WFTDA East Region Playoffs 2011: The Juggernaut in the Room

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Playoff season, baby!

This weekend marks the first of four regional playoff tournaments to see which three teams from each of the four WFTDA regions will earn the right to compete for the WFTDA championship this November in Denver.

But before we can get to the biggest of the Big 5, we need to start with the first one. Nightmare on 95 (or if you’re from my neck of the woods, Nightmare on the 95) will feature the top ten teams from the WFTDA east region battling in a full-play tournament that will determine the region’s end-of-year rankings. The two finalists and winner of the third-place game will advance to face off against the other nine regional qualifiers for the whole ball o’ wax at championships later this year.

So who’s got the best shot to advance? Where might the surprises come from? (How can I get the edge in my brackets?) Read on to find out…

See You in November

(1) Gotham, (3) Charm City

Really, the only question that needs to be asked about Gotham this year is which team they’ll be playing on Saturday.

Saturday, November 12, that is.

Gotham is one of the top three teams in the country, and far and away the best team in the WFTDA east region. They’ve distanced themselves so far away from the other teams in the region, I’m not even going to qualify their victories as “likely” or “probable.” Gotham is going to win all their games, they’re going to win the East Regional, and they’re going to get a bye into the second round of action at Championships. They just are.

But even as they sit upon their lofty perch, as they have for years now, they have never been afraid to put their regional title belt on the line during the regular season against any and all comers.

That hasn’t worked out well for the challengers: Philly lost to Gotham by 233 points. Charm City was on the wrong side of a 139 point decision. Steel City fell by 244, Montreal a été plumé by 230, and Boston was beaten with a pair of 260-point brass knuckles. If these teams are the best hopes to dethrone Gotham this year, then you can see why their victory is an inevitability.

Gotham is like that bully in school who hit puberty early, picking on the runts for their lunch money knowing that there weren’t any other kids who would dare to even think about doing the same to him. But every so often, you get that kid that tries to be a hero and tries to put up a fight…but still winds up getting up close and personal with the wash and care instructions tag on his underwear.

This year, that kid was from Baltimore.

Charm City’s 2011 record of 10-8 doesn’t tell the whole story about Baltimore’s roller derby team. Four of those losses were against the likes of Windy City, Bay Area, Texas and Philly…and their largest margin of defeat in those games was 18 points. If one or two of those games went the other way— particularly the Philly game, which was only an 8-point loss—Charm may have had a higher number in front of their name on the brackets this weekend.

So even though Charm lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to, and beat the teams they were supposed to beat, their record is deceptive.

Ask Rocky Mountain about that.

Doesn’t matter that the champs weren’t at full-strength. They still beat the champs. (Photo credit: Jules Doyle)

In the last two years, only two teams have defeated the 2011 WFTDA champions: The 2010 WFTDA champions, the Oly Rollers; and Charm City. Yes, yes, it wasn’t an officially sanctioned game, and Rocky wasn’t at full strength. But even a watered-down version of Rocky Mountain is still powerful enough to make most teams cry for mommy, and Charm beat ‘em all the same.

If you take that confidence-building victory, the comfortable victories over the two teams directly behind them in the regional seedings (+64 over Steel; +122 over Montreal) and the fact that Charm City was a 100 points closer to Gotham than the other teams that got obliterated by them, there should be little doubt that the co-hosts of the tournament should be joining Gotham at Championships a few months from now.

But who will take the last spot to join them?

The Wild Cards

(2) Philly, (10) London

Of the ten teams facing off this weekend, these two are the biggest unknowns.

London, having only played four games this year—all losses—is a tough one to get an accurate reading on. While their three home losses against Charm, Steel City, and Montreal would have you believe they’re good enough to be at least right behind those three teams, that the WFTDA voting leagues placed them in the #10 spot is probably the same thing as saying, “we know you’re good enough for the playoffs, but we don’t know how good, so you’ll be going in as the lowest seed.”

Carolina may be in for a bit of a surprise on Friday.

When London lost to Rocky Mountain this time last month, 228-49, that 179-point loss just confirmed that like almost every other team in the WFTDA, London was a far, far way away from dreaming of competing at the top. But here’s something you may have forgotten: Philly also played Rocky Mountain during their spring swing through Denver, losing to the champs by 151 points.

That’s not that big of a points difference, comparing strength of losses via common opponents. Although there’s also another commonality to think about—Philly beat Charm by 8 and London lost to Charm by 92—I’m not so sure that London and Philly are really 100 points apart from each other.

Consider that Philly looked terrible in their game against Gotham at ECDX a couple of months ago. (And I mean terrible.) It hasn’t been abnormal lately for Gotham to obliterate most teams they face, but to blow the doors off one of the only three teams that have ever beaten them in the past three years? Yeah, Gotham is good, but we can’t ignore Philly’s share in that loss, either.

No matter which rankings table you subscribe to, Philly has been on a downward trend. With the exception of their historic upset over Gotham at the 2009 East Region playoff final, the Liberty Belles haven’t recently been able get over the hump and beat the teams that are tougher and better than they are.

