who finished third in the Midwest Region behind the Kansas City Titans and Arlington Impact. The Impact effectively knocked the Elite out of the playoffs with a 18-7 victory in the final week of the regular season.
Here is the playoff bracket for WFA’s Division I:
WFA1 Playoff Bracket:
#4 Atlanta Phoenix @ #1 D.C. Divas
#3 Boston Renegades @ #2 Pittsburgh Passion
#3 Arlington Impact @ #1 Kansas City Titans
#4 Portland Fighting Shockwave @ #2 Los Angeles Warriors
Because the D.C. Divas, Pittsburgh Passion, and Boston Renegades reside in the northeast with only the Atlanta Phoenix in the southeast, the WFA1 East is the only one of the six conferences in the Women’s Football Alliance that ignores regions and relies on a straight four-team conference seeding.
The Divas, Passion, and Renegades had a thrilling tri-rivalry in the regular season in 2018. All five games between them were decided by eight points or less, exhibiting the kind of parity often considered lacking by some around the sport. (And in full disclosure for those who don’t know, I work in the Divas’ front office as their VP of Communications.)
The Divas lost to the Passion and Renegades on the road in April but turned the tables on them in May, winning back-to-back home games against each of them and splitting the regular season series with both. The Renegades and Passion played each other only once, and the Passion pulled off a narrow victory at home in their only meeting.
That left the Divas and Renegades with 6-2 records, while the Passion finished 7-1. (It’s worth noting that both the D.C. Divas and the Boston Renegades are attempting to become the first two-loss team to win a Division I national title in women’s football since the So Cal Scorpions won the WPFL with a 9-2 record back in 2007.) But the Divas also finished with the top strength of schedule in the league, because they played four games within this triumvirate while the Passion and Renegades played only three.
There was little separation between these three teams in the final regular season Massey Ratings, as one might expect given that every game between them went down to the wire. Ultimately, the Massey Ratings awarded the Divas the #1 seed in the East, due to their split with both Boston and Pittsburgh and the fact that they played a home-and-home with both of them. Pittsburgh, largely by virtue of their head-to-head win over Boston in their only meeting, secured the #2 seed, while Boston finished at #3. Atlanta, which suffered an upset loss to the Division III Alabama Fire early in the year, finished with the #4 seed.
The Divas are gunning for their third national championship in the last four years, having won the WFA crown in 2015 and 2016. But this is a much different team than the one that claimed the WFA title two years ago. The Divas have a completely rebuilt offense, with only four returning starters on that side of the ball from the team that won the 2016 WFA championship.
For years, the D.C.-Pittsburgh-Boston rivalry was defined by their quarterbacks – Allyson Hamlin, Lisa Horton, and Allison Cahill, respectively. When any of these teams lacked their star quarterback, they had trouble maintaining their competitiveness. This was true for the Renegades in 2016 when Cahill suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and the Passion in 2017 when Horton tried to ease out of the quarterback role and transition to wide receiver.
So when Hamlin retired for the Divas after the 2016 season – along with Kenyetta Grigsby, the WFA’s all-time leading rusher, and Ashley Whisonant, then the WFA’s all-time leading receiver – the Divas were considered by many to be years away from getting back in championship contention. But the Divas have managed to rebuild. The defense remains as strong as it was during the back-to-back championship runs. Meanwhile, the offense under new quarterback Amanda Congialdi and guided by Allyson Hamlin, who is now in her first full year as the Divas’ offensive coordinator, has been able to put enough points on the board to make D.C. a top contender in the East once again.
Sitting with the #2 seed in the East are the Pittsburgh Passion, who are on the brink of possibly securing their first Division I national championship since winning the NWFA in 2007. (The Passion also won a pair of Division II national titles against inferior competition in the IWFL in 2014 and 2015.)
Pittsburgh was on top of the WFA standings for most of the year, and they have everything a team would need to make a serious run at the WFA championship. Legendary quarterback Lisa Horton has numerous weapons at her disposal, most notably Angela Baker, who ran away with the WFA1 receiving triple crown of yards, receptions, and touchdowns. Baker, who also led WFA1 in interceptions, is also a valuable asset on Pittsburgh’s defense, which might be the stronger half of their team…a scary thought given the explosiveness of their offense.
