Let's break down the matchups:
San Francisco vs Connecticut
These two teams did some very interesting and unique things with their lineups heading into this week. Whether it was due to player availability or was for strategical reasons is unclear, but I think that when all is said and done the lineups clearly favor San Francisco.
1: GM Daniel Naroditsky has a big rating edge and a much higher rating on Board 1 against GM Michael Rohde. On top of that he has been playing very well as of late.
2: If Lenderman or Paragua were available for Connecticut they definitely should have been played this match due to their blitz prowess. Don't forget that if the match is a 2-2 tie, it goes to a blitz playoff, and Naroditsky is by far the best blitz player in this group, and therefore San Fran is favored on a tied match.
3: On the bottom boards, where Connecticut has some rating edge, they are facing extremely talented and high performing young stars (Combined score of 7-0 on the season), so it's hard to say that they have any real advantage there
4. On board 2 Lief Pressman is a dangerous opponent, but he is facing another strong young player in FM Yian Liou, and Yian also happens to be higher rated.
Looking at the rosters of these two teams, it seems very hard for me to come up with a good answer to San Francisco's talented youth contingent, and I think that no matter what Connecticut did they were going to have some difficulty, but it'd be really useful if they were better prepared for the 2-2 tie. For the above reasons I'm definitely picking San Fran to advance and the more I look at their team, the more impressive they become.
New Jersey vs Seattle
This matchup is interesting because New Jersey advances to the Quarterfinals on a 2-2 result, based on their superior performance during the regular season.
However there are a few things that New Jersey should be scared of:
1. David Golub is a ridiculous 7-0 on Board 4, and is playing an opponent rated 200 points below him. Ethan Klein has recently had some good results and gained a bunch of points, but it's hard to bet against the guy who is 7-0 and around 2300. If David can win this game, as statistically he would be expected to do, Seattle jumps out to a 1-0 lead and that means that the Sluggers just need 1.5/3 in the remaining three games to advance
2. Giorgi Orlov has been playing very well this season, and has the white pieces against Stripunsky, who has had mixed results. Objectively Stripunsky is the stronger and more active player, but you couldn't tell from looking at recent USCL results.
3. Alexander Katz, while higher rated than Nat Koons, has a very erratic style of play that can lead to unexpected losses. In a match where you only need 2/4, you prefer your players to have a more controlled style and to be less likely to lose to a lower rated player. I think that Katz is the opposite type of player, the type more likely to beat someone higher rated, but also open to mixing it up too much against a lower rated opponent, and opening up the door to the upset. Also it must be noted that Alex has already lost to Nat in Week 9.
4. The one huge bright spot for New Jersey is GM Joel Benjamin's matchup against FM Curt Collyer. Joel has a 300+ point rating edge and is the massive favorite here. This means that even if Seattle wins on Board 4, then New Jersey is likely to tie it up on Board 2. Now they only need 1/2 and are higher rated on both Boards 1+3.
So while I think the matchup is more dangerous than it looks, and Seattle just needs one surprising draw or win to push the odds in their favor, I'm going to go with New Jersey to advance due to the draw odds and the big edge on Board 2.
If things go as predicted then New Jersey will face off against St.Louis in Round 2, while the San Francisco Mechanics would go up against the top seeded Dallas Destiny. Don't forget to tune into the matches at the Internet Chess Club. And thanks to Pokerstars for their huge support of the league.