Ramstein's Trevor Miller passes the ball at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016.

Ramstein's Trevor Miller passes the ball at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

The DODEA-Europe Division I football postseason doesn’t officially start for another week. But for half of the division’s six teams, the playoffs are already here.

Just like last year, multiple teams will enter the final weekend of the regular season deadlocked in the standings and facing de facto elimination games. While Ramstein and Lakenheath, both 3-1 in conference play, have already secured their playoff spots and winless Kaiserslautern has dropped out of contention, the postseason prospects of 2-2 squads Vilseck, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden remain unsettled.

The Falcons and Panthers will meet Friday at Stuttgart in what amounts to a play-in game. The winner will improve to 3-2 on the season and become the third team to clinch a semifinal spot.

Meanwhile, the Wiesbaden Warriors round out the four-team playoff bracket, and earn the opportunity to return to the European championship game, with a Saturday win against visiting Lakenheath. But a Wiesbaden loss would end the Warriors’ season, as they’ve lost to both the Falcons and Panthers in the regular season and would therefore fall short in head-to-head tiebreaker with either.

However it turns out, a quality team will be excluded from the Division I postseason.

The defending champion Panthers have managed to remain very competitive this fall despite major losses from last year’s history-making squad. A 21-20 defeat of Wiesbaden on Oct. 7 proved the Panthers’ persistent mettle and put them in position to potentially defend their title.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have carved out a distinctive niche in Division I football, one they’ve continued to inhabit this fall. Vilseck hits as hard as anyone and consistently slows some of DODEA-Europe’s most potent offenses, but its own offense still struggles to keep pace on the scoreboard. That proved true in an 18-3 loss to Ramstein and a 14-7 loss to Lakenheath, but a 49-9 blowout of Kaiserslautern and a 14-7 defeat of Wiesbaden sends the Falcons to Stuttgart with a two-game winning streak and growing confidence with the ball in their possession.

Finally, a Division I postseason minus the Warriors would represent a major revision to the DODEA-Europe status quo. Wiesbaden won the 2013 title and has returned to the championship game in each of the last two seasons. This year’s group appeared destined for similar heights when it recorded double-digit defeats of Kaiserslautern and Ramstein over the first two weeks of conference play, but narrow losses to Stuttgart and Vilseck over the last two weeks have the perennial contenders at risk of a premature demise. To extend their season, the Warriors will need to beat Lakenheath, which bested Wiesbaden 27-20 in the teams’ Sept. 17 non-conference season opener.

Twitter: @broomestripes

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