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IFL 2023 Playoffs Round 1 Game Schedule, Previews, and Predictions: Eight Teams Start Their Journey To the IFL National Championship Game

After 18 weeks of intense indoor football action, eight IFL teams have earned their opportunity to play in the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, several IFL teams have shown they are the favorites to make it to the championship game. Still, regular-season success in the IFL does not guarantee postseason success. For IFL teams to win in the postseason, teams need to be able to score touchdowns and find a way to get stops. The teams that find a way to accomplish those goals will have the best chance to play next week.

IFL Championship Favorites

Three IFL teams have separated themselves from the pack throughout the regular season. The Frisco Fighters have the best record in the IFL with a 13-2 record, a high-scoring offense, and a defense that can get stops. Another dominant team is the 11-4 Arizona Rattlers, but the big story about the Rattlers is quarterback Drew Powell; with Powell on the field, the Rattlers are 11-0, and without Powell, they are 0-4. Bay Area also established themselves as an elite team in the IFL after a 1-win season in 2022, the Panthers are 10-5, but they have been significantly better at home than on the road.

Logjam In The Eastern Division

Outside of the Frisco Fighters, the Eastern Division have three teams with rollercoaster seasons in 2023. The Sioux Falls Storm, Massachusetts Pirates, and Quad City Steamwheelers are all 9-6. In Week 14, the Storm looked like a team trying to sneak into the playoffs, but in Week 18, the Storm earned themselves a chance to host a first-round playoff game.

The Massachusetts Pirates have played excellent football at home but have struggled to get key wins on the road. The Pirates ended the 2023 season with three consecutive road losses, including losing to the Storm last week. Massachusetts will need to find a higher level of execution if they hope to continue their season.

The Quad City Steamwheelers go as their quarterback EJ Hilliard Jr. goes. In Week 18, the Steamwheelers needed a win at the one-win Tulsa Oilers to get a home playoff game, but Quad City struggled to produce points in the second half. It is important to remember that in 2022, the Steamwheelers could go on the road and upset the Massachusetts Pirates and Frisco Fighters on their way to the 2022 IFL National Championship game.

The IFL Darkhorse Teams

The last two IFL playoff teams, the Tucson Sugar Skulls (9-6) and Northern Arizona Wranglers (7-8) have both persevered to get to the playoffs. The Tucson Sugar Skulls could play good indoor football, but they also have had some low points and questionable losses. The Northern Arizona Wranglers are the defending IFL National Champions and have had one of the best defensive units in the IFL. Both the Sugar Skulls and Wranglers are capable of getting a win if their opponents do not come ready to play.

Reminder: All IFL First-Round Playoff games will be streamed for free on the IFL Network on YouTube

Game #1

Visiting Team: Quad City Steamwheelers (9-6, #4 Seed in the Eastern Division)

Home Team: Frisco Fighters (13-2, #1 Seed in the Eastern Division)

Location: Comerica Center, Frisco, Texas

Date and Time: Saturday, July 22nd at 8:05 pm EDT

Draft Kings Betting Line: Frisco Fighters -10.5, O/U 97.5 points

The Quad City Steamwheelers had a chance to host a playoff game in the first round, but instead, they took a loss to the Tulsa Oilers. Offensively, the Steamwheelers need to be able to score every offensive drive, and quarterback EJ Hilliard Jr. will need to get help from running back Shane Simpson and wide receiver Keyvan Rudd. Quad City will also need to find a way to stop the Fighter’s offense, a scoring machine, in 2023. It may seem unlikely for Quad City to upset the Fighters, but they accomplished that goal in Frisco in the Eastern Division Finals in 2022.

The Frisco Fighters have been the top regular-season team in the IFL in 2022 and 2023. In 2022, the Fighters season abruptly stopped after facing a hot Steamwheelers team. Frisco and quarterback TJ Edwards must be ready to play their best football to avoid another playoff upset at home. If the Fighters come prepared to play their best football, they will be looking to host this year’s Eastern Division finals.