In the #3 seed are the Boston Renegades, the defending WFA1 Eastern Conference champions, and it would not surprise me – at all – to see Boston make a run to the national title game from that position. If there’s a team out there that can beat the Passion and the Divas on the road in consecutive outings, it’s the Renegades.
The Renegades’ predecessor team, the Boston Militia, was one of the most successful in the history of women’s football. But this year’s version of the Boston Renegades is a fresh new chapter in the story of Boston women’s football. The Renegades have competed this season without Militia mainstays Whitney Zelee, Stacey Tiamfook, and Adrienne Smith. One might expect the team to take a step back in their absence, but like any great organization, the Renegades have thrived by allowing new stars to blossom.
Chief among these new stars are the Pascual sisters, Angelica and Stephanie. Angelica Pascual has been one of the top running backs in the sport this season, and her sister Stephanie is a dynamic playmaker herself. Joining them are veteran Chante Bonds and one of the top wideouts in the game in Emily Beinecke.
And, of course, there’s the timeless Allison Cahill at quarterback, the winningest signal-caller in the history of the sport. Cahill easily led WFA’s Division I in passing this season, and you know she has her sights set on a fourth championship ring as she tries to gain ground on the record five titles won by Kim Grodus of the Detroit Demolition.
The Pittsburgh-Boston playoff game on June 30 is easily the highlight of the conference semifinal round. You have two legendary quarterbacks, two of the best wide receivers in the game, two powerful defenses, and two cities with an incredible tradition in women’s football. If this game is anything like the regular season shootout that ended with a 44-41 Passion win, it’s going to be an absolute blast to watch.
The Atlanta Phoenix round out the Eastern Conference of WFA1, and they’re looking to become the first WFA team to play in a national title game they’re hosting. They face a tall task to get there, as they would need to win two northern road games to claim the conference title. But they are a proud franchise in a city with a lot of tradition in women’s football, and they are certainly capable of making history.
This season feels a lot like last season in the Western Conference of WFA’s Division I. Last year, the Dallas Elite – a super-team stocked with some of the best talent from all of Texas and beyond – were widely considered the most talented team in the Western Conference. But due to weak local competition and the resulting poor SOS, the Elite were relegated to the #2 seed. Even as the #2 seed, they were not only considered the favorites in the conference but for many, the entire nation, and the Elite went on to validate those claims as they won the 2017 WFA national title.
This year feels somewhat similar in that a California super-team, the Los Angeles Warriors, looks the part of the most talented team in the Western Conference and perhaps the country. However, due to weaker local competition, the Warriors have been handed the #2 seed in the Western Conference.
Instead, the Kansas City Titans have earned top billing in the West, and it has been a remarkable year for the Kansas City club. The Titans are led by running back Brittany Williams, who led the WFA’s first division in rushing yards, attempts, and touchdowns. In fact, Williams’ 21 touchdowns on the ground are more than her next two nearest competitors combined.
Under center, 17-year-old quarterback Brooke Liebsch will try to lead her team to a national championship before earning her high school diploma. I can’t help but think of her facing off in the title game against Boston’s Cahill or Pittsburgh’s Horton, both of whom have been playing football since Liebsch was in diapers. Or if the Titans face the Divas, Liebsch would square off against D.C. middle linebacker Trigger McNair, who has been playing football since 1999, years before Liebsch was born.
If Kansas City makes it to the championship game, they will likely face an Eastern Conference champion team filled with veterans who have been playing nearly as long as the Titans’ quarterback has been alive. That’s a heck of a storyline to start with.
But first, the Titans have to get past the Arlington Impact in a conference semifinal game. The Impact are certainly riding the momentum from defeating the Dallas Elite in their regular season finale, effectively eliminating the defending WFA champions from the playoffs. That’s a huge shot of confidence for any team, and Kansas City cannot afford to take Arlington lightly in their first meeting this year.
