As the USFL enters the final three weeks of the regular season, every team remains very much in the hunt. One of my early observations for the 2023 season was that we may have been headed for a wide split between the haves and the have-nots. Out of the four teams that missed the playoffs in 2022, three of those teams underwent coaching changes. Although, it looked like teams were headed to a major disparity after a few weeks, that take couldn’t have been more wrong. Only two games separate the three teams with the best record (4-2) and the three with the worst (2-4). Both last place teams in their divisions find themselves only one game behind the division leader in the standings. The USFL won’t get confused with the NFL anytime soon, but it has the parity thing nailed.
The Birmingham Stallions, last year's champion, sit atop of the futures board alongside the New Orleans Breakers as co-favorites to win it all at +325. The Breakers appeared to be the team to beat after starting the season on fire. New Orleans' 4-0 start included a 45-31 win over the Stallions in Week 3. But the wave of momentum came crashing down for New Orleans, which dropped two straight while only scoring 10 points in each game. Birmingham and New Orleans are set for a rematch to kick off Week 7 in the USFL’s marquee game. We went 3-1 on our best bets last week, primarily playing totals, and I will be employing a similar strategy for this weekend’s games.
Birmingham Stallions (-1.5) at New Orleans Breakers (O/U 45.5)
This is a tricky game, as the Breakers' previously potent offense has looked broken over the past two weeks. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson has a history of running hot and cold that dates back to his career in the CFL. What’s the best remedy for a struggling offense? How about a defense that it lit up for 45 points and 7.3 yards per play. On paper, the total at 45.5 looks fair, considering both teams only went over this number in two of six games. But one of those six games was against each other. I don’t think the New Orleans offense will explode for another massive day, but considering Birmingham’s defense looked shaky (5.2 yards per play) last week against Michigan, I will take my chances that the Breakers will move the chains. If New Orleans gets half of the 45 points they put up in the last meeting, I am confident Birmingham will do its part to get us over the total. The bet: Over 45.5
Philadelphia Stars (+1.5) at Pittsburgh Maulers (O/U 39.5)
Pittsburgh unders are the best bet you can make in this league. I am 5-0-1 betting these on the season and seeing the Maulers against Philadelphia has me loading up once again. The Philadelphia offense hasn’t been pretty. QB Case Cookus has fired off seven interceptions in six games, and the Stars were held to 2.9 yards per play against New Jersey in one of the most bizarre games of the season two weeks ago. They won the game 24-21, but needed eight field goals that were aided by four New Jersey turnovers. The offense finally showed life in last week’s 16-10 win over New Orleans, but the red zone remained a major problem (0-for-3). It's unlikely the Stars keep the momentum going against Pittsburgh’s punishing defense. Pittsburgh’s games have averaged combined scores of 31.6 points on the season and failed to surpass 34 in all but two games. The books finally opened the Maulers total under 40, but they didn’t go low enough. The bet: Under 39.5
Houston Gamblers (-3.5) at Memphis Showboats (O/U 42.5)
In a week when teams are seeing each other for the second time around, the Showboats and Gamblers first matchup may have been the most exciting game of the season. Memphis roared back to take a 26-23 lead behind a 16-point fourth quarter, only to watch Kenji Bahar drive the Gamblers down for the game-winning score with only 18 seconds remaining. A couple of points to note. It was QB Cole Kelley’s first start for Memphis, and the Showboats haven’t lost since, reeling off three straight wins to knot its record at 3-3. RB Mark Thompson is back healthy for Houston, and the Gamblers are 4-0 on the season with him in the lineup. It’s definitely a clash of the league’s hottest teams, and there are a few reasons I like the Gamblers to come out ahead. Outside of Kelley taking over at quarterback, their ability to create turnovers on defense has fueled the Showboats' streak. I am not sure that happens against Houston. The Gamblers won the turnover battle in the previous matchup and didn’t have a turnover in last week’s win over New Jersey. I think the over is a solid look as well. The bet: Houston -3.5
Michigan Panthers (+6.5) at New Jersey Generals (O/U 40.5)
The Michigan offense really struggled the first time these teams played. Panthers QB Josh Love threw for only 3.3 yards per pass attempt before getting pulled for Carson Strong, who wasn’t much better. Michigan is likely the worst team in the league, but laying 6.5 points with a team that is averaging less than two touchdowns a game is asking for trouble. New Jersey is No.1 at both rushing offense and defending the run, so there is no secret how it wants to play. Michigan doesn’t have the offensive firepower to threaten this Generals defense, and I think it’s likely it scores less than the 13 points it did in the previous meeting. The Panthers have averaged 10.7 points per game over their four-game losing streak and now face the league’s stingiest scoring defense. This feels like 21-10. The bet: Under 40.5