American FootballUSFL

USFL Week 8 Preview and Predictions

Week 8 in the USFL comes on the heels of a massively competitive week of action that saw three in the USFL’s South Division tie with a 4-3 record.

With three weeks of regular season action still available to us, Week 8 in the USFL provides a slightly more straightforward slate of games than last week’s closely matched grouping. With the USFL South providing the most in terms of competitiveness, wins mean more than ever in the race for the playoffs.

Here Comes Week 8

Houston Gamblers (4-3) @ Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)
Saturday June 3rd – 5pm BST / 12pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / USA Network (US)

The Houston Gamblers had a week to forget last week and made some fundamental errors that shouldn’t be happening at college level, let alone the pro level. On defense, the Gamblers were just terrible tacklers. They didn’t wrap up, the just bounced off Showboats players, corners were caught on the wrong foot – really simple stuff, done badly. On offense, it just flat out took too long for the Gamblers to lean on their running game. When you have a powerhouse like Thompson that can, and has, make plays, you use that to take the lead. You can get the passing game popping while you’re on top.

Despite also having a losing effort in Week 7, the Pittsburgh Maulers did show up using their running game early and often; Not only in the conventional between the tackles sense, but utilising their mobile quarterback on option plays and involving their receivers on sweeps. Lovely stuff. The Maulers excelled on special teams as well, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and coming yards short of a punt return touchdown as well. It was defensively that Pittsburgh were let down. The unit played well in the first half but things got away from them in the second and they couldn’t prevent the Stars answering what they were able to do on offense. Quite unfortunate.

This should be a decent matchup. Despite the records involved, I’d put my money on the Pittsburgh Maulers taking this one. Not only last week but the week prior, we’ve seen more balance from the Maulers in all phases. Even at 2-5, they’re not out of playoff contention yet but the time is now – a loss here makes things very difficult going forward.

Bookies Prediction: Gamblers (-3)
Our Prediction: Maulers

Philadelphia Stars (4-3) @ Birmingham Stallions (5-2)
Saturday June 3rd – 8pm BST / 3pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / NBC (US)

Birmingham has defeated Philadelphia twice in the past, including by 30-17 in Week 5 of last season. Additionally, the two teams played each other in the USFL Championship, with the Stallions coming out on top 33-30.

Alex McGough continued to do Alex McGough things last week against a very good Breakers team and is probably the leading candidate for League MVP at this point in the season. Teams are still unable to find an answer for his dual threat and the quarterback is doing as much with his legs as he is with his arm. He has been a bit of a gunslinger, especially in Week 7, but he is getting away with it because of the rapport he has with his receiving corps; even 50/50 balls are going his way because of how in-sync he is with his guys. There are very few outfits that can rival the Birmingham Stallions right now.

In a random stat, that clearly means nothing but is fun anyway, the Philadelphia Stars hold an 11-6 record all time record versus USFL teams whose mascot is not a horse; so there you go. Speaking of stats, Case Cookus is still the most sacked quarterback in the USFL with 24 sacks. Only one was allowed last week but Cookus still wasn’t allowed to settle down in the pocket. The pressure he was under once again forced him to make critical errors and that would have cost them the game against a team better than the Pittsburgh Maulers. The Stallions are that team. Arguably at the top of the whole USFL right now, the defending champions will be sure to keep that pressure up and probably add to that league leading sack total the Stars have conceded.

Bookies Prediction: Stallions (-6)
Our Prediction: Stallions

Memphis Showboats (4-3) @ New Jersey Generals (2-5)
Sunday June 4th – 6pm BST / 1pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / FOX (US)

The fight to the bottom is on between one of the teams in this game, the New Jersey Generals, and one in our next matchup, the Michican Panthers. It was the Generals winning big in the suck sweepstake (suckstake?) last week and now hold a joint USFL-worst 2-5 record, and well deserved! The two QB system was in full effect last week and once again… why? Lauletta was pulled in the third quarter, removing any opportunity he had to put together a full campaign; Johnson came in and played well but was yanked just as he could have done with an extra series to prove himself. I just don’t get it. Pick a guy and give him a whole game. I’m begging you.

I think I love the Memphis Showboats. Their attending fanbase are the best in the USFL, providing the sounds of the game we’re used to from the bigger XFL teams, and even the NFL. They’re on a bit of a run at the moment as well. After a terrible start, Memphis are 4-3 and a firm candidate for playoffs but there’s still some work to do if they want to defeat the bigger teams going forward. The running game was on point last week against the Gamblers and the play calling is pretty well balanced. However, Cole Kelley is holding on to the ball to long, leading to, at best, sacks and, at worst, errors and turnovers.

Still, this game is a perfect opportunity for improvement. If the Showboats defense can start strong like they did in the first half last week, it’s only a matter of time before the Generals play a kicker at quarterback or some other kind of own goal…

Bookies Prediction: Generals (-2)
Our Prediction: Showboats

Michigan Panthers (3-4) @ New Orleans Breakers (4-3)
Sunday June 4th – 9pm BST / 4pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / FOX (US)

That other team racing to the bottom I mentioned? The Michigan Panthers. They picked up the win last week against the Generals but let’s not throw a party just yet. There was no real spark to anything they did in that victory. The one moment of excitement they demonstrated – a kickoff returned for a touchdown – was quashed by a holding penalty. Rookie error.

The New Orleans Breakers stumbled last week but, against the Birmingham Stallions, you can kinda forgive it. The Breakers now sit third in the USFL South division and have a few issues to address if they hope to climb back to the top and make the playoffs. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson continues to be steady at the position but is holding on to the ball too long. He’s taking sacks that he really doesn’t need to and this leads to an inability to convert redzone opportunities to touchdowns. Three such missed opportunities took place during their Week 7 loss and could well have been the difference.

A “home” game against the Panthers is the perfect opportunity to work out the kinks and prepare the Breakers for a final playoff push. I don’t see it happening but a loss here would seriously jeopardise New Orleans ability to continue into the postseason. Don’t beat yourselves.

Bookies Prediction: Breakers (-3.5)
Our Prediction: Breakers

With three weeks of the regular season to go, who will take home vital wins? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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