Each weekend of the USFL season is another window into the identity of each of the eight teams. The New Orleans Breakers separated themselves from the pack with a 34-3 throttling of the Tampa Bay Bandits, one of the preseason favorites to win the league. The Philadelphia Stars and Birmingham Stallions further reinforced their identities as two high-scoring teams that haven't been able to rely on their defense yet. If there is a team to bet the over on, it's the Stallions. Through the first two weeks, their games have averaged 56.5 total points.
The offenses improved across the league after another week. Yards per play increased from 4.3 to 4.7, and team scoring climbed from 17.6 to 20.5 points per game. As we continue to see multiple teams face each other, it gives us a better idea of how we should rate each team in our power rankings. In my two best bets for Week 3, I am targeting an overreaction to last weekend's results and the market's failure to make a strong enough adjustment to the league's best team.
Tampa Bay Bandits (-1.5) vs. Houston Gamblers
The Bandits were a popular pick in the futures market, but the bandwagon emptied quickly after a 31-point loss over the weekend. I recommended fading Tampa Bay as one of my best bets, so the result didn't come as a big surprise. New Orleans' physicality and athleticism on defense proved to be too much for Tampa Bay's offense. It won't have that same problem this week against Houston. Bandits head coach Todd Haley should be able to get his offense back on track against a Houston defense that has allowed a league-high 5.3 yards per play. In Week 1, it gave up 363 yards to the Michigan Panthers, who looked completely ineffective the following week in a 10-6 loss to New Jersey. And the defense is the strength of this Houston team, so imagine what it looks like on offense.
Houston QB Clayton Thorson leads the USFL with four interceptions and ranks last of all starting quarterbacks in completion percentage (50%), passing yards per game (107) and yards per attempt (4.9). The Gamblers' ability to force turnovers is the only reason this team has been competitive. I can't bet on that continuing. Tampa closed as a 6.5-point favorite the opening week and covered easily with a 14-point win over Pittsburgh. Catching them as a small favorite against a team that I have rated toward the bottom of the league is too good to pass up. This is too wide of an overreaction to Tampa getting beat by the league's best team. We are going to make out like Bandits on this one. Lay the short number and take Tampa Bay to the bank.
New Orleans Breakers (-3.5) vs. Birmingham Stallions
In the USFL's premier matchup of the weekend, the final two undefeated teams get the Fox Saturday night treatment at 8 p.m. ET. This is the one that will put my early power ratings to the test. I make the game New Orleans -7 and would be comfortable betting it up to that point.
The big difference between these two teams is defense. The Breakers have caused havoc in each of their two games against very talented offenses. They have totaled 10 sacks, doubling the next highest team's total and are also plus-4 in turnover margin. They held Philadelphia's Bryan Scott, the No.1-rated passer in the league, to only 17 points in Week 1. It's hard to see Birmingham scoring into the 20s against a defense that allows a league-low 3.5 yards per play. Birmingham QB J'Mar Smith has been a nice surprise, but this is a big step up in quality of defense.
The Breakers offense was clicking on all cylinders last Sunday. QB Kyle Sloter engineered touchdown drives in three of the team's first four possessions. The Breakers should stay hot against the Stallions, who have given up the most points through the first two weeks at 26 per game. Birmingham's defense has been concerning, but it gets even worse when you consider that it has played some of the league's weaker scoring offenses. It allowed 28 points last week to Houston, which is 20% in both scoring touchdowns in the red zone and converting third downs. That's dead last in both categories. Plus, Houston has the worst-rated QB in the league in Clayton Thorson. In Week 1, Birmingham allowed 24 points to New Jersey in a game where the Generals ran the ball 24 consecutive times with success. How did that same Generals offense perform against Michigan the following week? It scored only 10 points.
I couldn't be more confident that New Orleans will be able to get in the end zone early and often on Saturday night. I am comfortable making this game my best bet of the week as the Breakers' dominating defense will make enough stops to help them win with a margin. The Breakers are the class of the league, and the market will take another week to catch up. Let's take advantage while the getting is good and get our money in with New Orleans.