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Football betting, odds: How to approach Week 6 of the USFL season

Tampa Bay Bandits running back Juwan Washington (29) is tackled by Pittsburgh Maulers defensive back Jaylon McClain-Sapp (24) during the first half of a USFL football game Monday, April 18, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Tampa Bay Bandits running back Juwan Washington (29) is tackled by Pittsburgh Maulers defensive back Jaylon McClain-Sapp (24) during the first half of a USFL football game Monday, April 18, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Week 5 of the USFL was full of surprises, which is fun for fans and not so much for bettors.

The last unbeaten team, the New Orleans Breakers, suffered their first loss at the hands of the Memphis Showboats. Ironically, Memphis was also the league’s last winless team after starting the season 0-3. It was a sloppy game with the teams combining for five turnovers, but the 17-10 win puts head coach Todd Haley’s Showboats right back in the mix at 2-3.

Actually, five of the eight teams, including all four teams in the North division, are also 2-3 on the season. It will be interesting to see if this week creates an even larger logjam or provides some separation in the standings.

The odds for Week 6 caught my attention for a couple reasons. First, there are still some good numbers out there on totals, which continue to be my preferred strategy. We only hit 1 of 3 last week, but caught some back luck with Gamblers QB Kenji Bahar getting ruled out right before kickoff. The game ended over the closing number, but one point short of my bet (48) from early in the week. Secondly, three of the four games have the favorite laying at least five points. It feels like a lot considering the league showed more competitive balance recently.

Here are my best bets for each game in Week 6:

Pittsburgh Maulers (-2.5) at Memphis Showboats (O/U 41.5)

These Pittsburgh Maulers have real 2000 Ravens vibes. They are dead-last in total offense, rush for 102 yards per game while throwing it for only 124. But, who needs offense when nobody can move the ball against you? In Pittsburgh’s 23-7 win over Michigan, the Maulers defense allowed 2.6 yards per play, only 3.7 yards per passing attempt and one yard per carry on the ground. I have bet the under in every single Pittsburgh game and haven’t lost through five weeks (4-0-1).

I bet this one at 42, but it’s playable at anything 40 or above. Pittsburgh’s games have yielded an average combined score of 33.6 points, and have exceeded 37 points only once. After an ugly start, the Showboats defense has limited its last two opponents to 10 points, including the No. 1 offense in the league last week (New Orleans). I think Pittsburgh pounds it away to another victory, but the under is my favorite bet of the weekend. Bet: Under 41.5

Birmingham Stallions (-5.5) at Michigan Panthers (O/U 44.5)

The Birmingham Stallions looked destined to repeat as champions after outscoring opponents, 69-12, in the first two games. But after dropping their second straight game last week to Houston, I’m not convinced they make the playoffs in a stacked South Division.

Houston played without starting QB Kenji Bahar and still was able to put the Stallions away, 27-20. Birmingham has a golden opportunity to get right this week against Michigan, who has dropped three games straight (all by 15 points or more). I’m not in the business of laying 5.5 points with a team on a two-game skid, especially considering the Panthers are desperate. I played under 44.5 as I expect both teams to lean on their running games. Michigan hasn’t scored more than 13 points in the last three games, and also hasn’t had a game go over 42 combined points. Bet: Under 44.5

New Orleans Breakers (-7) at Philadelphia Stars (O/U 47.5)

This is another tough game from a side perspective. The Breakers have been the league’s best team, but have only won one game by more than seven points. However, they can score with QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who leads all USFL QBs with 1,321 passing yards. Philadelphia is coming off a bizarre 24-21 win over New Jersey where they kicked a league-record eight field goals. I finished the game not sure if I was impressed the Stars were able to get into field-goal position eight times against a tough Generals defense, or disgusted they were held without a touchdown. Regardless, I think New Orleans and over is the only way to play this one. The Breakers have the USFL’s leading rusher, Wes Hills, against a very suspect run defense in Philadelphia. Both teams can sling it. In a game featuring the top two QBs in passing yards, I will play the over. The Bet: Over 47.5

New Jersey Generals (-5.5) at Houston Gamblers (O/U 45.5)

My over bet got sabotaged when Houston declared QB Kenji Bahar inactive late last week. The lack of information around injuries makes betting these leagues more challenging, but I expect to see Kenji Bahar back for the Gamblers this week. More importantly, RB Mark Thompson returned to action to rush for three touchdowns in last week’s win over Birmingham. The Gamblers are now a perfect 3-0 in games when Thompson has been active.

The Generals are solid defensively, but I am not ready to bet against Houston when Bahar and Thompson are on the field together. Rather than move on the over without confirmation that Bahar is fully recovered from his ankle injury, I am going to shy away from the total and grab the points. The Gamblers are playing with a ton of confidence at 3-2, and aren’t getting enough credit as 5.5-point underdogs. New Jersey’s offense is built around controlling the tempo with the running game. That style of play shortens possessions, making the points more valuable. The Bet: Houston +5.5