With only three weeks left in the USFL’s inaugural season, the playoffs are approaching quicker than we think. After week seven, both New Jersey and Birmingham remained on top of their respective divisions, as expected. They both clinched a playoff spot as well, being the first two teams to lock in a trip to Canton.
The Pittsburgh Maulers are bad. Like, really, really bad. Possibly the worst spring football team we’ve seen in the modern era. It doesn’t make much sense, however. This team boasts a solid defense, alongside some explosive playmakers (i.e Madre London, Tre Walker, etc.) – and a serviceable quarterback in Vad Lee. This begs the question: why are they so bad?
The simple answer: Kirby Wilson. His inability to properly coach this team has sent them into a downward spiral with no end. Wilson seems to try and implement fear and dominance into his players – but whatever way he’s doing that so far is not working. His conservative play style has his athletes frustrated – Vad Lee was ticked off in the fourth quarter when he continued to run the ball, and rightfully so. Wilson saw his body language, and yanked him in a crucial situation. With Kirby at the helm, this team has no chance of seeing success any time soon.
Next Up: New Jersey. I’d say the writing is on the wall for this one, even if New Jersey rests some of their starters. Pittsburgh has shown no real signs of life, and that probably won’t change this week.
One thing has been clear this season: You should not gamble on the Gamblers winning a football game. This team just can’t find a way to maintain a lead, no matter how big it may be. A 24-13 advantage disappeared in minutes against Philadelphia, ultimately resulting in a 22 point fourth quarter for the Stars. While Houston has a talented defense, they don’t play at the same level in the second half, as has been made obvious by the point differences in those halves.
As for their offense, they don’t have any stability. Both Clayton Thorson and Kenji Bahar tend to hide in the shadows when the lights are bright. Mark Thompson is one of the league’s best backs – but even he doesn’t show up in critical moments. Quite simply, Kevin Sumlin has not found a way to get this team in a position to win the fourth quarter, for whatever reason. With their season officially over considering their elimination from postseason contention, it might be time for Houston to look at some new offensive weapons to use in season two.
Next Up: Tampa Bay. Maybe the Gamblers will finally find a way to win, now that it doesn’t really matter too much. Keep an eye on Clayton Thorson’s elbow injury – if he’s not feeling good, odds are we will see a lot of Kenji Bahar on Sunday.
Michigan was just one play away from winning their second game of the season…again. All they needed was one field goal to go through. Or, a fourth down stop. Maybe a pass that stays in the air just one second longer. Or a snap that doesn’t go over new quarterback Josh Love’s head. Unfortunately, every single thing that could have gone wrong in those final moments, went wrong. This has been the story of Michigan’s season – the talent is there, but the execution is not.
Josh Love played decently well in his first start, and definitely appears to fit Jeff Fisher’s scheme better than Shea Patterson. Reggie Corbin continues to tear up opposing defenses, while receivers such as Devin Ross and Lance Lenoir Jr. have developed into effective weapons. At the end of the day, the Panthers could very well be neck and neck with Philadelphia – but shoot themselves in the foot every single week. While they are much better than the 1-6 record they currently hold, their record is the only thing that matters when it comes to making the playoffs – something that seems impossible now.
The only thing that makes @_colemurphy_'s 60-yard field goal even better is listening to the mic'd up version of it 🔊🔊
Next Up: Philadelphia. This is it for Michigan. If they can find a way to beat the Stars (like they should have in week four), they will keep their postseason aspirations alive for at least another week. Only time will tell as to if they can get the job done.
During one of the most important stretches in weeks six and seven, Tampa Bay has backtracked. The offense has been pretty inconsistent – and it starts with Jordan Ta’amu. After throwing for over 300 yards last week, Ta’amu was completely out of sorts against New Jersey. He could not get into a rhythm in any way, shape, or form. Now, it doesn’t help that the ground attack of the Bandits is practically nonexistent. Todd Haley has not been able to get this offense to gel, and it’s been evident at a less than ideal time.
Defensively, Tampa Bay finally showed some improvements, as they effectively slowed down the Generals offensive attack in the second half. Unfortunately, their offense took way too long to figure things out on their end, which resulted in another loss. It’s been a pattern all season long – only one side plays well. It’s been difficult for both Tampa’s offense and defense to perform at a high level at the same time. If this doesn’t change quickly, New Orleans will be able to lock up that second seed before they meet again in week nine.
Next Up: Houston. Tampa Bay desperately needs to put Houston in their place this week – and it starts with Jordan Ta’amu. If he can get into a groove early on, the Bandits should win this one. However, will their defense be able to play good football two weeks in a row?
In contrast to Tampa Bay, Philadelphia has made some impressive strides forward during the past couple of weeks. The team now comfortably sits at 4-3, one win away from the postseason. Case Cookus has shaped up to be a solid backup to Bryan Scott, who likely remains out for the rest of the year. While Cookus is prone to making a couple of mistakes every week, he has made the big plays when it matters. Matt Colburn is finally healthy, which makes Bart Andrus’ life a lot easier as a coach. Now that this offense is finding some chemistry, they are putting up impressive numbers every week.
