Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways After Week Seven

Evaluating The USFL Playoff Picture: Takeaways After Week Seven

It was a wild weekend of football in the USFL. With all four games decided by just one score, the entertainment was at an all time high. As expected, the playoff picture in the USFL continues to be quite convoluted, with the parity between both divisions.

What makes things so intriguing is that all eight teams are still in the playoff hunt after seven weeks. In fact, every team is just one game out of contention.

Let’s take a look at where each organization currently stands in their respective divisions.

USFL South

We’ll begin with the USFL South – which has been turned upside down over the past few weeks. At first, it seemed like Birmingham and New Orleans would run away with the division. Now, it’s up for grabs, with all four teams holding records above .500.

Birmingham Stallions (5-2)

Skip Holtz has his Stallions rocking and rolling, as they now lead the pack in the South. A two game winning streak puts the team at 5-2.

Alex McGough continues to play Championship caliber football week after week. While his numbers might not blow people away, he consistently manages the game at a high level. His two total touchdowns and 176 passing yards were plenty enough for Birmingham to get the win.

This was a clutch victory, with a lot on the line. After losing to New Orleans back in week three, Birmingham got their revenge this week. If the Breakers got the season sweep, it would have made things a lot tougher for this group.

Linebacker Quinten Poling deserves his flowers. He’s been an underrated playmaker for the Stallions all season long, and delivered on Saturday. Poling racked up 11 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FR, and two sacks – dominating the Breakers across the board. Despite missing Scooby Wright, Birmingham’s defense has been sensational the last couple of weeks.

Memphis Showboats (4-3)

What a turnaround for Memphis. After an 0-3 start, the Showboats now sit in the playoff picture for the first time all season. Todd Haley deserves an apology: he’s done an excellent job the last few weeks, righting the ship for a team that many wrote off after the rough patch.

DC Carnell Lake deserves some legitimate recognition for the job he’s done. Through three weeks, the team ranked last in every defensive category. Since then, they’ve been #1 – looking like an entirely different squad.

What Memphis has been able to do the last few weeks is nothing short of remarkable. Their two wins against New Orleans – and Houston – might just push them into the playoffs if they keep winning. After two division losses to begin the year, they’ve rebounded nicely in that area.

Cole Kelley continues to be a solid foundation for Haley offensively. With the playmakers surrounding him – such as Derrick Dillon and his heroics – this team is in excellent shape heading down the stretch of the USFL season.

New Orleans Breakers (4-3)

For the first time in the 2023 USFL season, the New Orleans Breakers are no longer in control of a playoff berth. It’s been quite the collapse for John DeFilippo and this team, after beginning the season 4-0.

Turnovers have come to haunt this team over the last few weeks. They were extremely efficient with the football through the first four games, but have been careless as of late. Three turnovers on Saturday didn’t help, and ultimately turned out to be the difference in the game.

While the Breakers out-gained the Stallions by over 100 yards on offense, their inability to score touchdowns is worrisome. This team has not looked at all like the same unit we saw at the beginning of the season. McLeod Bethel-Thompson hasn’t been perfect, but a lot of that resides on some of the poor protection we’ve seen up front for the Breakers.

Considering the team is still over .500, there’s nothing to hang their heads about right now. DeFilippo and Bethel-Thompson are seasoned veterans, and they’ve been in these situations before. Can the team dig deep and overcome their self-inflicted wounds? Time will tell.

Houston Gamblers (4-3)

It’s hard to believe that a team with a 4-3 record is the fourth seed. Somehow, Houston sits in last place in the South, after suffering a rough loss at the hands of the Memphis Showboats.

For almost the entire game, Houston’s offense was stuck in a rut. They couldn’t get out of their own way, with miscommunications and turnovers hampering every drive.

Kenji Bahar needs to be better. He was responsible for three turnovers on Sunday. Compared to weeks 1-2, Kenji has been smart with the football. However, his outing this weekend was far from ideal. Mark Thompson can’t do everything for this team.

Speaking of Thompson, he did make USFL history in this game. Thompson added two more rushing touchdowns to bring his total to 11, which is the modern record for rushing touchdowns in a single season in the USFL.

Curtis Johnson will have to figure out how to move forward. Prior to this loss, the Gamblers had won four games in a row. It will be intriguing to watch how they look to respond in week eight.

USFL North

Clearly, the USFL North is the weaker division. In fact, one could argue that all four South teams belong in the playoffs, with how inadequate the North has looked throughout the season.

That being said, the race to Canton is just as intense up north. Let’s take a look at where each team currently sits, with three games to go.