In the Pacific Region, the Los Angeles Warriors look like the team to beat, not only in the region, but perhaps in the West or the entire nation. The Warriors were a solid team last year, but this year they have added a number of players from the now-defunct Central Cal War Angels that have turned the Warriors into a legitimate super-group.
Coming over from Fresno are quarterback Chantel Niino-Wiggins, wide receiver Lisa King, and running back Alexis Snyder. But the real key to the Warriors’ offense is an L.A. mainstay from the past several years – running back Priscilla Gardner. Gardner finished second in WFA1 in rushing this season but on an astonishingly few 26 carries. Gardner averaged 21.8 yards per carry every time she touched the ball, which is the definition of dominance.
The Portland Fighting Shockwave will try to slow the Warriors’ advance to the conference title game, but after a 52-8 loss at home to Los Angeles earlier in the year, they will need a drastic turnaround to compete with the Warriors in the rematch.
WFA2 Playoff Picture
Three teams per region qualified for the WFA2 playoffs, for a total of six teams per conference. Unfortunately, with only two teams in the Midwest Region, that reduced the number of playoff teams in this division to 11.
In the Northeast Region, the Detroit Dark Angels were 5-2 heading into the final week of the season and in line to claim the region’s third and final playoff berth with a win over the Division III Toledo Reign. But a 17-15 upset loss to Toledo in their regular season finale opened the door for the 6-2 Columbus Comets to slip through with the last playoff berth in the Northeast.
The Southeast and Midwest Regions only had three and two teams within them, respectively, so all of the teams in those regions made the playoffs in WFA2. And over in the Pacific, Mile High, San Diego, and Everett were clear choices for the three playoff spots in their region.
Here are the conference quarterfinal results and remaining playoff bracket for WFA’s Division II:
Eastern Conference quarterfinal results:
#4 Columbus Comets 22, #2 Philadelphia Phantomz 14
#5 Jacksonville Dixie Blues 35, #6 Miami Fury 14
Western Conference quarterfinal result:
#4 San Diego Rebellion 35, #5 Everett Reign 0
WFA2 Playoff Bracket:
#4 Columbus Comets @ #1 New York Sharks
#5 Jacksonville Dixie Blues @ #3 Tampa Bay Inferno
#3 Wisconsin Dragons @ #1 Minnesota Vixen
#4 San Diego Rebellion @ #2 Mile High Blaze
As a commentator on women’s football, I try to remain neutral and not get publicly involved in rooting for specific teams. With that said, if there isn’t a part of you that would be happy to see the New York Sharks against the Minnesota Vixen in the WFA2 title game in Atlanta this year, you may not have a soul.
The venerable New York Sharks announced prior to this season that the 2018 campaign would be their last. The Sharks are one of only two surviving teams from the sport’s rebirth in 1999…with the other being the Minnesota Vixen. The Sharks played the then-Minnesota Vixens in their very first game, beating Minnesota by a 12-6 count on December 11, 1999.
Over the succeeding two decades, the Sharks became an iconic team within the sport. They were a Blue Blood team in this sport for most of the first decade of the 2000s, even winning a Division I national championship in the IWFL back in 2002. Since then, they have slipped out of Blue Blood status and now compete in Division II of the WFA, but they are still a respected and admired club who have the second-most wins all-time of any team in women’s football history.
You’ll recall that after 17 years apart, the Sharks and Vixen actually crossed paths again back in 2016, when they met in the IWFL Eastern Conference championship game. In their first meeting since 1999, these two teams staged an impressive battle that went into double overtime.
The Vixen failed to score on their offensive possession in double overtime, and the Sharks drove down to the Minnesota two-yard line, just two yards from clinching a spot in their first championship game since 2004. But a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown sent the Vixen to the title game with a 40-34 victory. It was a play that was featured on ESPN’s Top Ten the following week and gained a lot of positive publicity for the sport, but it’s also a play that lives in Sharks infamy. (Here’s a great article about that game and season from a New York perspective.)
