No wiggle room for teams in playoff contention

All-Star week was met with enthusiasm in Denver, as the West surprised the East, 31-15, in a game that featured incredible playmaking. The All-Stars departed from the Mile High City inspired, yet tired, as their focus shifted back to tenuous playoff races.

Four games were played this past weekend with only one real shocker -- Chicago's winning handily over an L.A. team that was on a roll. Other winners were Denver, Boston and Rochester. With three weeks to go in the regular season, there's no wiggle room for teams in contention. It appears that eight wins will secure a playoff berth -- or seven with a tiebreaker advantage.

Four teams have played themselves out of contention -- Washington, New Jersey, San Francisco and Chicago are toast. Six teams will fight for four postseason slots. Both division champions and the top two remaining records will advance to championship weekend August 23 and 24 in Boston. The first semifinal and the championship game will be live on ESPN2.

1. Philadelphia Barrage

The Barrage had a bye last week. Philly has won four of its past five games and packs a punch with Roy Colsey back in the mix. The road warriors are in L.A. this weekend.

Projected finish: 8-4.

2. Rochester Rattlers

The Rattlers beat New Jersey with one-hundredth of a second left on the clock. A loss would have been devastating. Rochester takes over first place in the East by virtue of a tiebreaker advantage over Philadelphia. Big-game alert this weekend: The Rattlers host Boston.

Projected finish: 8-4.

3. Denver Outlaws

Coach Brian Reese was not happy with my ESPN2 comments regarding the Outlaws' lack of defense in L.A. last week. The D shed its "Mary Kay" label on Saturday, holding the Dragons to a mere eight goals. Denver hosts Steven Brooks and the Chicago Machine this Saturday night at home, where the Outlaws are 5-0.

Projected finish: 8-4.

4. Boston Cannons

Goalie Kip Turner and the close defense of Chris Passavia, Ryan Curtis and Stephen McElduff held Washington to 10 goals in a 14-10 victory over the Bayhawks. The Cannons made a 6-1 run in the third quarter behind Sean Morris. Boston's defensive midfielders -- Matt Casey, Brian Jacovina and Josh Porcell -- were active and solid. Matt Poskay and Paul Rabil scored goals worthy of "SportsCenter" footage. The Cannons are 5-1 with Rabil in uniform. Mike Powell missed his fourth game of the year with hamstring soreness. Boston plays at Rochester on Saturday.

Projected finish: 7-5.

5. Long Island Lizards

The Lizards had a bye last weekend after a heart-wrenching loss to Boston a week ago. They entertain San Francisco in a must-win this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, N.Y. Peter Vlahakis has won 202 faceoffs this season (64 percent) and is less than 40 away from eclipsing Paul Cantabene's single-season MLL record. Goaltending will decide the Lizards' fate.

Projected finish: 7-5.

6. L.A. Riptide

The Riptide suffered a bad loss Sunday in Chicago. It's a setback that may cost them a playoff berth and perhaps open the door for three Eastern Division teams to qualify for the semifinals. L.A. had five players in the All-Star Game on Thursday -- Greg Downing, Kyle Harrison, Anthony Kelly, Brett Hughes and Chazz Woodson -- but they ran out of gas Sunday. Rookie Kevin Huntley had a four-goal game. L.A. will host Philadelphia at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Projected finish: 7-5.

7. New Jersey Pride

Pride lost a nail-biter against Rochester, coming up one second short. Matt Danowski and Merrick Thomson have a connection that's worth watching. All-Star goalie Rob Scherr was back in the lineup after breaking a bone in his hand. New Jersey plays at Washington this weekend.

Projected finish: 4-8.

8. Chicago Machine

Machine outscored L.A. 11-3 in the second half and upset the Riptide 17-13. Chicago has been knocking on the door all year long and finally broke through. Rookie Steven Brooks had four points and is in the midst of a captivating battle for rookie of the year honors with Paul Rabil, Matt Danowski and Kevin Huntley. His former Syracuse teammate, Mike Leveille, scored five points, and nine different Chicago players found twine. The Machine are 0-5 on the road, and this week they play in Denver in a televised game on ESPN2.

Projected finish: 4-8.

9. Washington Bayhawks

The Bayhawks' playoff hopes were erased in a 14-10 loss to Boston. The game was played in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and attendance looked heartier than games played at George Mason University. Washington has dropped five straight, and GM Scott Hiller and coach Jarred Testa can ponder their personnel for next year. Expect changes. Did the Bayhawks just flat-out underachieve? Or have the talents of the individuals been grossly exaggerated? It's not an easy call on why the season has gone south so dramatically. Off the field, the organization continues to lead the way with aggressive community outreach and support programs. Owner Jeff Harvey and PR director Katherine Kennedy deserve credit.

Projected finish: 3-9.

10. San Francisco Dragons

The Dragons' two wins both came against Chicago. The San Francisco offense has been on vacation too often this summer. They've shot a league-low 27 percent. But defender Eric Martin and two-point shooter Jake Byrne both put on a show at the All-Star Game earlier in the week.

Projected finish: 2-10.

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