The refashioned USFL’s pair of top preseason picks, the Michigan Panthers and Tampa Bay Bandits, have belly-flopped after losing 3 out of 4 games in embarrassing style.
The Panthers may be the saddest tale of disappointment. Blessed with #1 overall USFL draft pick QB Shea Patterson, and coached by former St. Louis Rams skipper Jeff Fisher, the Panthers were touted as “futures” odds favorites in March and April. But as WagerBop argued prior to the spring season, Fisher’s team was overrated based on his name-brand NFL stripes. Patterson has been overwhelmed as the sloppy Panthers fumble and whiff on chances to score, dooming the club to low-scoring losses in 2 games. Similar to Fisher’s final dreary campaigns in St. Louis, the Panther defense is quite solid in a losing cause.
Todd Haley’s vaunted playbook has also let speculators down. The Tampa Bay Bandits managed a 2-touchdown win in their debut contest, but were blown away by New Orleans in Sunday’s only kickoff of Week 2. Haley’s accomplished QB Jordan Ta’amu was lousy in Tampa’s 34-3 defeat, and the Breakers punished backup Brady White with equal humorlessness. The Bandits gained just 97 passing yards and threw 3 picks.
Birmingham and New Orleans have begun drawing more wagers at shorter futures odds on winning the new USFL’s inaugural championship, co-leading the South division at 2-0. Look for the New Jersey Generals and Philadelphia Stars of the North division to continue drawing optimistic lines next to fellow 1-1 clubs Houston and Tampa.
Stallions may become the trendiest USFL pick if the Stallions win another consecutive game this weekend. The Alabama brand will enjoy an almost unprecedented edge in weeks to come, playing actual “home games” in a league designed not to produce them. Faced with crummy attendance in cold-weather and warm cities alike, the USFL has chosen to hold all of its games in Birmingham for the foreseeable future. As a result, USFL teams are performing with zero civic pride, representing no season-ticket holders or partisan fan contingent while toiling away in Birmingham. Coaching will be more crucial than ever in a 100% self-motivational scenario, making it stranger still that professional handicappers have been leaning toward uncreative old hands and not those hungry to succeed.
The bookmakers at FanDuel were more cautious than others when setting United States Football League point-total lines in the low 40s prior to Week 1, and the sharks who had predicted very low-scoring outcomes appeared vindicated when USFL offenses flailed. However, the league’s QBs and WRs have been making plays, with the failure to produce points tied closely to sacks-for-loss, turnovers, and dropped balls as teams make mental errors. Kicking has been so bad that the USFL has adjusted the footballs themselves.
Nevertheless, so many turnovers and short-field chances were bound to spark more TDs and points, and the chaos factor helped run both of Saturday’s scores over the Over/Under.
There are at least 3 Over/Under picks on the USFL that seem wise in Week 3, but don’t worry, we’ve saved room for multiple “side” picks on the new league as well.
Tampa Bay Bandits vs Houston Gamblers (Saturday, April 30)
Sin City is not ready to give up on the Tampa Bay Bandits. Todd Haley’s USFL team is a (-120) moneyline favorite to beat the Houston Gamblers on Saturday. That may seem like a banal betting line considering the NFL pedigree of Tampa Bay’s head coach, and considering that each club is merely 1-1 on the fresh campaign. However, speculating Tampa’s newest brand to win takes nerves after what occurred in Week 2’s action.
Vegas gave the Bandits a pass for only producing 2 touchdowns in their debut victory, given how badly the Tampa Bay defense dominated its opponent. But the next Bandits kickoff confirmed the fears about QB Jordan Ta’amu’s offense not being as good as advertised. Haley’s “sophisticated” offense was embarrassed 34-3 by a New Orleans Breakers team with a more NCAA-style approach, or at least a more efficient short-order playbook.
New Orleans’ rushing stats were actually diminished from the team’s healthy rush output in a low-scoring Week 1 triumph over Philadelphia. Given the landscape of missed blocks, turnovers, and mediocre special-teams play in the USFL this spring, it’s possible for teams to lead wire-to-wire and win easily without a 400-yard passing day or even 5.0 YPC. An offense must merely be efficient and hold onto the ball, while opponents screw up.
Clayton Thorsen may prove to be among the better starting USFL quarterbacks in 2022, but he’s been bitten by the interception bug, and the Gamblers’ defense is better at causing forced mistakes than Houston’s offense is at preventing its unforced errors. That presents an interesting pick opportunity on the O/U line, set at just (38.5) points. Undoubtedly, a chagrined Haley will try to open things up in play-calling and show NFL-aligned colleagues that he’s still got it. Thorsen could serve up short fields to the Bandits with INTs, or scramble for long TD throws. 40 points doesn’t need to come from stellar offense.
WagerBop’s Pick: Over (38.5)
Saturday, April 30: New Orleans Breakers vs Birmingham Stallions
There is only a single “home team” in the USFL right now, and sportsbooks are refusing to grant it any kind of home-field advantage. New Orleans is a solid (-3.5) point spread favorite over fellow 2-0 team Birmingham on Saturday, with Las Vegas appearing to ignore any benefits gained by the Stallions having some modicum of hometown support.
Perhaps it’s foolish to think a USFL team can gather any kind of civic hype and emotional momentum on the path to a title bid, given how poorly attended and TV-oriented the league’s debut has been. But a 4-point spread line is too optimistic for a Breakers team without a worthy offensive backfield. Kyle Sloter, like many upstart prospect QBs, will be uniformly praised by commentators until he loses his next football game.
WagerBop’s Pick: Birmingham Stallions ATS (+3.5)
Sunday, May 1: Michigan Panthers vs Pittsburgh Maulers
Pitt could prove a popular Sunday choice at (+120) moneyline odds, with the Panthers in midst of self-destructing out of the gate. The Maulers appear to some pigskin scouts as though they could turn out to be the USFL’s worst team, needing a 76-yard scoop and score TD from defensive back Jaylon McClain-Sapp to stay within 7 points of Philadelphia.
Other handicappers who’ve watched minor-league teams transform quickly in the first 5 weeks of Arena league, XFL, and NFL Europe seasons could be willing to take a chance.
QB Shea Patterson’s noble efforts on a sloppy team makes for captivating TV, but it could also produce a low-side outcome against FanDuel Sportsbook’s O/U line of (39.5) points, since Fisher is experienced enough to slow things down and eke out a win if necessary. As formidable as the Maulers defense may be, 20 opposing points should be plenty.
WagerBop’s Pick: Under (39.5)
Sunday, May 1: New Jersey Generals vs Philadelphia Stars
FanDuel Sportsbook is offering a straight “pick’em” on Philadelphia or New Jersey to win Sunday’s late-game straight-up at (-110) odds. Philly is likely to be overvalued by bettors and bookmakers, and Jersey slightly undervalued at the moment, due to the disparate final scores of Week 3’s games. Offense sells tickets and moves betting cash, but the Generals deserve praise for embracing a defense-minded and run-heavy approach.
Good old coaching tenets could run into realism quickly without an All-Star helmsman. There are only so many points New Jersey can score with a methodical NFL-style QB like Luis Perez at the helm, unless coaches are willing to open up a little bit. Perez is the type of QB who would flourish with an NFL kicker to convert-for-points on his cautious 40-yard and 50-yard drives, but kicking is a big problem in the USFL so far too.
We like New Jersey – but not to score a bunch of TDs in victory.
WagerBop’s Picks: New Jersey Generals and Under (40.5)
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.