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The USFL playoff race is almost certain to come down to the final week of the season. Only two games separate the first and last place teams in the North Division, while the South Division is even tighter. The Birmingham Stallions edged out the Philadelphia Stars last week in a rematch of last year’s championship game. The win moved the Stallions to 6-2, retaining the top spot in the South Division and the league’s best record. If you think that sounds like a comfortable spot to be in, think again. All three remaining teams in the division (Memphis, New Orleans and Houston) are all nipping at the heels of the Stallions at 5-3, waiting for the defending champs to slip. The final two weeks feature divisional games, bringing a playoff-type atmosphere to this weekend’s slate.
Our best bets went 3-1 last week, with our only miss coming by a half-point in the Michigan-New Orleans total. The Breakers won 24-20, pushing the total just over our bet on under 43.5. I have been primarily focusing on totals with decent success, but this week shows more edges on sides. We have to take what the market gives us, so let’s dive in and see if we can come away with a sweep in the second-to-last week of the regular season.
Michigan Panthers -1.5 at Pittsburgh Maulers (O/U 41.5)
There is only one way to bet on a Pittsburgh Maulers game, and that’s taking the under. Last week’s 20-19 loss to Houston marked the sixth time in eight games the Maulers total finished under 40, moving me to 6-1-1 betting Pittsburgh unders on the season. The Maulers are built for unders, with the perfect team construct of the league’s No.1 defense in yards allowed (260 per game) and the league’s worst offense in yards gained (243 per game). I’m surprised the books keep hanging these totals in the 40s, especially in this matchup featuring the league’s two lowest scoring teams. Michigan averages 17.6 points per game, worse than every other team with the exception of Pittsburgh. Best bet: Under 41.5
New Orleans Breakers pick ’em at Memphis Showboats (O/U 42.5)
The Showboats are the USFL’s hottest team and also provide solid value in the futures market at +600 to win it all. Last week’s 25-16 win over New Jersey was their fifth straight, making them 5-1 on the season since turning over the keys to QB Cole Kelley. A big part of Memphis’ turnaround has been its playmaking defense, which leads the USFL with 16 takeaways. The randomness of turnovers is a big reason why the market is reluctant to warm up to Memphis, but I wouldn’t bet on regression coming this week. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson has thrown an interception in six straight games, including five picks in the last three weeks. Memphis won the first meeting 17-10, and I am banking on a similar result. Best bet: Memphis ML (-110)
Birmingham Stallions -3.5 at Houston Gamblers (O/U 45.5)
Maybe I am a sucker for chaos. Or maybe I have a Houston future so I need it to win to strengthen its position in the playoff race. A Houston upset would create a three-team logjam at the top of the South Division entering the final week. Birmingham’s defense ranks seventh against the run and is laying more than a field goal against the league’s best running back. Houston’s Mark Thompson is No.1 in rushing yards per game, as well as touchdowns, and scored three times in Houston’s 27-20 win over Birmingham in Week 5. I will take the points with the dog. Best bet: Houston +3.5
Philadelphia Stars -2.5 at New Jersey Generals (O/U 43.5)
The rematch that nobody wants to see. In the first meeting, Philly escaped with a 24-21 win over the Generals without scoring a touchdown. This comedy of errors saw New Jersey turn it over four times, helping fuel a record-setting day for Stars kicker Luis Aguilar, who was 8-of-8 on field goals. Lost in the madness was that New Jersey outgained Philadelphia 6.7 to 2.9 on a yards-per-play basis. The Generals’ offense finally showed some life after inserting QB Dakota Prukop for Kyle Lauletta, and I see them as a live underdog in this spot. Best bet: New Jersey +2.5