Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways From Week Eight

Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways From Week Eight

Week eight in the USFL was electrifying, with all four games decided by one score once again. The playoff picture remains to be extremely competitive. As bizarre as it sounds, all eight teams still have a legitimate chance at making a postseason run.

With the USFL being in their second season, we’ve seen the fruits of their talent development throughout the year. Teams who weren’t competitive at all last year are much stronger this time around – even in losses.

As two weeks remain in the regular season, everything is still on the line for each organization. Let’s take a look at where every USFL team sits, and what we saw out of each group in week eight.

USFL South

The USFL South has been on a rampage as of late. They completed yet another sweep of the North this weekend, which resulted in the South dominating the inter-division games: 13-3.

Something crazy to note: every team in the division will finish with a record of .500 or better. Right now, all South squads hold at least five wins, so even if they lose out (which would result in them missing the postseason), they’d still have a 5-5 record.

Birmingham Stallions (6-2)

The Birmingham Stallions have caught fire at the perfect time. They’ve won three games in a row, largely due to the efforts of Alex McGough, who has been spectacular. He’s certainly an MVP frontrunner, making things happen for the team week in and week out.

Skip Holtz has to be given a lot of credit for the job he’s done this season. After losing a couple early on, Birmingham has rebounded strongly, as Holtz has seamlessly led the team through some rough waters. The “next man up” mentality is something this unit has embraced, as Birmingham has had their fair share of injuries in 2023. Despite this, the Stallions lead the South, and control their destiny down the stretch.

Memphis Showboats (5-3)

How about those Memphis Showboats? Another week, another win for Todd Haley and Memphis. While it wasn’t always pretty, this team found a way to get it done, leaning into Kerrith Whyte to seal the deal. Memphis has now won five straight games, just barely holding onto the second seed.

Even though the Showboats were without defensive stars Jeff McCulloch and Kyree Woods, Carnell Lake’s substitutes did an excellent job of containing New Jersey throughout the game. Greg Reaves, TJ Green, Troy Warner, etc. – everyone stepped up and made an impact. If Memphis continues this hot streak, they can lock up a postseason berth over the next two weeks.

New Orleans Breakers (5-3)

It’s wild that a team with a 5-3 record isn’t in the playoff picture. However, that’s exactly where John DeFilippo and the New Orleans Breakers find themselves.

New Orleans picked up an important victory this weekend, just barely hanging on against the Panthers. As DeFilippo said post-game, the game was “much closer than it needed to be”. The Breakers are an extremely talented team, and played an outstanding first half.

That being said, they have to clean up their act to make a playoff push. The South is too strong – three turnovers isn’t going to cut it against Houston and Memphis. Offensively, the Breakers have to find a way to avoid giving the ball away at crucial times.

Houston Gamblers (5-3)

Houston picked up a clutch win this weekend, but it was by the skin of their teeth. A late missed field goal allowed the Gamblers to hang onto a one point advantage, which they rode to their fifth win of the season.

Mark Thompson is the heart and soul of the Gamblers offense. His two scores of the day turned out to be pivotal. On just 14 carries, he ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Thompson now has 13 rushing touchdowns in just six games, which is absolutely ridiculous.

Houston will have an uphill battle to the postseason. They have to beat Birmingham this week, before facing off New Orleans in week ten. This will be quite the test for Curtis Johnson and his group of players.

USFL North

It’s a much different story up North. Every week, it feels like these teams are right there – on the cusp of reaching their potential. However self-inflicted wounds and untimely mistakes haunt these organizations time and time again.

With just two games left, it’s still anyone’s game…which is quite surprising, considering three of the four teams are under the .500 mark.

Philadelphia Stars (4-4)

Even though Philadelphia lost on Saturday, they played quite well. They went toe to toe with the USFL’s top team, and were one fourth down stop from coming away with a win.

Case Cookus has been outstanding over the past couple of weeks. He was near flawless against the Stallions, putting the team in a position to win late. Additionally, Corey Coleman has been unstoppable in the receiving game, on pace to set the modern record for the league in that category.

At 4-4, Philadelphia simply needs to win a game to clinch the postseason. With matchups against New Jersey and Michigan coming down the pipeline, their destiny is in their own hands.

Michigan Panthers (3-5)

The Michigan Panthers are an anomaly. At times, they look like a unit capable of doing damage in the postseason. Then, in other moments, the Panthers could be seen as the worst team in the USFL.

The inconsistency is exactly what is holding this team back from reaching their full potential. Their offensive line play has been mediocre, leading to struggles from Josh Love and Reggie Corbin. Offensively, it’s nearly impossible to predict what this team will do.

However, Michigan boasts one of the top defenses in the league. Breeland Speaks, Frank Ginda, Josh Butler, etc. all had big outings once again, and put the team in a position to win. Warren Saba also had a breakout game, with two turnovers that completely changed the momentum of the game.

Mike Nolan has Michigan positioned to make the postseason, they simply need to win. At 3-5, their two final games against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia will be critical. Michigan can eliminate Pittsburgh from postseason contention next week with a win.

New Jersey Generals (2-6)

Mike Riley’s New Jersey Generals are a shell of their 2022 selves. Injuries, and a lack of team identity, has hurt their chances of making any sort of run in the USFL this season. They’re on a five game losing streak – tying the longest streak since the USFL returned a year ago.

Dakota Prukop did provide the team with a spark in the second half, which is a positive. However, the team continues to stray from the ground game, which is confusing. Darius Victor only had nine carries, while Kingston Davis didn’t see any action. Prukop was the only player who made much of an impact as a rusher.

While the door is still open for New Jersey to make the playoffs, it feels like the towel has already been thrown. The team is always fighting from behind, going down by double digits often – which makes comebacks quite difficult. De’Andre Johnson’s injury is proving to be a killer, as his leadership has been key to the team’s previous success.

With a matchup against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to close the season, New Jersey will need everything to fall their way to have a slight chance at tasting the postseason.

Pittsburgh Maulers (2-6)

Of all the teams in the North, the Pittsburgh Maulers might be the most disappointing. They boast so much talent, offensively and defensively. However, their inability to get the job done down the stretch has resulted in such a poor record.

The Maulers were in control for most of the game against Houston. Once again, a poor fourth quarter outing led to another loss. Chris Blewitt has been spectacular for the Maulers, but a late missed field goal crushed their hopes in the final minutes.

Jarren Horton’s defense did their part, slowing down the Gamblers for most of the outing. A couple of crucial mistakes overshadowed what was an excellent performance. If Pittsburgh has any shot of getting to the playoffs, they will have to lean into their defensive unit to get the job done. Offensively, there isn’t much to get excited about outside of Troy Williams & Isiah Hennie.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt about it: the final two weeks of the USFL’s 2023 season are going to be wild. Even the teams with losing records (i.e. Pittsburgh, Michigan) are playing solid football, as each game has been very close and entertaining.

It’s a shame that two very talented South teams will miss the playoffs. Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham are all deserving of a postseason berth with how they’ve played this season, but the division structure in the USFL remains as is.

Week nine will likely decide the fate of multiple organizations, so buckle up. We’re in for an intense weekend of football.

What are your thoughts on the USFL playoff picture? Which teams deserve to make the postseason? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!