Since the USFL returned in 2022, the Birmingham Stallions have been the most dominant team in the league. They went 11-1 last year and won the USFL Championship. This season, they are 6-2 and have the best record in the USFL.
Despite all their success, there has been a thorn in their side. That thorn? The Houston Gamblers.
The Gamblers were the only team to beat the Stallions in 2022. So far, they are one of only two teams to beat the Stallions in 2023. That makes them the only team to beat the Stallions in both seasons. They are also the only team who has beaten the Stallions twice. They are the only team with a multiple-game win streak against the Stallions. And they are the only team to have a winning record against the Stallions (2-1).
Five USFL teams have never won a game against Birmingham. Meanwhile, the Gamblers have had their number dating back to last year.
On Sunday, these teams meet again. And this time, the stakes could not be higher.
The Stallions enter the game at 6-2 while the Gamblers are 5-3. With New Orleans’ win yesterday, the Breakers now sit at 6-3 while the Showboats are 5-4. Because the Breakers won, the Stallions have even more to play for. A win against the Gamblers not only would move them to 7-2 and guarantee them a playoff berth—it would also guarantee the game would be played in Birmingham.
NOLA wins, so if the Stallions win tomorrow, they GUARANTEE the South Division Playoffs will be in Birmingham and they'll be there.
Meanwhile, the Gamblers need a win to keep pace in a tight USFL South. A loss to the Stallions means they would drop to 5-4 and would need a win next week to stay in playoff consideration. If they win this week, they move one step closer to a playoff berth and possibly home-field advantage if they can also win in week 10.
These two teams met earlier this season in week five. In that matchup, both teams were missing key pieces. The Gamblers were forced to play without starting quarterback Kenji Bahar, who was battling an ankle injury. Bahar will be back to lead the Gamblers and their high-octane offense this week.
The Stallions, meanwhile, lost a plethora of starters at the beginning of the season and were still trying to recover halfway through the year. While some of those players were lost for the remainder of the season, the Stallions are about as healthy now as they have been all year. Other than the players on the Injured Reserve list, the Stallions are only missing defensive end Joe Jackson this week.
While the Gamblers do have a few other players out this time around, it will be good to see these teams play at mostly full strength. But all eyes will be on two players in particular.
Entering week nine, the USFL MVP race has narrowed to two candidates: Stallions quarterback Alex McGough and Gamblers running back Mark Thompson. Both players are having record-setting seasons.
McGough has been the best quarterback in the league, leading his team to the best record in the USFL so far. Through eight games, he has completed 145 of 213 passes (68.1%) for 1,614 yards and 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions. His passer rating on the season is a remarkable 109.6. He leads the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, passer rating, and scoring. He’s also been productive on the ground, rushing for 337 yards on 54 carries with four touchdowns. The Stallions will need another magical performance from him today to get the win.
Meanwhile, Thompson has been making an MVP case of his own. So far on the season, Thompson has rushed for 514 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns with only one fumble. He also has added 65 yards through the air. He leads the league in rush yards per game and rushing touchdowns while being second in total rush yards and scoring. The remarkable thing is Thompson has done all this in only six games as he did not play the first two weeks of the season. Last week he put the team on his back in a tight win, and the Gamblers will need another huge performance from him today.
One important thing to note about this game is the start time has been changed to accommodate potential bad weather in Memphis. Instead of starting at 2 pm EST, the game will now start at 1 pm EST. The first hour will be streaming on Peacock. After that, the game will continue to stream but will also be live on NBC.
Due to the possibility of severe weather in Memphis, the start time for Sunday’s USFL game between the @USFLGamblers and @USFLStallions at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium has been changed to 1PM ET/12PM CT. @NBCSports will start game coverage streaming on @peacock . Coverage of…
Be sure to tune in for this one; you are not going to want to miss it. This should be an epic showdown between two of the best teams in the league. With the bad blood between these two and the high stakes, I expect it to be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish.