WagerBop has criticized odds-makers for not rating brand new American football teams with the assumption of total parity. The sport’s best enduring brands on all 3 levels, like the Muskegon Big Red, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Green Bay Packers, are allowed to produce their annual lineups while buoyed by hundreds of years of tradition and success. A minor league’s handful of newly-branded teams, manufactured in order to have close, exciting games in an inaugural year, are rarely anything but a lot of the same.
USFL pigskin has not produced such a scenario in 2022. In fact, the nascent league’s teams have proven to be so disparate in strength that betting odds on an inaugural USFL winner are skewed more drastically than a typical 8-team field after just 5 rounds of play.
The Stallions, Generals, Breakers, and Bandits are drawing shorter than 5-to-1 lines to win the USFL title in July. The Birmingham Stallions, undefeated at 5-0 and blessed with the only “hometown” crowd in a league hosting all games in Alabama, are currently the favorite at just (+170) futures odds. Meanwhile, there’s a clear dividing line between the USFL’s “haves” and “have-nots,” as illustrated by the odds directly below Tampa at (+470).
The Stars are selling at 15-to-1 prices to lift the USFL hardware after losing to Birmingham to fall to 2-3 in Week 5. Other long-term underdogs have played so haplessly in big moments that the corresponding futures odds are worse than their 1-4 records, like the Michigan Panthers and Pittsburgh Maulers. Then there’s HC Jeff Fisher of the Michigan Panthers, who offers no new ideas at all as a “name-brand” but overwhelmed CEO in the USFL.
Despite a noble defense and the much-hyped #1 overall draft choice of former FBS superstar Shea Patterson, the Panthers have been a farce of football follies through a disastrous 1-4 start, fumbling on the team’s maiden play from scrimmage, fumbling again on the brand’s 2nd-ever offensive series, and fumbling the pigskin on a do-or-die comeback effort to lose to Tampa Bay in Week 5. Patterson has flashed NFL-caliber passing and scrambling, but has also been an INT-machine under Fisher so far. The signal-caller is entrenched on Michigan’s 1st string only due to an injury to backup Jordan Lynch of NIU/Orange Bowl fame.
The USFL’s point-total lines continue to shrink into the mid-30s, with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia on Saturday drawing the week’s “fattest” O/U number at (39.5). But all of the league’s final scores broke the 40-point barrier in Week 5, fulfilling our USFL blog’s prediction that turnovers and restless coaches would lead to “Over” wins.
There might be a wise “Over” pick or 2 in the mix for Week 6…but it’s always a mistake to try to ride a successful trend too highly…especially when it comes to a 1st-year league.
Sat. May 21: Philadelphia Stars vs Tampa Bay Bandits
Star coaches of the NFL have been struggling to produce results in a new league. Tampa Bay head coach Todd Haley has failed to get QB Jordan Ta’amu’s offense rolling, utilizing a grab-bag playbook that does not accentuate the dual-threat’s talents as a rusher.
The Bandits have the octet’s worst rushing yards-per-attempt average at 3.3 YPC, potentially fatal in a league in which victories are being sealed on the ground. Yet the Tampa Bay Bandits (-3) are solidly favored over the Philadelphia Stars this Saturday, bringing up the angle of Stars-inspired skepticism at the betting board just days after the fatigued “Dallas Stars” were eliminated from Stanley Cup contention. Philadelphia was a decent match for Birmingham in Week 5, and the Stars’ offense—while decidedly lacking in balance—is producing healthy yards-per-attempt by land and air. Odds-makers seem convinced that Tampa Bay can either out-rush or out-coach Philadelphia this weekend, and the Bandits have shown the ability to do neither despite having Haley running the show.
Over/Under bets on either side of a (39.5) line are dangerous since the Stars and Bandits could wind up simply throwing the ball at each other, but such a flaccid offense as Tampa’s shouldn’t be the field-goal favorite in prevailing point spreads.
WagerBop’s Pick: Philadelphia Stars ATS (+3)
Sat. May 21: Birmingham Stallions vs Michigan Panthers
Bookmakers are looking at a potential blow-out in Birmingham. The unbeaten Stallions are galloping in green pastures with a fine defense and a responsible offense, winning again by 13 in Week 5 without a single featured RB or passing-game efficiency over 55%. It helps that no USFL teams are manufacturing NFL-level numbers through the air, though Birmingham’s secondary will have a tougher task this week against a Michigan Panthers team that, for all its obvious flaws, isn’t as cautious with the ball as last week’s victim Pittsburgh. The Stallions are a (-310) favorite to win a scrum with a (37.5) O/U line.
In spite of fielding an OK defense and the much-hyped #1 overall draft choice of former FBS superstar Shea Patterson, the Panthers (+6.5) have been a farce of football follies through a disastrous 1-4 start, fumbling on the team’s maiden play from scrimmage, fumbling again on the brand’s 2nd-ever offensive series, and fumbling the pigskin on a do-or-die comeback effort to lose to Tampa Bay in Week 5. Patterson has been an INT-machine under Fisher so far. The maddening signal-caller is probably only entrenched due to an injury to backup Jordan Lynch. But even should the Michigan Panthers be destined to blunder another game away, place-kicking in the USFL has been so shaky at times that a “7-point victory” is not assured when a team wins solidly by a TD. Patterson will be forced to open up in the 2nd half if Birmingham is leading the game, creating a chaotic feast-or-famine 2nd half.
But if there’s a good reason to pick the Birmingham Stallions to cover, other than an enthusiastic hometown crowd, it’s that Birmingham’s trademark pocket-pressure makes Week 6 improvement from Michigan’s offense a very unlikely eventuality.
WagerBop’s Pick: Birmingham Stallions ATS (-6.5)
Sun. May 22: New Orleans Breakers vs Pittsburgh Maulers
The Breakers and Maulers present another chance to capitalize on odds-makers’ low Over/Under lines on USFL games, lines which would make sense if the league’s cautious offenses were protecting the actual football as well as their run-pass ratios.
Uneven match-ups with likely turnovers shouldn’t be handicapped to score just (35.5) points, but that’s the line at FanDuel in spite of New Orleans (-400) having an opportunity to blow Sunday’s early game wide open. Newly-signed Maulers quarterback Vad Lee was the surprise hero in Pittsburgh’s first victory, earned via a 4th-quarter comeback in Week 5. Pittsburgh’s play selection has been somewhere between the 1977 Miami Dolphins and the Army Academy, but Lee also provides the only spark of encouragement for a 1-4 team and will get his chances to match New Orleans quarterback Kyle Sloter.
WagerBop’s Pick: Over (35.5)
Sun. May 22: New Jersey Generals vs Houston Gamblers
DeAndre Johnson of New Jersey is an example of a properly-coached dual threat QB in the USFL, combining 213 passing yards and a pair of rushing TDs in the Generals’ impressive 10-point win over New Orleans in Week 5. But as discussed on our USFL blog previously, the Breakers do not have an explosive backfield that matches the legacy of “Marvelous” Marcus Dupree from the team’s past incarnation. Houston’s standout tailback Mark Thompson gives the Gamblers a little more life against tough USFL front-7 units such as New Jersey’s, and should help the underdog hang within 7 points.
WagerBop’s Pick: Houston Gamblers ATS (+7)
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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