Throw it up to the big man! @JordanSuell2 climbs the ladder for the TD 🙌
The Stars ceiling revolves entirely around their defense. We know what their offense is capable of, and they are playing at a championship caliber level right now. That being said, Philadelphia’s defensive unit has seen plenty of ups and downs throughout the USFL’s season. On Sunday, they played an excellent game against Houston, shutting them out in the fourth quarter. Channing Stribling has been a stud, leading the league in interceptions with five. If this defense can simply become more consistent as the playoffs approach, Philadelphia is capable of beating just about anybody.
Next Up: Michigan. This is a “win and you’re in” situation for the Stars. Considering how solid their offense has looked the past few weeks, Philadelphia should certainly get another win this weekend. As long as Andrus gets production from his defense, the Stars are well on their way to the postseason.
New Orleans picked up a bigtime win over Michigan this week – and showed some incredible resilience. Sure, they looked down and out for a while in the second half, but found a way to force overtime with some heroic antics. Kyle Sloter stepped up in the big moments, making impactful plays with his arm (and his legs) in crunch time. Anthony Jones is incredible, and has looked like one of the best backs in the league. If the Breakers offense can produce like they have for most of the year, they will be in excellent shape.
The first overtime best of three shootout of the season was 🔥🔥🔥
Now, what’s been interesting to watch is the regression defensively. New Orleans has not been a lockdown defense like they were to start the season, which could prove to haunt them as the playoffs approach. This group needs to get back to being more fierce and aggressive. It won’t matter how well the offense performs, if the defense can’t get stops. Luckily, a snap went over Josh Love’s head in overtime – otherwise who knows how this past game would have ended. Larry Fedora needs to sharpen this squad up as we head into the final three weeks.
Next Up: Birmingham. This is a huge matchup. A victory could clinch a postseason berth for the Breakers – and put them in a position to potentially win the division. If the Breakers can make J’Mar Smith uncomfortable in the early goings, they will definitely have a good chance at winning this one.
I know, I know…Birmingham still hasn’t lost. They’ve beaten every other team in the USFL. They won by 10 points on Sunday. Why the heck are they not in first place? It’s a good question. I promise I’m not crazy – just hear me out. Which team has been more consistent over the past few weeks, New Jersey or Birmingham? It hasn’t been the Stallions, and this past game was a prime example of just that. Birmingham’s offense was a mess for most of the day – dropped passes, offensive miscues, mental errors, etc. made it difficult for the team to find a rhythm.
If it weren’t for a fake punt that turned into a touchdown, who knows if the Stallions would have regained the lead. Not to mention, Kirby Wilson is the opposing team’s coach. Wilson literally sabotaged his own team multiple times throughout the day. Put any other coach in charge of the Maulers offense, and I think Pittsburgh finds a way to win that game. Now, this isn’t to say that Birmingham is not an elite team – they are. They continue to come away with victories every single week. But, that doesn’t mean that things are perfect. If this group seriously wants to win a championship, they cannot just be a “second half team”. That won’t cut it in the playoffs. It’s also important to remember: there won’t be a heavy home field advantage in Canton. Birmingham still has a lot to prove heading into the postseason.
Next Up: New Orleans. This is an important game for Birmingham, simply to get back on track. New Orleans has been on a roll, and they are coming for the division crown. If this offense can play a complete game, Birmingham should be able to defeat their southern rivals.
New Jersey has been on a roll, absolutely dominating in their division – and the USFL as a whole. Even without DeAndre Johnson, the offense took care of business on Sunday, clinching a spot in the USFL playoffs. Darius Victor has been sensational, while playmakers such as KaVontae Turpin and Alonzo Moore have been a staple in Mike Riley’s offense over the past few weeks. It took a while for Turpin to get going, but Riley has done an excellent job at getting him involved consistently. Perez still has some things to tweak, but overall has shown improvements as the season has gone on.
However, the main storyline to focus on right now is New Jersey’s defense. This squad has become elite, and has done so quietly. The Generals shut Tampa Bay down to just 13 points on Saturday, making Jordan Ta’amu miserable for most of the afternoon. Their growth as a unit has been spectacular to watch, and round out the Generals to be the USFL’s best team as of right now. If Mike Riley’s team continues to play at this level, it will not be surprising to see this team hoisting the inaugural trophy on July 3rd.
Next Up: Pittsburgh. Even if New Jersey does rest some of their starters, this is a game that they could still win pretty easily. It’d be hilarious if Kyle Lauletta saw some quality reps against his former head coach, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens on Friday.
Overall, week seven brought us plenty of fantastic moments. It was especially fun to see Birmingham and New Jersey clinch playoff spots, as we got to see both teams celebrate their success.
・ Bobby Holly's 52-yd TD run on a fake punt 👀 ・ Corbin Kaufusi's huge 4th-down catch 💪 ・ @yungvitov's power run, while losing a helmet, in the @USFLGenerals' playoff-clinching win 💥
With only three weeks left to play, teams such as Tampa Bay and Michigan need to do everything in their power to win out – otherwise they will be eliminated immediately after next week’s slate of games.
What do you think of these Power Rankings? Which teams are you excited to see in the playoffs? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!