Birmingham Stallions vs. Michigan Panthers | Playoff Preview

Birmingham Stallions vs. Michigan Panthers | Playoff Preview

The games we’ve been waiting for are upon us. On Saturday, the Birmingham Stallions and Michigan Panthers will face off for the third time this season, battling it out to see who will make it to the inaugural UFL Championship.

Both teams have had tremendous seasons in the UFL. The Birmingham Stallions are 9-1 heading into the playoffs, with one loss to the San Antonio Brahmas. They’ve handled their business the rest of the way, including twice against the Panthers. Skip Holtz has this team primed to make another Championship run, which isn’t much of a surprise.

However, the Michigan Panthers are no slackers in their own regard. With a 7-3 record, the Panthers surpassed their win total from the past two USFL seasons, and feature one of the most talented rosters in the entire league. In fact, they led the All-UFL list with seven selections from within their organization.

Considering these two franchises are very familiar with each other, this USFL Conference Championship should be quite entertaining. Let’s break it all down.

Quarterback Play

For the Birmingham Stallions, Adrian Martinez will obviously be taking the snaps this weekend. He was just named to the All-UFL Team, and is more than likely going to end up as the UFL’s MVP in 2024.

Adrian has had an excellent season, but needs to clean up a couple of things heading into this affair. If he can tighten up his decision making, the Stallions will be in excellent shape. For example, the little mistakes like running out of bounds nine yards behind the line of scrimmage can’t continue. He’s too talented to make those sorts of mental errors.

Martinez will likely look to utilize his legs more often in this matchup, as he led the UFL in rushing yards in 2024. This will be something to watch closely, given Michigan’s ability to keep him relatively contained last week.

The Michigan Panthers will be starting Danny Etling on Saturday. He split time with Bryce Perkins over the past couple weeks, but an injury to Bryce in week ten has placed the dynamic QB on injured reserve for the rest of the year.

The big question at hand: which version of Danny Etling will take the field this weekend? When he’s on, Etling is one of the sharpest quarterbacks in the UFL. However, he’s shown signs of weakness over the past couple of weeks, missing on what should be routine throws – and also showing a tendency to hold onto the football too long.

While Martinez and Etling both have areas to improve upon, they are two of the stronger signal callers in the league, which should lead to quality play on the field.

Standout Playmakers

Looking for game changers? Dynamic playmakers with the ball in their hands? Difference makers? You’ve come to the right place: both Michigan and Birmingham have some of the top offensive weapons in the UFL.

Aside from Martinez, the Stallions roster C.J. Marable, Ricky Person, and Larry Rountree in the backfield – all capable of making things happen. Person and Marable are expected to be the active runners in this game, but Larry has shown signs of life in his limited minutes as well.

Deon Cain, Jace Sternberger, Marlon Williams, Kevin Austin Jr., and others round out what is an incredibly deep offense for the Stallions. Not to mention, TE Jordan Thomas is unstoppable in two point situations. Sternberger has been surging as of late, so he’s someone to keep an eye on with Michigan dealing with LB injuries.

On the Panthers side, they’ll look to return All-UFL WR Marcus Simms this week. Even then, Siaosi Mariner has emerged as one of the top receivers not just for Michigan, but in the entire league.

Additionally, Michigan is expected to have Matt Colburn activated for this game. He’s one of the top rushers in the UFL, and a nominee for the All-UFL Selections. If Matt is back, he should garner quite a few carries, given his outstanding success in the UFL this year. Colburn could be the X-Factor for Michigan if they want to win this game. He’s been extremely consistent.

Two Stout Defenses

While the offenses are stacked, both defenses have the ability to slow each other down. Birmingham’s front seven have been excellent this year, with the defensive line setting the tone more often than not. Carlos Davis (All-UFL), Dondrea Tillman, and Jordan Thompson are a few names to watch closely this weekend.

On Michigan’s side, Breeland Speaks has taken the league by storm over the last few weeks. He leads the UFL with 9.5 sacks on the year. Also, DB Nate Brooks was named to the All-UFL list this week. As someone who formerly won a Championship with Birmingham, Nate is a guy who could be in for a big game with some bad blood in the water.

These defenses are both evenly matched. The Stallions are allowing only 259.5 yards per game (2nd), while the Panthers are right behind them at 263.1 (4th). Birmingham’s defense is giving up just 18 points per game (2nd), with Michigan behind them once again at 19 (3rd).

Takeaways From Week 10

It’s not everyday that you see pro football teams play each other in back to back weeks. This just so happened to be the case in the UFL this year, as Birmingham and Michigan faced off just one week ago.

