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Week 1 of the 2023 USFL season is right around the corner. The rosters are set, the new guys have had a chance to settle in, and the league’s eight teams are ready to contest a new championship.
Are the Stallions and Generals still the best in the league? Can Michigan and Houston crawl out of the gutter to compete for the playoffs in ‘23 under new head coaches? What happened to Tampa Bay?
Let’s get into the Week 1 USFL matchups and make some picks to start the season.
Philadelphia Stars at Memphis Showboats Apr 14 | 4:30 p.m. | FOX
The combination of Philadelphia QB Case Cookus, RB Matt Colborn, and newcomer WR Casey Coleman from Baylor via the NFL will prove to be too much for the Showboats’ middling rush and pass defense. On D, the Stars look to improve on 2022’s league-worst defense, trotting out front seven newcomers Truman Jones, DE, Harvard, and Jose Ramirez, DE, Eastern Michigan, who had 12 sacks in ‘22 college ball. That will match up against the Showboats’ below-average rushing game and a passing game now missing last year’s superstar QB, Jordan Ta’amu. The offense tends to shine early in the season and neither D looks rigid.
Straight-up Pick: Philadelphia to win.
New Jersey Generals at Birmingham Stallions Apr 14 | 7:30 p.m. | FOX
The Generals and Stallions will start the ‘23 season by meeting in a rematch of the 2022 USFL Championship. The Generals return a strong running game and overall defense in 2023 but there are questions at the pivot on O. The O-line system is excellent in New Jersey, as witnessed by the league-leading rushing numbers and fewest sacks in 2022. The Stallions will counter with returning starting QB and preseason MVP candidate, J’mar Smith at the pivot. Birmingham also returns WRs Marlon Williams and Adrian Hardy. Derius Davis may be the difference maker as a return man.
Straight-up pick: Birmingham to win.
Michigan Panthers at Houston Gamblers Apr 15 | 12:00 p.m. | NBC
The 2023 Michigan Panthers are in a state of rebuilding and it will probably show in Week 1. Sporting a new HC, Mike Nolan, a new WR1 in Joe Walker, and a suspiciously unimproved defensive secondary that was woeful in ‘22, the Panthers may be hard-pressed to win on the road to start the season. The Panthers are paired in Week 1 against the Houston Gamblers, another franchise on the mend. In the first round of the 2023 USFL draft, Houston took Appalachian State QB Chase Brice who led an upset of #6 ranked Texas A&M early in the ‘22 season. The LBs and defensive secondary will also get a major overhaul for 2023 — six of the Gamblers’ draft picks were spent on defense. I think that’s enough of a chance to secure a win to start ‘23.
Straight-up Pick: Houston to win.
Pittsburgh Maulers at New Orleans Breakers Apr 15 | 6:30 p.m. | FS1
The ‘23 version of the Maulers will try to make the leap by building around a few core players, including All-USFL safety Bryce Torneden. The return of Torneden at safety along with running mate Tre Tarpley provides some comfort on the backend of the D, but the O is unsettled and working under a new, defensive-minded HC in Ray Horton. He’ll lock horns against Breakers HC John DeFilippo, a long-time NFL offensive coordinator who won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. DeFelippo’s O will feature a new QB, possibly former Michigan Wolverines and Panthers QB Shea Patterson but will return a veteran O-Line that allowed few sacks in ‘22.
Straight-up Pick: New Orleans to win.
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