The closest they came to getting the monkey off of their backs since then was a two point loss at home against Bay Area. Outside of a convincing win against Texas—who have been going through some struggles of their own recently—Philly hasn’t done much else to write home about recently.

It hasn’t been a good year for Philly. By the numbers, they’re not doing so well. The experts at DNN have also dropped Philly in their Power Rankings from 4 to 11 in this same time period. (Screengrab courtesy Flat Track Stats)

More than anything else, that Charm City is poised to leapfrog Philly and claim the #2 spot in the east should be a warning sign that it may be about time to sell your cream cheese shares and jump off the Philadelphia bandwagon.

That’s why those anticipating a big rematch in the semi-finals had better double-check your brackets, because if Philly isn’t careful in their opening game there’s a chance that Charm City rematch may be against London instead, who could swoop in and shock everyone with a surprise upset.

Going off the little information we have about them, it looks like London is punching above their weight…but can they really beat Carolina on Friday and Philly on Saturday?

Well, consider this sketchy excuse for interesting bit of triangulation: London lost to one of Gotham’s five local home teams in a warm-up game earlier this week by 46 points. If losing by that much to one-fifth of Gotham’s all-star team is like losing to the whole of Gotham by 230 points (46 point loss × 5 watered down Gotham teams = 230), and then you compare that to the whole of Gotham’s all-star team beating Philly by 233 points…

You might want to double-check your WFTDA brackets. Just sayin’.

The Real Playoffs

(4) Steel City, (5) Montreal

If Gotham and Charm City seem to be sure bets for the championships, and suddenly Philly’s chances seem slightly less-than-secure, this may give one of the mid-pack teams in the east a chance to vault forward and steal the last invite to Continental Divide and Conquer. There’s only one thing standing in their way of chance to go to the finals.

Each other.

In what I believe will be the most interesting game of the East Region playoffs, Steel City and Montreal will face-off in what will be the most critical game of probably the entire tournament. The winner will advance straight to the third-place game (via a Gotham brass-knuckle sandwich in the semi-finals) and have a chance to further advance to the championships with a win there. The loser will be guaranteed no better than fifth place and will have no shot at the big prize.

This game will be a rematch of the argument they had during their London holiday in April, where Steel beat Montreal, 144-121. But there were probably a lot of distractions for both teams to deal with during that weekend: Cars were driving on the wrong side of the road, words like “colour” and “centre” were spelled incorrectly (even though the Canadians insisted there was nothing wrong with them), and every time they wanted to get some Doritos, they were confused when they were handed a bag of french fries instead.

Kidding aside, all the teams that went that far away from home couldn’t have been at 100%. But this time, especially considering both of them know exactly what’s on the line, you know that these two very evenly-matched teams will not give each other an inch. (Or a millimeter, if you prefer.)

This one should be a close one all the way through to the end, an experience which will serve the winning team well when they ultimately face Charm, Philly, or maaaaaaybe even London in the third-place game for the bronze-colored ticket to Denver.

We’re Just Happy to Be Here

(6) Boston, (7) Carolina, (8) Dutchland, (9) Maine

These guys have no shot at advancing to the Championship tournament. So in effect, this is their championship tournament.

Boston is probably in the worst spot of all the teams in the bracket. They’re going to lose to Charm City in their opener, and they’re going to almost assuredly win their first game in the consolation bracket against either Dutchland or Maine, both teams they have defeated earlier this year by score differentials in the 35-point neighborhood.

However, that’s going to make their probable Saturday late game opponent the loser of Philly’s first game, meaning they have a two-out-of-three chance of playing either London or Philly. Boston should pray for Carolina to hold seeding in their game against London, or else Boston will do no better than 7th place this weekend.

Any here’s why they should pray as hard as they can: Carolina is sporting an impressive 14-1 record in WFTDA play this year, including a 0-0 record against teams that are in the 2011 East Region playoffs and a 0-1 record against teams that are good enough to compete for a spot in the WFTDA Championships (Nashville, #3 in the South).

Basically, Carolina has been playing a bunch of nobodys this year. Their first real and meaningful test against a somebody is London. (Remember how I said Carolina is going to be in for a bit of a surprise? There you go.)

And finally, we have Dutchland and Maine, a game that will be the mini-version of Steel City vs. Montreal. Both of these teams’ best chance to win a game this weekend will be their first one—the one where they play each other. The “winner” will get to be Gotham’s warm-up punching bag, while the loser will have to face a Boston team that has beaten them before, as mentioned previously.

Again, because London is truly a wild card here, if they’re really capable of beating Philly in the semis, the eventual winner of this game may face a higher seed sooner than they would have liked to in the consolation bracket. You may get another situation where one or both of these teams drops a place in the seeding due to London’s unpredictability.

All the more reason to win when they have the chance to.

Nightmare on 95 – The WFTDA East Region Playoffs are scheduled for this weekend, September 16-18 in Baltimore, Md. Download the printable bracket here, and enter the official WFTDA Big 5 Bracket Bonanza here.