Football is back with the USFL set to kick off this Saturday night with a game between the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions. The other six teams will take the field Sunday starting at 12 p.m. ET and ending with a prime-time game at 8 p.m. Professional spring football has not proven to be sustainable, so bettors can't take any week for granted. As we found out with the XFL and AAF, your edges could be here one week and gone the next.
I plan on taking full advantage of the USFL this spring, but there are three important factors to keep in mind when placing your bets.
NFL experience doesn't always translate to success, especially at QB position
You can capture some good edges if a team is overvalued because the quarterback is overrated. Quarterbacks that don't have the size or arm talent to make throws in NFL windows won't see the same closing speed from defensive backs either. Quarterbacks who lack pocket presence and the ability to pick up coverages will probably have the same struggles at this level.
Market is not as efficient as NFL or even college football
Remember those Sundays sweating bullets because your 3.5-point favorite turned into a 1.5-point favorite? There is no reason to worry this weekend if the market moves against you. There is a ton of variance and the oddsmakers will be learning about the league as we are watching it unfold. Absorb as much data as possible, make an informed decision and have confidence in your edges.
There is no true home-field advantage
Yes, all games will be played in Birmingham, which gives Stallions a slight edge. But none of the eight teams will have to travel, which is more impactful than the actual fans in a 45,000 seat stadium. Determining the value of the home field in these new leagues is a challenge, so it's nice to have the spread reflect the true market rating of each team.
USFL Week 1 best bets:
The relationship between coach and quarterback transcends any other position group on the field, regardless of the brand of football. The combination is probably the single strongest predictive indicator of a team's success. Whether it's Bailey Zappe and Zach Kittley transforming Western Kentucky's offense at the college level or Sean McVay securing his Super Bowl-winning quarterback over tequila in Cabo. If you have those two congruent in a simpatico relationship, you have a significant edge over your competition. That's the Philadelphia Stars!
Head coach Bart Andrus and QB Bryan Scott dominated the Spring League together in 2020. After selecting Scott with the first overall pick, Andrus won the league championship as Scott recorded the best statistical season for a quarterback in the four-year history of the league. Can Andrus and Scott repeat that same success in the USFL? It's hard to predict, but I am confident they will have a strong edge early in the season. Rather than shoot for flashy names with NFL experience, Philadelphia's draft strategy prioritized players that have previously won under Andrus. From the skill positions to the offensive line, success on the football field is the result of all 11 players trusting each other and playing as a unit. The fact that these players are familiar with Andrus' uptempo system should have the Stars moving the football very efficiently on Sunday.
The New Orleans Breakers will also feature a pass-heavy, attacking offense under Larry Fedora. The Breakers are solid at QB with Kyle Sloter and emphasized a strong receiving corp in the draft that features ex-Tennessee Titan Taywan Taylor. New Orleans certainly has the potential to be a high-powered offense in this league, but I have much less confidence that head coach Larry Fedora will have them clicking on all cylinders the first Sunday of the season. It's been a few years since Fedora has had success at any level with his stint at Baylor being one to forget.
The first week of these start-up leagues does not typically provide the cleanest brand of football. Stars coach Bart Andrus has captured championships in both NFL Europe and the Spring League, so he knows what it takes to succeed in this type of environment. Getting the more prepared team in Philadelphia should be valuable, especially as an underdog. The preseason futures market is based on roster strength, not the likelihood of early success. Let's take advantage of the market by betting a live underdog with the points.
Is there a more predictable coach in the history of sports than "Mr. 7-9" Jeff Fisher? The only intrigue surrounding the Michigan Panthers is whether they will finish 4-6 or 5-5 under the ex-Rams coach. If you thought Nick Foles was hard to watch in Fisher's offense, wait until you feast your eyes on Shea Patterson. My biggest takeaway from Michigan's roster is the unsubtle certainty that Fisher's time away hasn't resulted in his offensive philosophy evolving. Michigan is carrying almost as many tight ends as wide receivers and predictably built their offense to be a power-running team led by Stevie Scott. WR Jeff Badet was a star for the XFL's Dallas Renegades, but it's hard to see Patterson and Fisher maximizing his potential.
The strength of the Houston Gamblers is on the defensive side of the football. They have good experience and playmakers at all three levels. The Gamblers have strong edge rushers with NFL experience and one of the best inside linebackers in Beniquez Brown. CB Jamar Summers played for the New York Guardians of the XFL, where he excelled as the top defensive back in the league. Not that Fisher needs a great deal of persuading, but Summers locking up his best receiver should give him good reason to rely heavily on the running game.
I don't expect much of the Houston offense led by QB Clayton Thorson. Thorson has all the physical tools, but his poor decision-making in live-action and his inability to see the field under pressure are challenges that typically follow the player even when the level of competition decreases. The ineffectiveness of Houston's offense along with the strength of their defense has me looking to the under. Jeff Fisher will have no problem establishing the run game to keep the clock moving. Expect a defensive battle that will most likely be played in the teens. Getting the total in the mid-40s is an easy smash spot on the under.