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How’s your USFL Pool working out? Week 5 was an eye-opener, with the top-ranked Generals, Stallions, and Breakers all losing. Here’s what’s up in Week 6.
PITTSBURGH MAULERS (2-3) VS. MEMPHIS SHOWBOATS (2-3) | MAY 20 | 12:30 P.M. | USA
This one sets up as an interesting contest. The Maulers are the USFL’s best defense, allowing just 17.2 points per game, while generating 13 sacks, 6 INTs, and 6 forced fumbles, for a commanding +5 turnover ratio. QB Troy Williams has found his legs, if not his arm, and that’s been enough for the Maulers’ offense to win against the Stars and Panthers and take Birmingham and New Orleans to the fourth quarter.
The Showboats’ offense runs through 6’7” QB Cole Kelley at this point. In Week 5 vs. the Breakers, the running game was abysmal (23/35/1.5 YPC), and Memphis needed some sloppy ball security from New Orleans to squeak out a win. I don’t think the Showboats are a competitive team in the USFL’s South Division, whereas I am quite certain the Maulers are a growing force in the North.
Straight-up pick: Pittsburgh Maulers
BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS (3-2) VS. MICHIGAN PANTHERS (2-3) | MAY 20 | 4:00 P.M. | FOX
The Stallions have the league’s #2 rushing and #3 passing game on offense, to go along with their 4th ranked defense, which is giving up an average of 20 points per game. The defending champs have been up and down all season, falling twice, to division rivals Houston and New Orleans. The Stallions need a W in Detroit to stay in contention heading into the back half of the regular season.
Michigan is a quixotic team. The running game is just ok (4.0 YPC), while the passing game has almost no ability to push down the field (average 164 YPG, 5.2 yards per pass). On defense, the Panthers rank 3rd overall (19.4 PPG), and have an elite pass rusher in Breeland Banks, but also have a habit of getting burned for TD passes over 20 yards. In other words, this is a short-area team that is not equipped to run with a squad that can put up points the way the Stallions do.
Straight-up pick: Birmingham Stallions
NEW ORLEANS BREAKERS (4-1) VS. PHILADELPHIA STARS (2-3) | MAY 21 | 12:00 P.M. | FS1
After surging to a 4-0 start, the Breakers tripped up last week, turning the ball over too often in a close 10-17 loss to the Memphis Showboats. My gut tells me that was an aberration. New Orleans has by far the league’s top passing attack and a very capable running game on offense. The Breakers D is middling on paper (20.6 PPG), but they have played some of the best Os in the league to start the season (HOU, BIR, NJ), so that’s a bit misleading. Against lesser competition – which the Stars surely are – NO typically allows no more than 17.
The Stars are in tough this week. Coming off a win against New Jersey in which every Philadelphia point was scored by their kicker (Football truism: PKs named Aguilar are an X factor), the Stars’ paper-thin offensive line limits the effectiveness of the running game and gets QB Case Cookus sacked a lot (23 times in just 5 games; next worst is the Maulers with 15). NO is a competitive team fighting for the top spot in a difficult division. PHI is an also-ran trying to back its way into the playoffs. This is the time of year when contenders rise.
Straight-up pick: New Orleans Breakers
NEW JERSEY GENERALS (2-3) VS. HOUSTON GAMBLERS (3-2) | MAY 21 | 4:00 P.M. | FOX
The New Jersey Generals have been a force in the North Division since the early days of the USFL, largely because of the consistency of their running game, and that’s held in 2023. But as the season progresses, the Generals are starting to cough up the ball and it is hurting them, as it did last week against the Stars when normally sure-handed RB Darius Victor fumbled three times, including a key turnover late in the game in the offensive red zone. You can’t do that and win close games.
I love the way the Houston Gamblers are playing football right now. Fresh off a class win against defending champs Birmingham, the Gamblers are a developing team with a big, NFL-caliber RB in Mark Thompson (50/292/5.8YPC/8 TDs), who has been finding the edge all season. The Gamblers’ defense is ranked dead last but don’t let that fool you. This team has enough talent to run with anyone in the league.
Straight-up pick: Houston Gamblers
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