Football is back with the USFL set to kick off this Saturday night with a game between the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions. The other six teams will enter the field on Sunday starting at 12 p.m. ET and conclude with a primetime game at 8 p.m. Spring pro football hasn’t proven to be sustainable, so bettors can’t take any week for granted. As we discovered with the XFL and AAF, your edges could be here one week and gone the next.
I plan to take full advantage of the USFL this spring, but there are three important factors to keep in mind when placing your bets.
NFL experience doesn’t always translate to success, especially at QB
You can capture good advantages if a team is overvalued because the quarterback is overvalued. Quarterbacks who don’t have the size or arm talent to throw in NFL windows won’t see the same closing speed from defensive backs either. Quarterbacks who lack pocket presence and the ability to take coverage will likely have the same struggles at this level.
The market is not as efficient as the NFL or even college football
Remember those Sunday sweat balls because your 3.5-point favorite turned into a 1.5-point favorite? There is no reason to worry this weekend if the market is moving against you. There is a ton of variance and bettors will learn more about the league as we watch it unfold. Absorb as much data as possible, make an informed decision and be confident in your advantages.
There is no real home field advantage
Yes, all games will be played in Birmingham, which gives the Stallions a slight advantage. But none of the eight teams will have to travel, which has more impact than the actual fans in a 45,000 seat stadium. Figuring out the value of home ground in these new leagues is a challenge, so it’s nice that the spread reflects each team’s true market odds.
USFL Week 1 Best Bets:
The relationship between coach and quarterback transcends any other on-field position group, regardless of brand of football. Combination is probably the strongest predictor of a team’s success. Whether it’s Bailey Zappe and Zach Kittley transforming Western Kentucky’s college offense or Sean McVay securing their Super Bowl-winning quarterback against Tequila in Cabo. If you have these two congruences in a simpatico relationship, you have a significant advantage over your competitors. It’s the stars of Philadelphia!
Head coach Bart Andrus and QB Bryan Scott dominated the Spring League together in 2020. After selecting Scott with the first overall pick, Andrus won the league championship as Scott had the best statistical season for a quarterback in the league’s four-year history. Can Andrus and Scott repeat the same success in the USFL? It’s hard to predict, but I’m sure they’ll have a solid advantage at the start of the season. Rather than go for flashy names with NFL experience, Philadelphia’s draft strategy has prioritized players who have already won under Andrus. From skill positions to the offensive line, success on the football field is the result of the 11 players trusting each other and playing as a unit. Having these players familiar with Andrus’ uptempo system should allow the Stars to move football very effectively on Sunday.
The New Orleans Breakers will also feature a heavy offensive offense under Larry Fedora. The Breakers are solid at QB with Kyle Sloter and have emphasized a strong receiving corps in the draft that includes former Tennessee Titan Taywan Taylor. New Orleans certainly has the potential to be a powerhouse offense in this league, but I have much less confidence that head coach Larry Fedora will have them firing on all cylinders on the first Sunday of the season. It’s been a few years that Fedora has had success on all levels, its time at Baylor being to forget.
The first week of these starter leagues usually doesn’t provide the cleanest brand of football. All-star coach Bart Andrus has won championships in both NFL Europe and the Spring League, so he knows what it takes to succeed in that type of environment. Getting the most prepared team in Philadelphia should be valuable, especially as an underdog. The pre-season futures market is based on roster strength, not the likelihood of early success. Let’s take advantage of the market by betting a live underdog with the points.
Is there a more predictable coach in the history of the sport than “Mr. 7-9” Jeff Fisher? The only intrigue surrounding the Michigan Panthers is whether they will finish 4-6 or 5-5 under the former Rams coach. If you thought Nick Foles was hard to watch in Fisher’s offense, wait until you feast your eyes on Shea Patterson. What I take away most from Michigan’s roster is the unsubtle certainty that Fisher’s time hasn’t changed his offensive philosophy. Michigan carries nearly as many tight ends as they do wide receivers and has predictably built its offense to be a powerful team led by Stevie Scott. WR Jeff Badet was a star for the XFL’s Dallas Renegades, but it’s hard to see Patterson and Fisher maximizing his potential.
The strength of the Houston Gamblers is on the defensive side of football. They have good experience and playmakers at all three levels. The Gamblers have strong point rushers with NFL experience and one of the best inside linebackers in Beniquez Brown. CB Jamar Summers played for the New York Guardians of the XFL, where he excelled as the league’s best defensive back. Not that Fisher needs much persuasion, but Summers locking up his best receiver should give him reason to lean heavily on the running game.
I don’t expect much from Houston’s offense led by QB Clayton Thorson. Thorson has all the physical tools, but his poor live-action decision-making and inability to see the pitch under pressure are challenges that usually follow the player even when the level of competition drops. The ineffectiveness of Houston’s offense as well as the strength of their defense has me looking down. Jeff Fisher will have no problem establishing the racing game to move the clock forward. Expect a defensive battle that will most likely be played out in the teens. Getting the total in the mid-40s is an easy hit on the underside.