Path to the Playoffs: Pittsburgh Thunderbirds Edition

The 2024 Central Division in the Ultimate Frisbee Association (UFA) has been, for the most part, consistently inconsistent. Fans have been commenting on the unpredictable nature of the division for weeks. With 8 of the 12 UFA Playoff spots clinched, the Central still has 2 spots up for grabs. Below we analyze what the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds have to do in order to secure a post-season spot. 


UFA Standings as of July 5th, 2024 at 3:00PM

The Minnesota Wind Chill (8-1) have secured the #1 overall seed and a Divisional Title for the 2nd consecutive year. Their only loss coming at the hands of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds back in early May in Minnesota. 

The Chicago Union (5-4) currently occupy the #2 spot over the Madison Radicals (5-4) due to their victory over the Radicals 20-19 back on May 31st at Chicago. Pittsburgh has defeated the Chicago Union already this season in their only match-up, 17-12 back on June 14th. However, Pittsburgh has yet to defeat Madison, losing to them earlier in the season 23-14 on May 11th. 

In the 4th spot, the Indianapolis AlleyCats (4-4) hold a 0.5 game lead over 5th place Pittsburgh (4-5). 

Bringing up the rear, the Detroit Mechanix (1-8) are eliminated from play-off contention, though it's worth noting the chaotic season that has been the Central, the only win for Detroit was against Pittsburgh who gave Minnesota their only loss. 


Does Pittsburgh control their own play-off destiny? - Yes, but only for the #3 seed. The #2 seed is obtainable though with *serious* help. 

Exploration of a 3-0 Finish for Pittsburgh

Saturday, July 6th @ Madison - WIN - (5-5)

Sunday, July 14th vs Indianapolis  - WIN - (6-5)

Saturday, July 20th vs Philadelphia  - WIN - (7-5)

This would leave the Thunderbirds with a final record of (7-5). 

The next step is to look at each teams remaining schedule (Chicago/Madison/Indianapolis) and plug in their best case scenarios (with losses to the Thunderbirds).


Chicago

Saturday, July 6th @ Minnesota  - WIN - (6-4)

Friday, July 12th @ Madison  - WIN - (7-4)

Sunday, July 21st vs Detroit  - WIN - (8-4)

Madison

Saturday, July 6th vs Pittsburgh  - LOSS - (5-5)

Friday, July 12th vs Chicago - WIN - (6-5)

Friday, July 19th vs Indy - WIN - (7-5)

Indianapolis

Saturday, July 6th @ Colorado - WIN  - (5-4)

Saturday, July 13th @ Detroit - WIN - (6-4)

Sunday, July 14th @ Pittsburgh - LOSS - (6-5)

Friday, July 19th @ Madison - WIN - (7-5)


There is a lot to break down above. The first item to explore is the match-ups between the three teams. Each "perfect" end to each teams season is potentially mutually exclusive in that if one occurs, the other cannot. Both Chicago and Indianapolis could have "perfect" ends to their season, in which case, Chicago would finish (8-5) and Indianapolis would finish (7-5). In this scenario Pittsburgh would make the play-offs as a #3 seed as Chicago would be a game up on Pittsburgh to claim the #2 seed, but Pittsburgh and Indianapolis would tie. Since Pittsburgh holds the tie-breaker (head-to-head match-ups), this clinches. Madison would have lost all three remaining games in this scenario, which puts them at (5-7).

What if Madison finishes "perfect"? They would finish at (7-5), the same record as Pittsburgh - but since Pittsburgh lost by 9 back on May 11th, Pittsburgh would have had to defeat Madison by double-digits at Breese Stevens Field to earn the tie-breaker. Chicago would also finish (7-5), but since Pittsburgh only played them once and won, Pittsburgh owns the tie-breaker in this scenario. Indianapolis would finish (6-6) and would be on the outside looking in. Thus, Pittsburgh would have a very long-outside shot of earning the #2 seed, but at worst, would clinch the #3 seed if those results occurred. 


What if Pittsburgh drops a game vs Madison? - Still a shot, but can only achieve a #3 seed

Exploration of a 2-1 Finish for Pittsburgh with a loss vs Madison

Saturday, July 6th @ Madison - LOSS - (4-6)

Sunday, July 14th vs Indianapolis  - WIN - (5-6)

Saturday, July 20th vs Philadelphia  - WIN - (6-6)


The first note to look at is the results for Madison, who at worst, would finish (6-6). At best, Pittsburgh could finish (6-6), and due to the aforementioned tie-breaking situation, Pittsburgh would be unable to pass Madison in the standings. 

However, Pittsburgh would need help to earn a play-off berth, and could not afford to have either Chicago or Indianapolis finish higher than (6-6). If either Chicago or Indianapolis finish better than (6-6), Pittsburgh would be eliminated. 


What if Pittsburgh drops a game vs Indianapolis? - Still a shot, but can only achieve a #3 seed

Exploration of a 2-1 Finish for Pittsburgh with a loss vs Indianapolis

Saturday, July 6th @ Madison - WIN - (5-5)

Sunday, July 14th vs Indianapolis  - LOSS - (5-6)

Saturday, July 20th vs Philadelphia  - WIN - (6-6)


The first note to look at is the results for Indianapolis, who at worst, would finish (6-6). However, this would include a loss to Detroit, which is improbable. If this did somehow occur, Pittsburgh would own the tie-breaker, but only if they lost by less than 9 to Indianapolis on July 14th. On top of that, Pittsburgh could once again not afford to have Madison or Chicago finish higher than (6-6) or risk elimination. 


Exploration into a loss @ Philadelphia is predicated mostly on how teams finish record wise. 

  • If Madison finishes (6-6) or better, Pittsburgh is most likely to be unable to overcome this
    • Pittsburgh would need to win by double-digits on July 6th
  • If Chicago finishes (7-5) or better, Pittsburgh is unable to pass them in the standings.
  • If Indianapolis finishes (7-5) or better, Pittsburgh is unable to pass them in the standings. 
  • If Chicago finishes (6-6), Pittsburgh will pass them in the standings. 
  • If Indianapolis finishes (6-6), Pittsburgh will pass them in the standings. 

While fun to explore all play-off scenarios in the murky waters that is the Central Division, the best thing for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds is to continue to win the games that are in front of them. That alone will punch their ticket to the post-season, which hasn't been punched since 2019.