With the Central and Western Mass. MIAA playoff matchups in place, we will take a look at each of the brackets as the games kick off this week.
Division 3 Central
The favorite: No. 1 Doherty
You can talk about how other teams have played a more difficult schedule, and you won't get an argument from us about that. But we have liked what the Highlanders bring to the table all season, as they have spent the lion's share of it inside our statewide top 10.
The main contender: No. 3 St. John's of Shrewsbury
Really, all four of these teams can win the section. Wachusett and Shrewsbury both played St. John's down to the wire, and the former took Doherty to overtime. That said, a team with the Pioneers' pedigree that won the state title last year gets the nod.
Key player: Doherty RB/WR/DB Tajon Vassar
You won't see many players around the state as electric as this one. Vassar can either hurt you as a runner or receiver on offense, and provides both terrific coverage and big hits on defense.
Pick to move on: Doherty
Division 3 West
The favorite: No. 1 Springfield Central
There really is not much reason to doubt the Golden Eagles here. After losing their opener at Lincoln-Sudbury, they have rolled past everyone else, including one of the best teams in Central Mass. in St. John's of Shrewsbury. This team has realistic designs on a state title.
The main contender: No. 2 Minnechaug
You could make a good argument for No. 3 Westfield here, but the Bombers are coming off a loss to Longmeadow, and Minnechaug's win over East Longmeadow was one of the most impressive of the past weekend.
Key player: Springfield Central WR Myles Bradley
When this offense is running at full throttle, this speedster and Colgate verbal commit is at the center of the action. Although the Golden Eagles are diverse and dangerous from a number of different spots, Bradley's effectiveness is what drives them.
Pick to move on: Springfield Central
Division 4 Central
The favorite: No. 1 Nashoba
We had our doubts about the Chieftains after watching them take it on the chin against Wachusett. However, Nashoba earned its way back into our good graces with a statement win over Shrewsbury this past weekend.
The main contender: No. 4 Marlboro
Even though Grafton and Tantasqua are worthy challengers and one of them will be in the sectional final, we feel Marlboro offers the biggest threat to Nashoba to advance. The Panthers just took down St. John's (S), and only lost to Nashoba by a field goal earlier this season.
Key player: Nashoba QB Sam Bolinsky
The Chieftains have plenty of solid players on their team, but it is Bolinsky who can keep the offense running at its peak. Bolinsky's play was the key to Nashoba knocking off Shrewsbury this past weekend, and he'll need to play his best for the Chieftains to advance.
Pick to move on: Nashoba
Division 5 Central
The favorite: No. 1 Northbridge
This is one of the most straight-forward picks in Central Mass. The Rams defeated the No. 2 team, Nipmuc, by three touchdowns earlier in the year, and have only lost to two Division 4 playoff teams, Tantasqua and Grafton.
The main contender: No. 2 Nipmuc
Even though the Warriors have already lost to Northbridge, that does not mean they can't pose a serious challenge in the postseason. This team has been playing great defense of late, and posted a solid win over St. Bernard's a few weeks ago.
Key player: Northbridge QB Zack Roberts
Roberts took over the starting role when Jake Stuczynski suffered an injury earlier in the year, and the Rams have stuck with the former. Roberts is a player who can be a threat with his legs, and opponents have had a difficult time stopping him since he took over.
Pick to move on: Northbridge
Division 5 West
The favorite: No. 2 Longmeadow
This is a highly-contested pick, as one could easily go with top-seeded East Longmeadow here. Basically, though, this one comes down to which team is playing better at the exact moment. We feel the Lancers are that team after this past weekend's win over Westfield.
The main contender: No. 1 East Longmeadow
After taking a peek at the favorite, this choice is a little more clear-cut. The Spartans were one of the hottest teams in Western Mass. before they fell to Minnechaug this past weekend. We feel a showdown with the second-seeded Lancers looming in the sectional final.
Key player: Longmeadow QB Carlo Calabrese
In Longmeadow's win over Westfield, Calabrese led the way with two touchdown passes to complement a solid rushing attack. If he plays as well the rest of the way as he did Friday night, expect big things from the Lancers.