How fitting would it be if the New York Sharks – in their final game – squared off against the Minnesota Vixen one final time for the WFA Division II crown? You honestly can’t script a better story than that.
The thing about such too-good-to-be-true storylines, of course, is that they often don’t come true. In the Sharks’ case, while they have home field advantage throughout the WFA2 playoffs, they will have their hands full against the Columbus Comets, who earned the right to play the Sharks by upsetting the second-seeded Philadelphia Phantomz in Philly, 22-14, in a conference quarterfinal match.
(That game has to result in some serious soul-searching for the Phantomz, because this is the third straight year they have been bounced from the postseason after losing a playoff game at home. Of the 11 conference quarterfinal games played on June 16, Columbus was the only road team to come away with a victory.)
Anyway, the Sharks certainly don’t need to be reminded of the threat the Comets pose…New York can simply think back to five years ago. In 2013, Columbus went on the road and upset the Sharks in New York, 22-20, in a first-round WFA playoff game. And as mentioned earlier, the Comets would not have made the playoffs at all this year if not for an upset loss by the Detroit Dark Angels in the final week of the regular season.
The Comets have already pulled one upset on the road this postseason, and they have knocked the Sharks out of the playoffs in the recent past. Columbus is playing with house money at this point, as they were very unlikely to be in this spot as recently as two weeks ago, and that makes the Comets lethally dangerous as a team with nothing to lose. And just for the record, Columbus is actually a slight favorite in this game in the Massey predictive model…so this has the potential to be a terrific game.
In the Southeast, the Jacksonville Dixie Blues advanced to the conference semifinals with a 35-14 victory over the Miami Fury. The fact that Jacksonville won was not much of a surprise; they had defeated the Fury twice in the regular season. But those two regular-season wins over Miami were both by six points or less, so the margin of Jacksonville’s playoff victory was certainly impressive.
Although the Dixie Blues have some momentum, they face a major challenge this weekend against the Tampa Bay Inferno, which defeated Jacksonville handily in two meetings this year. With so much focus on the possibility of a historic New York-Minnesota WFA2 championship game, the Tampa Bay Inferno are almost flying under the radar, if that’s possible. But make no mistake, this Inferno team is a serious contender to take home the WFA2 crown.
Perhaps some fans are overlooking the Inferno because they started the season 1-2, with close losses to the Atlanta Phoenix and Orlando Anarchy by a combined four points. But they have since ripped off five straight wins, including an impressive 38-14 victory over the Anarchy to avenge their earlier defeat. And remember: the Inferno are the two-time defending WFA2 Eastern Conference champions, losing in the WFA2 title game to the St. Louis Slam in 2016 and 2017. Now that the Slam have folded, the Inferno feel that their time is now…and they could very well be right.
In the West, the Minnesota Vixen are the longest-running team in women’s football history. Yet for all that tradition, they have never won a national championship. This season – the Vixen’s 20th, which they are celebrating with logos cleverly labeling them as the ViXXen – Minnesota dropped down to WFA’s Division II after competing in Division I in 2017, and they have been one of the top teams in WFA2 all season. After two decades, this could finally be the year that ends with the Minnesota Vixen walking off the field as national champions.
They should have a fairly easy time in the conference semifinal round, where they will face the Wisconsin Dragons. The Dragons made the playoffs in their first season since their reorganization due to a lack of teams in the Midwest Region, but the Vixen handled them easily in two regular season meetings. It would be a surprise to see anything other than a similar result in their third encounter.
But the Vixen will have a much harder time in a potential conference championship game, because the team that comes out of the Pacific Region will be a worthy champion. The Mile High Blaze were stopped last season in the Western Conference title game by the eventual WFA2 champion St. Louis Slam, but this year they feel they are ready to take the next step. Two losses against the Kansas City Titans of Division I should have the Blaze ready to face the challenge the Vixen would present in the conference title game.