Heading into halftime, the Michigan Panthers had firm control of this game, with a 16-6 lead. What in the world happened in the second half? Let’s take a closer look.

For the Panthers, they absolutely shot themselves in the foot. This loss is more so their own fault. In just a couple of drives in the third and fourth quarters, Michigan racked up several penalties – all of which were game changers:

  • PI on Bryce Torneden set up a Stallions TD
  • Illegal Shift wipes off a Nate McCrary TD for Michigan
  • Holding on Jarrett Horst takes away Michigan TD (to Siaosi Mariner)
  • A false start, holding, and ineligible man downfield penalties moved the Panthers from inside the red zone at the 4 yard line, all the way back to the Birmingham Stallions 30 yard line; settled for a field goal
  • 12 men on the field on Stallions’ final drive gives Birmingham renewed life

Even with all of these penalties, the Panthers still had an opportunity to win the game: but Jake Bates’ 53 yard kick sailed right.

Potential Future Game Plans

Another issue for Michigan was the accuracy of Danny Etling. He missed on several throws to wide open receivers, and tried to force the ball into places he shouldn’t have. Birmingham’s defenders are extremely opportunistic – which means that Danny needs to be a bit less aggressive in certain situations.

On the flip side, Birmingham’s DB’s will have to be aware of Etling’s tendencies to errantly throw the football at times. The Stallions just missed on a couple of picks in week ten – and should be able to capitalize on those takeaways this week if these trends continue.

Birmingham clearly didn’t want Adrian Martinez to run a whole lot last week. One would expect him to have more freedom as a rusher on Saturday. That said, a key component in this game was RB C.J. Marable – when the O-Line can open up lanes for C.J., he’s one of the most effective backs in the UFL. He rushed for two touchdowns against the Panthers, and converted a couple of crucial first downs in the final minutes. His presence is vital to the success of this offense.

An area that could lead to more success for Michigan: allowing LB Javin White to play spy on Adrian Martinez. Javin’s athleticism as a safety-turned-linebacker allows him to track with Adrian better than most linebackers can. This was on full display with White sacking Adrian twice. One would assume that, while DC Collin Bauer will look to throw different looks at Martinez, White should remain as the key spy player.

Coaching Matchup

Michigan Panthers | Mike Nolan: Nolan’s had a very successful year with Michigan, bringing this team to the playoffs for the second straight year. His staff has been some of the best in the league, finding ways to win despite all of the injuries and roster turnover. However, Nolan has yet to get the best of Skip Holtz, with an 0-3 record across the USFL/UFL. We’ll see if that can change this weekend.

Nolan spoke to the media on what they have to expect with Martinez and his abilities this weekend:

“I believe he’ll probably run more this weekend than he did a week ago. I think there was a little bit of protecting him from that standpoint, which is understandable. He is a huge part of their offense. A little bit of the game plan will change for both teams, but ultimately both will get back on the field, and the one on one battles will be the ones that determine the game. There’s not a lot of secrets in our league. They do what they do, and it’s pretty much the same kind of thing for us…I think it’ll be a good game.”

Birmingham Stallions | Skip Holtz: The King of Spring, Skip Holtz always finds a way to get things done when the going gets tough. The Stallions could have folded last week, in a game that didn’t *really* matter. Instead, they found a way to come from behind, putting together a double digit comeback in the second half. Heading into the postseason for the first time without DC John Chavis, Holtz will need to be an anchor for all three units on Saturday.

Injury Update

The Birmingham Stallions are perfectly clean, with everyone in full participation as of yesterday. For Michigan, it’s concerning to see All-UFL DE Breeland Speaks as a DNP for two days. Hopefully, it’s precautionary. The team will already be without Kenny Willekes, as we’re told he is not going to be in action this weekend.

Final Thoughts

This game has the potential to be one of the best we’ve seen yet in the UFL. Michigan and Birmingham have been very competitive this year, with final scores of 20-13 and 20-19 in the two respective matchups so far.

While the Stallions do seem to be a favorite by a small margin given their past success, Michigan can never be counted out. They haven’t beaten Birmingham since the franchises returned in 2022 – and are long overdue for a victory against this organization.

We’re expecting it to be an electric crowd in Birmingham this weekend, and hope that the fans will show up in droves for this one.

The Birmingham Stallions will host the Michigan Panthers on Saturday, at 3pm ET on ABC.

What are your thoughts on this upcoming affair between the Michigan Panthers and Birmingham Stallions? Who is the favorite to win? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!