The USFL regular season has only two weeks remaining. Critics said it would never make it, but rest assured, the postseason will begin in Canton, Ohio, on June 25. That leaves us with four more weeks to boost our bankroll. Three of four teams (Birmingham, New Jersey, and Philadelphia) have already clinched their playoff spots, which brings a standard level of uncertainty when handicapping teams and their motivation heading into the season's final weeks. Head coaches face the rust vs. rest dilemma, and bettors hope to get the correct read on each team. So let's leave that challenge to the final week and target the two remaining teams battling for the final playoff spot in this week's best bet. The New Orleans Breakers (5-3) take on the Tampa Bay Bandits (4-4) in a game that will go a long way in determining who gets to challenge the 8-0 Stallions in the semifinal round of the postseason.
New Orleans Breakers (-165) over the Tampa Bay Bandits
The market has been higher on Tampa Bay than I have been the entire season. These two teams faced each other in Week 2, when the Breakers embarrassed the Bandits 34-3. Tampa Bay's offense was dreadful, averaging 3.1 yards per play — the single-lowest mark of any team this season. The Bandits were 28% (5-of-18) on third-downs while allowing four sacks and turning the ball over three times.
Week 2 was long ago, but I haven't seen much improvement from Bandits head coach Todd Haley's offense since that brutal loss. Last week, Tampa Bay edged out a 13-3 win over the 1-7 Houston Gamblers. QB Jordan Ta'amu threw for only 98 total yards on 21 passing attempts against the league's worst defense. It was the lowest point total allowed by Houston's defense since Week 1 for a unit that entered the game allowing more passing yards than any other team by a wide margin (45 yards per game). The Philadelphia Stars dropped 35 on Houston's defense the previous week, but Tampa struggled to get points on the board. I can't imagine the Bandits move the ball against a New Orleans defense coming off a game in which it held the undefeated Stallions to nine points.
Last week, the Breakers dropped a 10-9 heartbreaker to Birmingham as mental mistakes cost them the opportunity to hand the league's top team its first loss. More importantly, it proved that they were talented enough to play with the league's elite. Unfortunately for Tampa fans, you can't say the same thing about the Bandits. Tampa Bay's four wins have all come against the league's three worst teams that share a combined record of 3-21. The Bandits are 0-4 against the four other teams and have been outscored 105-54. Taking a look at how these teams stack up in some key metrics further highlights the gap between these two teams.
Net yards per play
New Orleans 0.5 (2nd)
Tampa Bay -0.5 (7th)
First downs per game
New Orleans 21 (1st)
Tampa Bay 15.75 (6th)
3rd-down conversion rate
New Orleans 42% (2nd)
Tampa Bay 33% (7th)
Red-zone conversion rate
New Orleans 62% (t-2nd)
Tampa Bay 45% (6th)
New Orleans -3 (6th)
Tampa Bay -11 (8th)
I am confident we are getting the better team with a short money line price. The -165 odds imply that New Orleans wins this game 62% of the time, which is too low for a team that dominated 34-3 earlier in the season and is better in most statistical categories. The Breakers' biggest challenge is that they beat themselves, but this is the one opponent where they hold a huge advantage in turnover margin. There has only been one week where Tampa Bay turned the ball over less than its opponent this season. It's hard to win games as an underdog that way, and I still contend that the Bandits have been overvalued all season (3-5 ATS). I can't argue with laying the -3.5 points, but I think the money line is the more solid play. The price is short enough, and there is nothing wrong with avoiding a sweat.
Stats provided by foxsports.com.