By Josh Schafer | Aug 20, 2021
The playoffs are here. If you haven’t filled out your bracket yet and sent it in the group chat, you’re missing out. Join our bracket challenge here.
The challenge itself is simple, pick who will win each game all the way to the championship. The point values increase each round so don’t panic if you lose the first game Friday night. The key is picking the overall winner.
If you’re new around here, the Whipsnakes have won each of the PLL’s first two championships. With a largely unchanged roster, they’re once again a threat for the title but are starting the playoffs without a first round bye for the first time ever.
Per DraftkingsSportsbook, the Whispnakes have the third best odds to win the championship at +400. The top seeded Waterdogs, who have this weekend off thanks to a bye, are the highest favored team at +275. If you’re into the long shots both Chaos and Cannons are +1200 to win the championship. Remember, last year Chaos was a quarter away from winning it all after starting the Championship series 0-4 in pool play.
Alright, let’s pick ’em.
No. 6 Chaos (4-5) vs. No. 3 Archers (5-4)
Friday, August 20th at 8:30 p.m. ET | NBCSN & Peacock
All-time series: Chaos leads 4-1
Player to watch: Chaos defenseman Jack Rowlett, No. 99
Rowlett caused two turnovers last week against the Archers and is one of the most physical members of a daunting Chaos defense. The Archers top scorers didn’t produce their normal helping of dazzling offense last week in Albany with Grant Ament and Will Manny both not scoring a goal in the game. If Rowlett and the Chaos defensive unit can repeat last week’s performance, watch out for the upset.
Stat to know: 4.3
Along those same lines, Archers attackman Grant Ament has been a different player against Chaos. He’s averaged 4.3 turnovers per game, nearly three turnovers more than he averages against other teams. He’s also shooting just 20% against the Chaos, well off the 39.5% he’s shot in Archers wins this season.
Why the Archers: There’s still plenty of reason to like the Archers here though. For starters Archers goalie Adam Ghitelman (18 saves in Albany) showed he can match Blaze Riorden. If it comes down to a defensive battle, the Archers can play that game as well allowing just scores on just 25.4% percentage of possessions, 1st in the league.
There’s also some less statistical angles to consider here. The Archers were an upstart team in the bubble last year before losing to a then-winless Chaos team. Fast forward to this season and the Chaos defense has dominated the Archers twice despite splitting the two results. It’s usually hard to replicate a stellar defensive performance three times against the same offense.
Why the Chaos: We’ve already dug into the fact that Chaos’ defense has played exceptionally well against the Archers stars. That coupled with the fact Riorden can take over a playoff game with a one-man show in between the pipes is enough to pick the Chaos.
But it’s also worth noting that the Chaos do some things on offense that clearly make the Archers defense uncomfortable. As Joe Keegan pointed out in this week’s 10-Man Ride, the Chaos like to pick during substitutions forcing the Archers out of the settled defense it normally excels in.
The pick: Though they've battled with Chaos, the Archers have been the better team throughout the year. I'm sticking with the most consistent of the two teams.
No. 7 Cannons (3-6) vs. No. 2 Atlas (6-3)
Saturday, August 21st at 2:30 p.m. ET | NBC & Peacock
All-time series: Atlas leads, 2-0
Player to watch: Cannons attack Lyle Thompson, No. 4
After a rough first game against Atlas, Thompson responded with four goals in the second matchup between these two teams. He’s the top unassisted scorer in the league (18 unassisted goals) and has the second best scores above expectation percentage in the PLL. In other words, Lyle is still Lyle and his ability to create for himself has been crucial for the Cannons this year. While he might not pour in four goals, watch for those one or two plays where he single-handedly provides a spark for the Cannons offense.
Stat to know: 11
Atlas finished the regular season with the most two-point goals in the league, converting on 11 of their 56 two-point shot attempts. The Cannons were tied for the least two-bombs in the league with just four in nine games. Watch for Atlas midfielders Bryan Costabile and Romar Dennis as potential threats from the outside.
Why the Atlas: The Atlas went on a strong run to close out the year despite a loss to the Waterdogs that forced the Bulls out of first place. The one-point loss shouldn’t diminish how good this team has been. The offense has been nearly unstoppable at times as attackman Jeff Teat consistently finds way to something the defense isn’t expecting.
Why the Cannons: Experience. This roster is full of players that have won at a high level. While still a new team in the league, the Cannons have the leadership of a seasoned PLL team. After two one goal losses to the Atlas, there are some statistical reasons to believe the Cannons don’t lose a third time.
Watch out for Cannons newcomer Brendan Fowler. Few faceoff specialists have excelled against Trevor Baptiste’s number. Fowler certainly hasn’t dominated the matchup either. But in the past he’s fought his way to a career mark of 44% on 39 faceoffs. If Fowler can come close to that number on Saturday, it would change the matchup for the Cannons as Baptiste went 63% or better in both games against the Cannons this season.
The pick: Leaning on experience the Cannons finally skirt past Atlas.
No. 4 Redwoods (5-4) vs. No. 5 Whipsnakes (5-4)
Saturday, August 21st at 6:00 p.m. ET | NBCSN & Peacock
All-time series: Whips leads 5-2
Player to watch: Whipsnakes attack Zed Williams, No. 36
With Matt Rambo back in the lineup, Williams poured in five goals against the Redwoods last weekend while Rambo himself added four goals and two assists. It looked like the Whipsnakes offense that couldn’t be stopped in 2020 had returned. That’s a tough performance to replicate in consecutive weeks but if Zeddy Ballgame finds his playoff takeover mode again, the Whips are tough to beat.
Stat to know: 210
The Redwoods and Whipsnakes allowed 210 goals combined this year. The Whips allowed a goal on 32% of possessions this season, a league worst, while the Redwoods were tied for second at 31%. Both defenses haven’t locked it down consistently, meaning possessions will be at a premium in this one. With stud rookie faceoff specialist TD Ierlan out for Saturday, the possession battle favors the Whipsnakes and Joe Nardella.
Why the Redwoods: The Redwoods had looked like a different team this year, perhaps finally ready to get over the hump. They beat the Whips earlier in the season and own one of the league's most efficient offenses in settled situations. Myles Jones emergence as a passer has changed the way teams can defend the Redwoods, while Rob Pannell has solidified things at the attack position.
Why the Whipsnakes: Unfortunately for the Woods, the injury bug has come at the wrong time. With Ierlan and midfielder Sergio Perkovic out, this isn’t the Redwoods team that looked poised for its first championship. With a weak defense, particularly in transition, where the Whips excel, it’s hard to see the Redwoods being able to keep pace with the Whipsnakes fire power.
The pick: The Whipsnakes take advantage of the Redwoods fresh absences and pull this one out.