While the XFL concludes its season with the championship game on Saturday, the USFL is moving full speed toward the midway point. Even though this is the second season of the league, I used the first few weeks as a discovery period to evaluate the eight teams. How will the new coach look? Will the success of last season's top offenses continue, or will the league move on? I'm having a bit more success with totals than sides, banking on teams on the extreme ends of production (offensive or defensive) affecting the pace of the game.
Now that we are in week 5, the search period is over. We've had enough head-to-head matchups to uncover the key drivers for results over the first few weeks. After that, teams really start to lean into their identities, making it the perfect time to overtake an inefficient market. I'll look at each of the four games this weekend and analyze where I see the best edge from a betting perspective.
I feel like I have a lot of hold on both these teams. I'm betting below with success (3-0-1) in every single Maulers game, despite settling for a push last weekend. A 91-yard kickoff return sparked a 22-point fourth quarter, making the final score 24–20. It was the first time the Maulers were involved in a game of more than 40 combined points, but don't expect that to happen again this week at Michigan against a much less dominant offense.
Panthers had scored 29 and 24 in the first two games, but everything has gone downhill since then. Michigan has failed to exceed 14 points in two consecutive games and has flip-flopped quarterbacks between Josh Love and Carson Strong. After philadelphia allowed 41 points to Houston last week, it's clear that the Panthers' ability to move the ball early in the season was an indictment of the poor defenses they faced.
This week they play the USFL's stiffest defense in Pittsburgh, allowing fewer than 20 points despite already going up against three of the league's best teams. Pittsburgh looks to create turnovers, play for field position and win with its defense. The market is just too high for the Maulers to likely be able to do that against a Michigan team. I played Pittsburgh plus point. There is also value on the moneyline at +145, but my best bet is that it is under 42. Best Bet: Under 42.
Houston Gamblers +4.5 (O/U 48.5) at Birmingham Stallions
Houston's offense is clicking under Kenji Bahar, who completed 71% of his passes for 11 yards in last week's 41-16 throttling of Philadelphia. The Gamblers have scored at least 30 points in three straight weeks and should be hot against a Stallions defense that was held to 45 by New Orleans just two weeks ago. Whenever an underdog can take it like Houston, they live to steal wins. The Gamblers have had combined scores of 69, 57 and 56 in their last three matches. However, high scoring games are more likely to have a high variance, so I'll stick to the total. Best Bet: Over 48.5.
New Jersey Generals -6.5 at Philadelphia Stars (O/U 43.5)
Sitare has been the most amazing story ever. After their starting QB was injured in the championship game and came up short last season, I expected the Stars to be one of the best teams in the league. Exactly the opposite has happened. The offense looks broken, and the defense can't cover the traffic cone. Mike Riley's Generals are coming into their own and fell just short of handing New Orleans their first loss last week. The spread is reasonable, as New Jersey is 6.5 points better, but the Generals' style of play is not conducive to laying up big numbers. The Generals should run into the worst rushing defense in the league, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to reach the window. If I do, it will have to settle the score. Best Bet: New Jersey -6.5
Memphis Showboats +7 at New Orleans Breakers (O/U 47.5)
This is another total I can't wait to bet on. The current number is two points higher than where I bet it (45.5), but believe me there's still some meat on the bone. The 4-0 Breakers have the league's highest-scoring offense (31.25 ppg) behind QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson. In his first year in the USFL, Bethel-Thompson leads all QBs in passing yards and touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has scored at least 20 points in all four games and will have no problem getting into his 30s. Memphis allowed more yards per game than any team in the USFL, and was on fire for 42 points against a comparable offense in Birmingham. The Showboats got their first win of the year over Michigan last week, so they will enter the game with more confidence. However, this can get ugly quick. It's likely New Orleans and over. Best Bet: Over 47.5