Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways After Week Nine

Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways After Week Nine

Week nine in the USFL is complete, bringing fans plenty of entertainment. The playoff picture has been shaken up, as there is finally a bit more clarity when it comes to who will be playing for the USFL Championship trophy.

The Birmingham Stallions finally punched their ticket to the postseason, as their 7-2 record locks themselves into the South.

However, every other playoff berth is still up for grabs, so let’s take a look at how everything is playing out in each USFL division.

USFL South

Even though Birmingham has clinched, the final spot is still up for grabs between the rest of the three. It’s remarkable to see just how talented the South Division is, as the “worst teams” would be at the top in the North.

Birmingham Stallions (7-2)

Skip Holtz is building a dynasty in the USFL. The Stallions are primed for another Championship run, having officially clinched the playoffs this weekend.

Alex McGough has been magical. He’s absolutely lit it up as the full-time starter this year, playing at an MVP-caliber level throughout the season. His fiery second half was key to a clutch win over Houston, as the Stallions ended up dropping 38 points in a blowout win.

Defensively, this team is playing its best football of the year, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Quentin Poling, in particular, has stepped up in a major way with other defenders out (i.e. Scooby Wright). The Stallions might just sing their way to another chip.

New Orleans Breakers (6-3)

What a roller coaster it’s been for John DeFilippo and the Breakers in 2023. After a 4-0 start, they dropped three straight, falling to the bottom of the division. However, two clutch wins – with their most recent being a 31-3 decimation of the Showboats – have nearly solidified them a postseason berth.

Now, all the team needs to do is win, and they’re in. McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the offense will look to rebound against Houston, as it was a rather lackluster performance on their end. However, if their defense continues to play at the level it has the last few weeks, they’re practically guaranteed a playoff berth.

If all goes according to plan for New Orleans, they will have a chance at postseason revenge against Birmingham.

Houston Gamblers (5-4)

It’s back to the drawing board for the Houston Gamblers. They suffered a brutal loss this weekend, as self-inflicted wounds turned out to be the turning point in this affair. Their inability to score a touchdown (five field goals) is also worrisome, as the offense simply could not find a way to get over the hump in the red zone.

Kenji Bahar needs to be better. We’ve seen him play excellent football at times this USFL season, but his poor decision making on Sunday put the team in a hole late. Defensively, they need to clean things up as well, preparing to face a stout New Orleans offense.

To make the postseason, Houston needs to take down the Breakers – and, they need Memphis to lose to Birmingham.

Memphis Showboats (5-4)

It was not an ideal day for Todd Haley and the Memphis Showboats, who turned the ball over five times. Obviously, when that happens, very rarely do you win. Memphis was blown out at home, only able to put up three points.

Cole Kelley has been a stabilizer for the offense the last several weeks, but that wasn’t the case this time around. The Showboats shot themselves in the foot time and time again, and Kelley simply tried to do too much down the stretch which resulted in turnovers.

Clearly, Memphis needs to regroup entirely before their final game of the season. They will need to take down Birmingham on Saturday, in one final game in front of their home crowd. Hopefully, there aren’t any more rain delays.

Note: According to Luke Miller, Memphis has effectively been eliminated at this point. Because of their point differential, they would have to defeat Birmingham by an absurd amount to even have a chance.

USFL North

Week ten in the North will essentially be playoff games for every team. Win, and you’re in. The victors of both games this upcoming weekend will make the postseason, putting the league in a remarkable position for their final slate of action.

Philadelphia Stars (4-5)

The Philadelphia Stars control their destiny – but, they could have clinched a playoff spot by now with a bit more attention to detail. Through the past two weeks, the defense has struggled to slow down New Jersey and Birmingham, causing the offense to have to fight from behind on multiple occasions.

Case Cookus has been playing his best football of the year. He’s been in Championship mode as of late – but, that hasn’t resulted in wins. The ground game will have to find a way to get going, with Matt Colburn out for the season. Darnell Holland and Dexter Williams have to step up.

The good news: they play the Michigan Panthers for the final playoff berth. While Michigan beat them several weeks ago, the Stars are clearly the much better team at this point, especially offensively. If Philadelphia simply executes, they can clinch the division title on Sunday.

New Jersey Generals (3-6)

What a turnaround for the Generals. After losing five in a row, De’Andre Johnson came back – and looked spectacular. New Jersey posted 37 points, showcasing just how dangerous this team can be when their pieces are healthy, and on the field.

The running backs all contributed strongly, with Darius Victor, Trey Williams, and Kingston Davis all providing Mike Riley with quality minutes. This was, by far, the best game New Jersey has played in a long time from an offensive standpoint.

Defensively, work needs to be done, as they nearly allowed Philadelphia to pull off a 20+ point comeback. That being said, Hercules Mata’afa did his part, taking advantage of a LT injury at the end of the game, which won them the outing.

Now, New Jersey will have to beat the Pittsburgh Maulers for a second time. It will be a much different Maulers team, as Troy Williams was not the starter back in week two. This one should be fun.

Pittsburgh Maulers (3-6)

After getting swept by the Panthers a season ago, Pittsburgh turned the tables in 2023. Troy Williams, Isiah Hennie, Joshua Simmons, and the rest of the Maulers squad took it to Michigan this week, controlling the pace of the game from start to finish.

When the team needed them most, Jarren Horton’s defense showed up in a big way. Michigan scored just seven points, as Kyahva Tezino and the secondary combined for four picks of Josh Love. Pittsburgh has so much potential, largely due to how dominant their defense has been all season long.

Now, Pittsburgh has to beat their Canton rivals, as they face off against New Jersey on Saturday. This defensive unit will have their work cut out for them, playing De’Andre Johnson who is peaking at the right time.

Michigan Panthers (3-6)

Two words: Josh Love. While Love has helped the Panthers win a few games this season, he’s also been responsible for some of their worst losses. Four interceptions on Saturday put Michigan in a terrible spot, as they ultimately couldn’t find a way to come back against Pittsburgh.

It’s a shame, because the defense continues to play their hearts out. Frank Ginda, Breeland Speaks, Josh Butler, Levonta Taylor, Levi Bell, etc. – these guys are busting their butts on the field, doing everything they can to keep things in striking distance.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s offense has been in such a rut the last several weeks, that it feels like the door has shut on a potential playoff run. Even if they manage to beat Philadelphia, the odds of them finding their stride in the postseason seems unlikely. Time will ultimately tell, but – right now, Michigan is the last team you should be betting on heading into week ten.

Final Thoughts

The competition in the USFL this season has been incredible. With just one week left, every team is still in playoff contention (except for Birmingham, who already clinched). Make sure you’re tuning into the final weekend, as every game matters:

Saturday:

New Jersey Generals vs. Pittsburgh Maulers | 1pm ET, USA Network
Memphis Showboats vs. Birmingham Stallions | 4pm ET, FOX

Sunday:

Houston Gamblers vs. New Orleans Breakers | 4pm ET, FS1
Michigan Panthers vs. Philadelphia Stars | 7pm ET, FOX

What are your thoughts on the USFL playoff picture? Which teams do you think will clinch a spot this weekend? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

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