Game Prediction: Frisco Fighters 62, Quad City Steamwheelers 51

Game #2

Visiting Team: Massachusetts Pirates (9-6, #3 Seed in the Eastern Division)

Home Team: Sioux Falls Storm (9-6, #2 Seed in the Eastern Division)

Location: The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Date and Time: Saturday, July 22nd at 8:05 pm EDT

Draft Kings Betting Line: Sioux Falls Storm -2.5, O/U 103.5 points

The Massachusetts Pirates have been successful when playing at home in 2023. The Pirate’s offense has a dynamic group of playmakers with quarterback Anthony Russo, running back Jimmie Robinson, and wide receiver Isaac Zico. To end the season, the Pirates failed to win a road game to earn a home playoff game. Instead, they return to Sioux Falls for the second week. In Week 18, the Pirates did add former Fighters head coach Billy Back as their offensive coordinator, and with a week to prepare, Back could help push the Pirates to the next level.

Before Week 18, the Sioux Falls Storm had been a team that could win the games against the less skilled competition but needed help to beat a championship-level team. The Storm does have a home win against Quad City, and last week they picked up a home win against the Pirates. They must find a way to beat Massachusetts again if they want to continue their season. After this season, legendary Storm coach Kurtiss Riggs will be stepping down from the head coach position of the Sioux Falls Storm.

Game Prediction: Massachusetts Pirates 60, Sioux Falls Storm 56

Game #3

Visiting Team: Northern Arizona Wranglers (7-8, #4 Seed in the Western Division)

Home Team: Arizona Rattlers (11-4, #1 Seed in the Western Division)

Location: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Date and Time: Saturday, July 22nd at 9:05 pm EDT

Draft Kings Betting Line: Arizona Rattlers -13.5, O/U 96.5 points

For the second season in a row, the Northern Arizona Wranglers travel to Phoenix to upset the Arizona Rattlers. In 2022, the Wranglers accomplished that goal on their way to winning the IFL National Championship. This year they return to the Footprint Center with one of the best defenses in the IFL, hoping to repeat the feat of upsetting the Rattlers at their home field.

The heart and soul of the Arizona Rattlers is quarterback Drew Powell. Powell has led the Rattlers to 11 wins this season, and when he was injured, they lost all four games. Last week, the Rattlers were able to continue their success and defeat the Wranglers. The Rattlers must play their best game to avoid another home playoff failure against the Northern Arizona Wranglers.

Game Prediction: Arizona Rattlers 56, Northern Arizona Wranglers 48

Game #4

Visiting Team: Tucson Sugar Skulls (9-6, #3 Seed in the Western Division)

Home Team: Bay Area Panthers (10-5, #2 Seed in the Western Division)

Location: SAP Center, San Jose, California

Date and Time: Sunday, July 23rd at 6:05 pm EDT

Draft Kings Betting Line: Bay Area Panthers -7, O/U 91.5 points

The Tucson Sugar Skulls have been a successful IFL that needs to work on consistency. The Skulls could compete with the best teams in the league. Tucson has struggled during critical situations several times in the season, which have cost them wins during close games. If quarterback Ramone Atkins can get the Sugar Skulls in the end zone consistently, then they do have the potential to earn an upset victory.

The Bay Area Panthers are a team whose focus has been on winning an IFL National Championship since the start of the season. During the offseason, the Panthers signed several essential components of the Wrangler’s championship run. The result is that they have gone from being a one-win team in 2022 to a 10-win team in 2023. The Panthers are one of the best teams in the IFL when playing at home. Quarterback Dalton Sneed, running back Justin Rankin, and wide receiver JT Stokes need to put points on the board and prove they have what it takes to be a championship team in the IFL.

Game Prediction: Bay Area Panthers 54, Tucson Sugar Skulls 52

Follow me on Twitter: @AaronSauter7

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