Hot Take Friday: Conference Champions
Since the European League of Football will kick off next week, it is time for me to predict the winners of each conference. A lot of things have changed since December, so here are my three conference champions.
Eastern Conference: Vienna Vikings
This was probably the easiest choice for me. The Vienna Vikings dominated the European League of Football in 2022 and deservingly won the championship game in Klagenfurt. But a championship hangover is not to be expected from the reigning champions. Instead of losing key players, the Vikings managed to bring back pretty much every big contributor to the team. All-Stars like Jordan Bouah, Aleksandar Milanovic, Thomas Schnurrer, Luis Horvath and Benjamin Straight will all wear purple in 2023 again. Additionally, the Vikings improved at important positions by signing quarterback Chris Helbig, running back Karri Pajarinen and cornerback Elmeri Laalo.
Most importantly though, they will get back a lot of players from injuries. Wide receiver Weston Carr and tight end Florian Bierbaumer were just two important targets that missed most, or all, of last season due to injuries.
With an even better roster than last season, the Vikings are one of my top title contenders for the upcoming season and will win their conference in back-to-back years.
Central Conference: Stuttgart Surge
The Central Conference is almost impossible to predict. Every franchise is either new, or experienced major changes at key positions. Nonetheless, I believe that the Stuttgart Surge will lock down the number one seed in the Central Conference. Head coach Jordan Neuman has always had success in his career, and he has built one of the most impressive rosters in all of Europe this offseason.
He took several star players from Schwäbisch Hall with him, most notably quarterback Reilley Hennessey, NFL IPP offensive tackle Marlon Werthmann and former NFL sixth-round draft pick WR Moritz Böhringer. Looking at the overall roster, you can identify plenty of strengths (the linebacker and wide receiver groups are catching my eye) but no real weakness. With a team like that, coach Neuman will certainly win a lot more games than the franchise did the past two seasons.
While the Guards, Ravens, Raiders and Seamen could all make playoff pushes too, I believe that the Surge will take the conference title home to Stuttgart.
Western Conference: Rhein Fire
The Western Conference is stacked. And I mean really stacked. It was a hard task to determine a conference champion, when you have to choose between the 2021 champion Galaxy, two-time runner up Sea Devils, newly founded but stacked Musketeers and the title favorite in Rhein Fire.
In the end, I decided to go with Rhein Fire. Jim Tomsula built a roster that could very well be the best in the league. Although losing middle linebacker Lukas Ruoss hurts, the Fire has a roster that could compensate his parting. The offense led by Jadrian Clark is the best in the league from a personal standpoint, featuring a stellar offensive line and dangerous weapons like Glen Toonga, Anthony Mahoungou, Nathaniel Robitaille and many more. The defense features DPOY finalist Alejandro Fernández and many more good pass rushers, a stellar linebacker group consisting of the best players in the Rhein area and a deep defensive back group.
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But the deciding factor was their head coach. Jim Tomsula, former San Francisco 49ers head coach and Rhein Fire legend, has shown that he can keep his team under control on multiple occasions during his career. Having a guy like him coaching the arguably best roster in the league is a recipe for success.
Will my hot takes prove correct or will one, or even all, of those teams miss my projection? That will show in around 14 weeks.