Pick to move on: Longmeadow
Division 6 Central
The favorite: No. 1 Maynard
This has been one of the most dominant teams in Central Mass. this season, with one of its only close games a 22-20 win over second-seeded Littleton. The offense is effective on the ground and through the air, and the defense has been stifling.
The main contender: No. 2 Littleton
At the beginning of the season, there was some mild surprise with the opening loss to West Boylston, but that has turned out to be one of the best teams in Central Mass. Littleton has the type of program that expects to win big games, and will be a tough out.
Key player: Maynard TE/DE Timmy Lawton
There are a lot of good players to choose from, but we will go with Lawton here, who is a force on both sides of the ball. He can use his 6-foot-3 frame to body out defenders for passes, and he's also a force on the edge on the other side of the ball.
Pick to move on: Maynard
Division 7 Central
The favorite: No. 1 West Boylston/Tahanto
Ever since its season-opening win over Littleton, this team has been cast as the favorites in this section, and the Lions have not disappointed. They have played a challenging schedule and have not let up, going undefeated and winning most of their contests going away.
The main contender: No. 3 Blackstone Valley
Don't be surprised to see this team give West Boylston a fight if the two meet in the finals. This is a squad that beat second-seeded Assabet Valley in the regular season, and also owns a dominant win over Leicester.
Key player: West Boylston/Tahanto LB/RB David Rizzuto
There are few players around the state who can bring as much on both sides of the ball as Rizzuto. At around 6-2, 235 pounds, Rizzuto is a big hitter on defense, and is also a threat to take it to the house on offense.
Pick to move on: West Boylston/Tahanto
Division 7 West
The favorite: No. 1 Wahconah
At the beginning of the season, many people thought this was the second-best team in all of Western Mass., and for most of the year, that has held up outside of a loss to a good East Longmeadow team. Other than that, this team has dominated a tough schedule.
The main contender: No. 2 South Hadley
There are plenty of reasons to like this team, which only has losses to East Longmeadow and a Mashpee team that is favored to win the whole ball of wax. This is always a physical squad that makes you work for every yard.
Key player: Wahconah WR Thomas Burris
We considered going with a number of different players here, but Burris gives his team what most in the section don't have: a receiver who is almost unstoppable on jump balls. The 6-3 Burris also has the wheels to beat you deep, and will be a factor in each game.
Pick to move on: Wahconah
Division 8 Central
The favorite: No. 2 St. Bernard's
Even though this is not the top seed, the resume puts this squad at the top for now. Wins over Division 4 crosstown rival Fitchburg and Archbishop Williams of Eastern Mass. show what this team is capable of when it plays its best.
The main contender: No. 1 Lunenburg
This is a team that could easily be in the spot above, as it played one of the toughest schedules in the section. The only two losses here are to Division 7 Central favorite West Boylston/Tahanto and a Littleton team that will be right in the mix in Division 6.
Key player: St. Bernard's RB/DB Walter Morales
It's tough to pick just one player for the Bernardians, but Morales has been a steady force all season. The junior leads the team in rushing, and can also make plays in the secondary to make a difference for a team that may be peaking at the right time.
Pick to move on: St. Bernard's
Division 8 West
The favorite: No. 1 Lee
As was the case at the start of the season, the expectation was for Lee to be a solid contender for the Division 8 crown, and this team has not disappointed. Other than a loss to an Amherst team in the Division 5 playoffs, Lee has rolled over its schedule.
The main contender: No. 3 Hoosac Valley
All three of the teams behind Lee are worthy challengers, but we are going to go with Hoosac Valley in this spot. A year ago, this program made it to Gillette Stadium before falling to a loaded Millis team, and we feel that experience will come in handy.
Key player: Lee QB Homer Winston
This is the player who can get hot and carry his team through a deep playoff run. Winston was one of the best players in the division a year ago, and has continued his upward momentum this fall.
Pick to move on: Lee