A.J. McCarron’s popular St. Louis Battlehawks did not reach the XFL postseason in 2023. Nor were the team’s talented pass-rushers given a chance to compete in the 2020 playoffs after COVID-19 forced the new league to pause operations, and eventually change ownership hands from wrestling promoter to one of said promoter’s superstars.
But the curious playoff rules of the XFL not only allowed McCarron to set records in Week 10, it gave the QB’s Fantasy GMs an overwhelming season-ending points victory in their respective games at FanDuel. St. Louis took a sizable early lead on the last-place Orlando Guardians at America’s Center, a scenario in which any football team would probably pare-down and nurse its edge with a 7-3 record promising a trip to the playoffs. But circumstances made a low-scoring win pointless for St. Louis, thanks to the XFL’s qualification rules that include points-scored as a tiebreaker.
STL needed to crush Orlando by a huge score to pressure Seattle to do the same against Vegas, based on XFL playoff-berth tiebreaker rules that favor points-margins if teams are otherwise deadlocked. McCarron went crazy for a 400+ yard, 6-TD day as the Battlehawks romped 53-28. Disappointingly, though, the St. Louis defense had given up far too many points to the spoiler-bid Guardians, and Seattle cruised into Week 11 with an ordinary victory.
Seattle’s “quirky” playoff bid may make it harder to perceive the Sea Dragons as Week 11’s most lively underdog. But when you think about Arlington sneaking-in to the XFL playoffs with a 4-6 record and not one quality win to credit, it’s obvious that this weekend’s underdog pigskin gamblers are going to have to take a look at Ben DiNucci and Seattle, or else make the wrong pick and crash in Space City.
XFL Playoff Odds and Previews: WagerBop’s Picks on 2 Division Title Games
Sat, April 29th: Arlington Renegades at Houston Roughnecks (South Division Championship)
Of the 4 teams in the inaugural XFL playoffs in 2023, the Arlington Renegades are by far the steepest underdogs to be found, a (+6.5) point-spread pick against the South Division’s regular-season champion Houston Renegades. However, the fact that Arlington reached this year’s postseason at all is a victory for a club that’s struggled to move the football.
Recall that Chicago Cardinal team of the 1940s that forgot to draft any quarterbacks, and wound-up tin-horning the ball downfield with laterals during what turned into, at the very least, a more interesting season than advertised? The Renegade’s trek through the 2023 XFL season has been a blueprint for how to field a dull offense, blow chances to spark confidence in skill players, and fail to put points on the board. Arlington lost to the Houston Roughnecks 25-9 in a “scouting” game last weekend. and continues to rank 7th out of 8 XFL teams in total offense and dead-last in XFL point scoring. Scarcely did it seem like a formula to reach a title game. But the Renegades made it work.
The 4-6 Renegades, somehow, some way, produced enough scoring (and just enough victories) to reach the playoffs in their first attempt at doing so. Arlington’s slot in the inferior South Division was a lucky break, though the team’s very opportunistic defense manufactured its own luck in close-shave wins over Orlando, Vegas, and San Antonio.
So, why are the Houston Roughnecks only a (-6.5) favorite to beat one of the worst offenses in the league? Space City’s pair of convincing wins over Arlington aside, the Roughnecks have had their own issues with the pigskin in hand. Pundits think this Sunday’s North Division championship between D.C. and Seattle is a duel of superior QBs in Ben DiNucci and Jordan Ta’amu respectively, or at least that Brandon Silvers of Houston has less weapons to work with. The early-season Fantasy hero Max Borghi has quieted down carrying the rock for the Roughnecks, and WR Travell Harris leads the corps with well under 400 yards.
WagerBop won’t be surprised if an old maxim of NFL postseason football (and a familiar maxim of XFL owner The Rock) comes into play during Saturday’s semifinal. If Arlington cannot move the ball at all, “it doesn’t matter” how cautious, plodding, or put-upon the Houston offense becomes during the game. The host-favorites will find ways to score and build an advantage on the board, however faltering, while the Arlington lineup could fast become demoralized with little real hope of a comeback.
Arlington’s icon of a coach Bob Stoops may draw on his rich FBS experience to utilize a number of razzle-dazzle plays early in the contest, drawn up carefully against Houston’s defenses from Weeks 2 and 10, to try to score a couple of surprise touchdowns early-on and put some pressure for a change on the Roughnecks’ meager offense. That possibility is the main angle keeping Saturday’s Over/Under line above (40) points.
WagerBop’s Pick: Roughnecks ATS (-6.5)
Sun, April 30th: Seattle Sea Dragons at D.C. Defenders (North Division Championship)
The poor winter debut of the Seattle Sea Dragons may have necessitated some luck to reach the playoffs. But it makes all kinds of sense that the Sea Dragons (+155) are considered to be the most dangerous non-division winner left standing in the XFL this season. The Sea Dragons’ array of receiving weapons around QB Ben DiNucci is simply stellar, with the former Pro Bowl representative Josh Gordon serving as just another member of a great cast. Wideout Jahcour Pearson has been the sensation of the XFL with 670 receiving yards, while DiNucci’s rushing ability has helped make up for Seattle’s lack of fiery running backs.
Seattle’s defense has been stingy, especially in the Red Zone. It might not be stingy enough to hold off a D.C. Defenders offense with 2 dual-threat quarterbacks and the best tailback in the XFL in Abram Smith. The Defenders, who in 2023 have beaten Seattle in a pair of extremely close regular-season games, can also draw on the league’s best rush defense, and cap a 9-1 season with the momentum of yet another 3-game win streak.
D.C., on the flip side, has arguably never looked quite the same after dropping a surprise mid-season outcome to the woeful Orlando Guardians. Teams began chucking the ball downfield with success against the D.C. secondary as the year went on, and even the Arlington offense on April 16th had a 400+ yard day against the Defenders.
Speculators must ask if the odds on Sunday’s semifinal accurately reflect D.C.’s current ability. Or are the Defenders’ betting lines partly based on the “cache” that Ta’amu’s team has earned through so many victories right out of the gate? We can say for sure that a Seattle halftime lead would have to be countered with precise, patient pigskin on behalf of Sunday’s point-spread and moneyline favorites. By contrast, a D.C. Defenders’ halftime edge might become an exercise in trying to keep Seattle’s passing game from getting uncorked against a vulnerable host secondary. FanDuel’s (48) point Over/Under line for Sunday’s game reflects that D.C. will be “defending” its own end zone from DiNucci’s missiles all 4 quarters. We’re having a hard time trusting the “favored” defensive backfield under such circumstances.
WagerBop’s Pick: Sea Dragons (+155)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.
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