Philadelphia Stars (4-3)

The 180 that Philadelphia has accomplished in the last few weeks is incredible. For a time, it seemed like the Stars were destined to finish as the fourth seed. Now, they have firm control of the division crown, winning three straight.

Philadelphia has to keep their foot on the gas pedal, with Michigan in close pursuit. However, some credit has to be given to what this team has done the last few weeks. On Saturday night, the offense finally came alive, as the Stars racked up 37 points – a season high.

It hasn’t been a great year for Case Cookus, who has struggled to protect the football at the level he should. With that in mind, he was fantastic against Pittsburgh, doing everything that the team needed him to do.

In addition, Matt Colburn has finally come alive over the past two weeks. It was a slow start to the season for the Stars run game, which can be attributed to the offensive line’s early rough patches. As Philadelphia continues to build upon each win, they’re in a perfect position to play their best football as the playoffs approach.

Michigan Panthers (3-4)

So…the Ford Field curse is real? In the second half, it seemed like Michigan finally realized that they weren’t playing in their home stadium, which led to an outstanding performance from Josh Love, Joe Walker, Trey Quinn, and the entire offense.

Josh Love has to be given some legitimate credit for bouncing back in the way he did. In a must-win situation, Love threw for three touchdowns, finding a rhythm that gave the offense some much-needed life.

If the trends continue, then Michigan is in good shape, as they are on the road for two more games. It’s quite odd that the Panthers can’t find a way to play solid football at home, but the past is the past. Now, the squad has to look towards locking up the second seed in the North, which will be no easy task.

Reggie Corbin has to get going down the stretch if Michigan wants to make a postseason run. His 78 yards were key on Sunday evening, but it still feels like he hasn’t unlocked his full potential yet this season. This is a storyline to watch with so much on the line in the upcoming weeks.

New Jersey Generals (2-5)

First and foremost – the entire USFL community is hoping that QB De’Andre Johnson is okay. He suffered a head injury and was stretchered off in the fourth quarter, which is not what anyone wants to see. Thankfully, it seems like he’s on the mend according to reports from the league.

New Jersey’s offense is clearly in a better place when Johnson is in the game. The dual threat abilities he brings to the team are unmatched by Kyle Lauletta. While Kyle played respectively well in his place, the Generals simply aren’t the same unit with him at the helm.

Defensively, New Jersey has to be better. They’ve played great football the last few weeks, and were missing Chris Orr and Shalom Luani – so, they get a bit of a break. However, Michigan racked up almost 400 yards of offense, which is something we haven’t really seen from the Panthers all year long.

One has to wonder why Darius Victor didn’t see more playing time. He posted 52 yards on just eight carries, averaging 6.5 YPC. Considering how effective Darius was on Sunday, it’s bizarre that Mike Riley opted to not give him more touches.

Now, the team has an uphill battle to make the playoffs. They’ve lost four in a row, completely tanking during one of the most important stretches of the USFL season. Something has to give, sooner than later.

Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)

The Revenge Tour isn’t going exactly as planned. Pittsburgh has lost two in a row, and now are in fourth place in the North Division.

Offensively, the Maulers have to improve. Had it not been for some remarkable special teams play from Joshua Simmons and Isiah Hennie, Philadelphia would have blown Pittsburgh away.

Mason Stokke – the fullback – was Pittsburgh’s leading receiver, with only 34 yards. It’s shocking to see a team stacked with offensive talent unable to move the football consistently. In a nutshell, they’re under-utilizing some of their key pieces.

With Isiah Hennie, Tre Walker, Bailey Gaither, etc. all available at the wide receiver position, there’s no excuses for the lack of production. TE Matt Seybert performs well despite his limited targets, and the team should look to use him more often. Troy Williams hasn’t always provided the team with stability at the quarterback position, which is holding the team back from reaching their full potential.

DC Jarren Horton has been the gem of Pittsburgh this season, with his defense keeping the team relevant through most of the year. However, the Maulers allowed 37 points, and 347 yards of offense on Saturday – which is very uncharacteristic of this group. If Pittsburgh scores 31 points in a game, they shouldn’t lose. Plain and simple.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, week eight in the USFL is shaping up to be fierce. Every team in the league still has a legitimate chance at the playoffs, which is wild.

Week Eight USFL Schedule

Saturday:

Pittsburgh Maulers vs. Houston Gamblers | 12pm ET, USA Network
Birmingham Stallions vs. Philadelphia Stars | 3pm ET, NBC

Sunday:

New Jersey Generals vs. Memphis Showboats | 1pm ET, FOX
New Orleans Breakers vs. Michigan Panthers | 4pm ET, FOX

What are your thoughts on the USFL Playoff Picture after week seven? Which USFL teams will make the playoffs? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

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