Two games remain for each team in the USFL and no team has yet been eliminated from the playoffs. That could change in Week 9 as some look to cement their position while others look simply to survive.
It’s Week 9 in the 2023 USFL Season and there’s everything to gain with a victory for each of the eight teams in the USFL. If the season ended now, the Stars and Panthers would progress to the postseason from the North Division, with the Stallions and Showboats advancing from the South. By the end of this week of action, though, we should see some playoff clarity, at least at the top.
Chances Almost Over
Michigan Panthers (3-5) vs. Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)
Saturday June 10th – 5pm BST / 12pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / FOX (US)
The Michigan Panthers were gifted many opportunities to walk away with a big victory over the New Orleans Breakers last week but, ultimately, didn’t capitalise on those chances. In the process, Michigan made their own share of costly mistakes and turnovers. The most glaring of these came late in the game as head coach, Mike Nolan, specifically told his quarterback, Josh Love, not to pass the ball for less than ten yards lest the receiver be tackled in bounds and the clock continue to wind. Love ignored this and showed extremely poor judgement that ticked away vital seconds and all but cemented their place in the L column. Even in the minor leagues, this just can’t happen.
The Pittsburgh Maulers looked like they were going to do the business last week, especially early in the game. It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means but the work was done for the most part; that was, until the defense gave up a chunk of big plays in the second half and kicker, Chris “Blewitt” again, putting the ball wide right on a kick that would have been the game winner.
Despite the troubles of the last few games, a win here puts Pittsburgh right back into the playoffs. They’d still need a win, or some key losses, in Week 10 but there’s definitely a chance. A loss, however, will eliminate the Maulers from playoff contention. All to play for here,
I guess I’m a glutton for punishment but I’m going to pick the Maulers again. I just have zero belief in the Michigan Panthers. Sorry, Big E.
Bookies Prediction: Panthers (-1.5)
Our Prediction: Maulers
New Orleans Breakers (5-3) vs. Memphis Showboats (5-3)
Saturday June 10th – 8pm BST / 3pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / NBC (US)
These two teams were at opposite ends of the standings when they last faced off. After claiming their first win in team history, the Memphis Showboats were 1-3 and the New Orleans Breakers were 4-0. It marked the beginning of the Breakers’ offensive troubles in a 17-10 loss as well as Memphis’ lengthy winning streak.
As pertains to Week 8, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the Showboats. They’ve been steady since Week 5 and last week did what they do against the Generals.
There’s rather a lot to discuss from the Breakers’ side, though. Last week’s victory over the Panthers marked a coming out party for the receiving tandem of Jay Adams and Johnnie Dixon. Dixon led the pair with 136 yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 targets. Adams trailed, barely, with 117 yards on 9 targets but with no touchdowns. Despite the two interceptions thrown by McLeod Bethel-Thompson, I think it’s safe to say this offense has found its rhythm again. The defense were clicking, too, and spent a large portion of the game in the offensive backfield of the Panthers.
With the Showboats, Breakers and Gamblers all tied for the second playoff berth at 5-3, a win for both teams is essential. Many bookmakers are refusing to pick this one; it is challenging. I think I’m going to go with a repeat of Week 5 with the ‘Boats pipping the Breakers, but not by much.
Bookies Prediction: Showboats (-1)
Our Prediction: Showboats
Birmingham Stallions (6-2) vs. Houston Gamblers (5-3)
Sunday June 11th – 7pm BST / 2pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / NBC (US)
The Birmingham Stallions are all but in the playoffs but with the competition presented by the other three 5-3 teams in the South, a stumble could cost them everything. Looking to trip them up in the final furlong are the Houston Gamblers, who themselves probably need to win out in order to make it into the postseason.
Birmingham started a little stumble of their own making last week. Early in the game against Philadelphia, they lost their fundamentals a tad. The Stallions lost turnovers and turned the ball over far too readily. As the game progressed, though, the team came through. It took them a while but they eventually did the championship things that took them to the title, against the same team, last year. Can Houston present a challenge that Birmingham can’t recover from?
Houston are one of the two in the Stallions’ 6-2 record so the precedent exists. Not to mention, the Gamblers did it last time round without Kenji Bahar. Errors in judgement have been made consistently since Week 5 and my money wouldn’t be on Houston if they continue on this path. Once again, last week, it took them far too long to get Mark Thompson involved in the game. At least they called his number late in the first half, rather than waiting until the second, as had been done previously. As a quick aside, 3rd and 51 is the biggest down and distance I think I’ve ever seen in football, at any level, so thanks to the Houston Gamblers for providing me with that chuckle.
All in all, I don’t think the Gamblers have it in them again. I think the Stallions have this one and my a larger margin than the bookmakers suggest.
Bookies Prediction: Stallions (-3.5)
Our Prediction: Stallions
Philadelphia Stars (4-4) vs. New Jersey Generals (2-6)
Sunday June 11th – 12am BST / 7pm ET
Sky Sports (UK) / FOX (US)
The New Jersey Generals aren’t out of it yet! Like many of the other hopefuls in the USFL North, a loss in this game would all but eliminate them from contention. With De’Andre Johnson out last week due to the concussion he suffered in Week 7, Mike Riley couldn’t resist throwing another quarterback in the mix, allowing Kyle Lauletta to start the game but quickly supplementing him with Dakota Prukop for funsies. Johnson is expected to return this week but will be play? Will be share time with another quarterback? Two? Three? Only the, uh, unique, mind of Mike Riley has the answer.
With a win in this game, the Philadelphia Stars would clinch a playoff spot. Quite the turnaround for a team that, as of a few weeks ago, couldn’t keep their quarterback out of the dirt. The Stars still have work to do if they hope to progress in the postseason but last week’s offering, albeit a loss, against the defending champions was a good start.
The main improvement on display came from the play of Case Cookus. The quarterback was able to use his legs to give himself more time to pass, where the offensive line could not provide it. This forced the Stallions defense to play more honestly and defend him. Strangely, the Stars were not too hurt offensively by the loss of running back, Matt Colburn. Dexter Williams stepped into the offense and played well in his stead. Colburn was placed on IR on Tuesday and so Williams will need to continue to play well if the Stars hope to prevail in this one.
Going Stars for the win and playoff berth.
Bookies Prediction: Stars (-2.5)
Our Prediction: Stars
Join us for more discussion of these games as well as the latest news from the NFL on the Two Minute Warning podcast. The show will be broadcast live on Twitch on Friday night and will be available on YouTube, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts on Saturday.
What shocks and surprises will Week 9 offer? Could we see the frontrunners falter at the last hurdle? Share your thoughts and predictions in the comment section below.