That’s if the Mile High Blaze get there, that is, and the San Diego Rebellion will have something to say about that. The Rebellion easily dispatched the Everett Reign to advance to the conference semifinals, and like the Blaze, their only losses this season are two setbacks to a Division I power in the Los Angeles Warriors. San Diego is equally as battle-tested as Mile High this season, and it should be an entertaining showdown. Along with Columbus-New York, this is the conference semifinal to watch in WFA2.
WFA3 Playoff Picture
Four teams per region qualified for the WFA3 playoffs, for a total of eight teams per conference. As was the case in WFA2, the Northeast Region proved to be the toughest one in which to secure a playoff spot, and the West Connecticut Hawks were the victims in this division. The Hawks got off to a remarkable 6-0 start on the season, but two lopsided losses to the New York Sharks and Richmond Black Widows to end the year nudged them out of the playoffs at 6-2.
In the Southeast, the Alabama Fire would have been one of the top seeds in the region but declined a postseason berth due to numerous player injuries in the regular season. That opened up a spot in the playoffs for the Music City Mizfits, who slid in as the #4 seed in the region.
The Madison Blaze would have made the playoffs as the last seed in the Midwest Region, but a forfeit loss in the regular season – which makes a team ineligible for the playoffs – handed the spot instead to the Acadiana Zydeco. Similarly, the Sin City Trojans would have been one of the top playoff teams in the Pacific Region, but a forfeit loss in the regular season rendered them ineligible and handed their bid to La Muerte De Las Cruces.
Here are the conference quarterfinal results and remaining playoff bracket for WFA’s Division III:
Eastern Conference quarterfinal results:
#1 Mississippi Royalty 42, #8 Music City Mizfits 12
#2 Orlando Anarchy 38, #4 Derby City Dynamite 14
#3 Toledo Reign 28, #7 Cincinnati Sizzle 8
#5 Richmond Black Widows 34, #6 Columbus Vanguards 0
Western Conference quarterfinal results:
#1 Arkansas Wildcats 50, #8 Acadiana Zydeco 0
#2 Austin Outlaws 32, #4 Houston Power 22
#3 Colorado Freeze 20, #7 La Muerte De Las Cruces 0
#5 Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz 18, #6 Utah Blitz 0
WFA3 Playoff Bracket:
#2 Orlando Anarchy @ #1 Mississippi Royalty
#5 Richmond Black Widows @ #3 Toledo Reign
#2 Austin Outlaws @ #1 Arkansas Wildcats
#5 Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz @ #3 Colorado Freeze
I’ve always said that predicting the WFA3 playoffs is a fool’s errand. The rosters are so small that there can be dramatic variance in a team’s performance season to season or even game to game. My recommendation with WFA3 is to put your predictions to the side and just sit back and enjoy the ride.
With that said, as unpredictable as WFA3 usually is, it’s worth noting that all eight home teams in the WFA3 conference quarterfinals won against the lower seeds. In other words, the favorites won all eight games, and the top two teams in all four regions advanced to the conference semifinal round in WFA3.
The most controversial seeding of all the WFA playoff brackets came in the WFA3 East, as the Massey Ratings narrowly awarded the #1 seed in the conference to the 5-1 Mississippi Royalty over the 7-1 Orlando Anarchy, who are the defending WFA3 Eastern Conference champions and who had the #1 seed in the East for most of the year.
The two teams had similar records in the regular season. Mississippi, a first-year expansion team, split with the Alabama Fire in the regular season, while the Anarchy split with the Tampa Bay Inferno. The Anarchy also had a nice win over the Jacksonville Dixie Blues, but both of their wins over Jacksonville and Tampa Bay were narrow victories by seven points or less.
Those narrow wins gave the Royalty the opportunity to gain ground in the chase for the #1 seed. A 26-point thrashing of the Alabama Fire in the penultimate week of the regular season put Mississippi in contention for the top seed in the WFA3 East, and when Orlando lost to Tampa Bay by 24 points on the final week of the regular season, it was just enough to push Mississippi ahead of Orlando in the rankings.
Looking at these two teams, I think their regular season resumes were very, very close. I might have put Orlando just a touch ahead, but I can understand the logic in why the Massey Ratings very slightly preferred Mississippi.
