Football betting, odds: How to play this weekend's USFL action
While the XFL concludes its season with a championship game Saturday, the USFL is heading full speed into the midway point. Even though it's the league's second season, I still used the first few weeks as more of a discovery period to evaluate the eight teams. How would the new coaches look? Would the top offenses last season continue to have success, or would the league catch up? I am having slightly more success with totals than sides, banking on the teams on the extreme ends of production (offensive or defensive) impacting the pace of the game.
Now that we are in Week 5, the discovery period is over. We have enough head-to-head matchups to uncover the key drivers for the results in the first few weeks. After that, teams start to really lean into their identity, providing the perfect time to get ahead of an inefficient market. I will look at each of this weekend's four games and analyze where I see the best edges from a betting perspective.
Pittsburgh Maulers +3.5 at Michigan Panthers (O/U 42)
I feel like I have a pretty firm grasp on these two teams. I have been betting the under in every single Maulers game with success (3-0-1), despite having to settle for a push last weekend. A 91-yard kickoff return sparked a 22-point fourth quarter, driving the final score to 24-20. It was the first time the Maulers were involved in a game that exceeded 40 combined points, but don't expect to it to happen again against a much less effective offense in Michigan this week.
The Panthers scored 29 and 24 in the first two games, but it's been all downhill ever since. Michigan has failed to surpass 14 points in two consecutive games and has flip-flopped quarterbacks between Josh Love and Carson Strong. After seeing Philadelphia allow 41 points to Houston last week, it's obvious the Panthers' ability to move the ball early in the season was more of an indictment of the poor defenses they faced.
This week they play the USFL's stingiest defense in Pittsburgh, allowing less than 20 points a game despite already going up against the league's three best teams. Pittsburgh wants to create turnovers, play for field position and win with its defense. The Maulers will likely be able to do it against a Michigan team the market is still too high on. I played Pittsburgh plus the points. There is also value on the moneyline at +145, but my best bet is this one staying under 42. Best Bet: Under 42.
Houston Gamblers +4.5 at Birmingham Stallions (O/U 48.5)
Houston's offense is clicking under Kenji Bahar, who completed 71% of his passes at 11 yards an attempt in last week's 41-16 throttling of Philadelphia. The Gamblers have scored at least 30 points in three straight weeks and should stay hot against a Stallions defense that was scorched by New Orleans for 45 only two weeks ago. Anytime an underdog can move it like Houston, they are live to steal a victory. The Gamblers' last three games have had combined scores of 69, 57 and 56. However, higher-scoring games are more likely to be high variance, so I will stick to the total. Best Bet: Over 48.5.
New Jersey Generals -6.5 at Philadelphia Stars (O/U 43.5)
The Stars have been the most surprising story so far. After having their starting QB injured in the championship game and coming up short last season, I expected the Stars to be one of the league's best team. It's been just the opposite. The offense seems broken, and the defense can't cover a traffic cone. Mike Riley's Generals are coming into their own and fell just short of handing New Orleans its first loss last week. The spread is fair, as New Jersey is 6.5 points better, but the Generals' style of play isn't conducive to laying big numbers. The Generals should run all over the worst rushing defense in the league, but I am not sure if I will get to the window. If I do, it will be to lay the points. Best Bet: New Jersey -6.5
Memphis Showboats +7 at New Orleans Breakers (O/U 47.5)
This is another total I couldn't wait to bet. The current number is two points higher than where I bet it (45.5), but I'm confident there is still some meat on the bone. The 4-0 Breakers have the league's highest-scoring offense (31.25 ppg) behind QB McLeod Bethal-Thompson. In his first year in the USFL, Bethal-Thompson leads all QBs in passing yards and touchdown-to-interception ratio. They have scored at least 20 points in all four games and will likely have no problem getting into the 30s in this. Memphis allows more yards per game than any team in the USFL, and got torched for 42 points against a comparable offense in Birmingham. The Showboats got their first win of the year over Michigan last week, so they will enter the game with more confidence. However, this one could get ugly quick. It's likely New Orleans and the over. Best Bet: Over 47.5