That drama just becomes prelude for the conference semifinal round, when the top-seeded Royalty host the second-seeded Anarchy. It should be a tremendous game. As long as Arkansas and Orlando – the two teams that played in the WFA3 title game last year – are still alive in this year’s WFA3 playoffs, it’s hard to bet against them and they will be considered the favorites in many circles. But the Mississippi-Orlando game will be a great one to watch.
As will the other WFA3 Eastern Conference semifinal, which pits the Toledo Reign against the Richmond Black Widows. The Black Widows, who won the 2016 WFA3 Eastern Conference championship, are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus and eager to get to their second conference title game in three years. The Toledo Reign, on the other hand, want redemption for last year’s heartbreak, when they were upset at home in the 2017 WFA3 Eastern Conference championship game by Orlando, 27-20.
Out West, the Arkansas Wildcats are heavy favorites to get back to the WFA3 championship game to defend their crown. The Wildcats were a surprise underdog last season, but this year, the undefeated Wildcats are surprising no one with their strong play. The Austin Outlaws lost to Arkansas in the regular season by a somewhat competitive 22-0 score, but they’ll need to take another step forward if they hope to avenge the 36-6 playoff loss they suffered at the hands of the Wildcats last year.
Finally, in the Pacific Region, the Colorado Freeze are having an impressive inaugural season in the WFA after winning the Founders Bowl in the IWFL last year. With the Sin City Trojans out of contention, the path is clear for the Freeze to advance to the WFA3 Western Conference title game in their first year in the Women’s Football Alliance.
To get there, they’ll need to take down a Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz team they beat twice in the regular season. The Thunderkatz were competitive in their two games with Colorado, falling by an average of 20 points per contest, so it’s not unthinkable for them to reverse that outcome in the playoffs. But as with the Austin Outlaws, the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz will need to summon their best performance to come away with a road victory in the playoffs over a team that beat them in the regular season.
Five To Watch
I expect all six conference championship games on July 14 to be compelling and exciting to watch! However, some of the conference semifinal games are more intriguing than others. Here are my five conference semifinal games to keep an eye on this Saturday.
5. San Diego Rebellion @ Mile High Blaze – The WFA2 Pacific Region championship features two battle-tested teams. Can the Blaze, the top-scoring offense in WFA2, keep it rolling against a stout Rebellion defense led by Elisa Nguyen, the WFA2’s leading tackler? Massey Line: Mile High by 16.5.
4. Richmond Black Widows @ Toledo Reign – Who gets a shot at redemption? Will it be the Black Widows, who suffered a heart-wrenching defeat in the 2016 WFA3 national title game? Or will it be the Reign, who want another conference title shot after a devastating loss in last year’s Eastern Conference championship game? Massey Line: Toledo by 7.5.
3. Orlando Anarchy @ Mississippi Rebellion – The Orlando Anarchy took exception to being relegated to the #2 seed in the East behind the Rebellion…now the newcomers welcome the Anarchy to Mississippi in a battle of two of WFA3’s highest-scoring offenses. Will the Anarchy take top honors in the WFA3 Southeast Region for the second year in a row? Massey Line: Pick ‘Em.
2. Columbus Comets @ New York Sharks – The New York Sharks now know that every game might be their last, and they want to write a storybook ending for one of the great franchises in this sport. After narrowly making the playoffs and pulling off the biggest upset of the conference quarterfinals, the Columbus Comets feel that they’re the team of destiny here. Their destinies collide in New York City Saturday night. Massey Line: Columbus by 2.5.
1. Boston Renegades @ Pittsburgh Passion – Lisa Horton vs. Allison Cahill. Angela Baker vs. Emily Beinecke. The last time these two teams met, it was a 44-41 game that came down to which team had the ball last. It’s Boston. It’s Pittsburgh. Seriously, what more do you want? Massey Line: Pittsburgh by 5.5.
That’s your WFA playoff picture across three divisions of play!
To read more of Neal’s work, please visit his website which is filled with great insight about women’s tackle football.