USFL Power Rankings: Top Four Teams Solidified After Week Nine

USFL Power Rankings: Top Four Teams Solidified After Week Nine

Believe it or not, we only have one week remaining in the USFL’s inaugural season. With week nine in the books, the playoffs have officially been set in both divisions.

As has been the case all year long, every game was quite entertaining this weekend in the USFL. New Orleans officially clinched the playoffs, defeating the Tampa Bay Bandits.

Let’s take a look at where each team stands after week nine, and what their status is heading into the final week of the regular season.

#8: Pittsburgh Maulers (1-8)

The Pittsburgh Maulers are allergic to winning. It seemed like Sunday night’s game was in their hands, until it wasn’t. While the team has improved when it comes to making abysmal mistakes, turnovers and mental errors in the fourth quarter led to another heartbreaking loss. Special Teams has been one of their brightest spots all season long, but a missed kick in the final minutes sealed the deal.

Defensively, Pittsburgh played a solid game, but could not contain Matt Colburn in the fourth quarter. Kirby Wilson needs to find a quarterback, and stick to that guy. Roland Rivers and Vad Lee can’t get into a rhythm when Wilson keeps switching between both of them. Heading into year two, Wilson needs to pick someone to build around. Both Rivers and Lee have showcased some impressive talents this year, displaying major upside. They just need to be in the right system.

Next Up: Michigan. This should be interesting. If Wilson coaches the game well, it would not be surprising to see Pittsburgh finish over Michigan this season. We’ll just have to wait and see what his approach is.

#7: Michigan Panthers (1-8)

I know that Michigan currently sits at 1-8…but this team is capable of beating just about anybody. They just continue to make the same mistakes down the stretch (turnovers, offensive miscues, etc.). Talent wise, the Panthers are stacked. Josh Love and Eric Barriere are two excellent QB’s who Jeff Fisher absolutely could build around next year. If Reggie Corbin doesn’t get an NFL call, Corbin and Stevie Scott make up an impressive backfield. Not to mention, Lance Lenior Jr., Joe Walker, and Devin Ross provide the team with explosive receivers who can light it up on the field.

Michigan could easily be above .500 right now, had they executed in the important areas that they should have. Moving forward, this is something that the coaching staff has to improve upon. The talent is there. Execution and discipline is not. If Michigan wants to be successful in year two, the basic fundamentals have to be instilled into each and every player. Unfortunately, the 2022 season has not been very kind to the Michigan Panthers, leaving them at the bottom of our power rankings for the foreseeable future, due to the incomplete performances we’ve seen all year long.

Next Up: Pittsburgh. It’s the battle of 1-8 teams. I’d say that Michigan is the favorite, especially with the way they have been playing as of late. But, anything is possible. The Panthers defense has to make Lee/Rivers feel uncomfortable right off the bat if they want to take control.

#6: Houston Gamblers (2-7)

Houston surprised everyone this past weekend, being the first team to take down the mighty Birmingham Stallions. Led by their fearsome defense, the Gamblers made life very difficult for J’Mar Smith and company. Defensively, the team has been excellent, improving with each week. After allowing 33 points in week two against Birmingham, they suffocated the Stallions’ offense on Saturday, picking up their second win of the year.

Kenji Bahar showed some major potential as well, leading the team throughout the game. While year one is nearly in the books, the Gamblers have a lot to look forward to in the future. With Donald Payne, Chris Odom, Will Likely, and others on defense, this team should be a force in 2023 – if their offense can simply become more consistent.

Next Up: New Orleans. It will be interesting to see if Sloter or Smith starts for NO – but either way, expect this Houston defense to make their lives miserable on Sunday.

#5: Tampa Bay Bandits (4-5)

Well, that was an unfortunate ending to Tampa Bay’s season. Sure, Jordan Ta’amu played great. But he looked like the only player (on offense) that actually practiced that week. Dropped passes, fumbles, offensive miscues, untimely turnovers, and ridiculous penalties made it impossible for Tampa Bay to find a way to keep their season alive. It was horrendous. Todd Haley’s group looked so undisciplined, you’d almost think it was scripted.

Defensively, the Bandits did everything they could to keep things afloat. But, the tale of the year has been inconsistency, and that is what we saw on Sunday afternoon. While the defense played well, the offense could not score at all. As previously mentioned in these pieces, it seems like both the offense and defense can’t play well at the same time, which was evident against New Orleans. If this team doesn’t get Jordan Ta’amu some support, they will not see success anytime soon.

Next Up: Birmingham. The Bandits could have been playing for a playoff berth on Saturday, but instead will close out the season with a meaningless affair. However, hopefully Haley’s group looks a bit more in shape this time around.

#4: New Orleans Breakers (6-3)

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t glamorous. But, the New Orleans Breakers found a way to clinch the playoffs, defeating Tampa Bay in dominant…but not so dominant, fashion. You see, the Breakers were actually outgained in almost every category on Sunday – except the scoreboard, which turns out to be the most important piece of the puzzle. Thankfully for Larry Fedora’s defensive unit, they were spectacular at keeping Tampa Bay from scoring for most of the afternoon, which won them the game.

New Orleans has a lot to work on. Kyle Sloter has been up and down all year long (granted, injuries have derailed him at points). The ground game is excellent, but has to show up in the postseason, otherwise Sloter will have way too much weight on his shoulders. All of that being said, New Orleans clearly has the talent to beat the Stallions in the postseason. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can put it all together in Canton.

Next Up: Houston. While this game doesn’t mean a whole bunch to the Breakers, it would be nice to see them find an offensive rhythm – something they haven’t been able to accomplish for a while.

#3: Philadelphia Stars (6-3)

The Stars are on pace to be one of the hottest teams in the postseason. Even without Case Cookus in the second half, Philadelphia found a way to keep themselves afloat, led by Matt Colburn who has been sensational in the second half of the season. If this offensive unit continues to gel the way they have since week five, who knows how far this team can go. Bart Andrus has done an excellent job of putting his team in a position to succeed, as they have won four straight.

Defensively, Philadelphia has been elite. While it can fly under the radar, the Stars have been one of the best defenses over the past few weeks, especially in the clutch. With Channing Stribling, Jordan Moore, and Ahmad Dixon leading the way, this team is as dangerous as it gets. Will they have enough firepower to stop New Jersey? It’s hard to tell. But, don’t be surprised if Bart’s group ends up conquering the North entirely in Canton.

Next Up: New Jersey. While week ten’s game between these two teams will likely feature a lot of backups, it will give us a bit of insight as to where each team stands heading into Canton. Another name to watch is Darnell Holland – can he get healthy in time for the playoffs?

#2: Birmingham Stallions (8-1)

Birmingham needs to wake up. This group has struggled offensively in the second half of the year, and an opposing team finally took advantage. J’Mar Smith played well, all things considered. But when the ground game can’t find their footing, bad things happen. Houston did an excellent job of making sure the Stallions could not get into a groove, which resulted in the teams first loss of the season. Skip Holtz has to get this team back to where they were in the first few weeks, as their offense was much more efficient up until a couple of weeks ago.

Defensively, they are still one of the best in the league. Had it not been for the offensive shortcomings, the Stallions certainly would have won this game. What Saturday night proved, is that this team is more vulnerable than they look. There is a lot that needs to be tightened up before the Stallions can once again see success on both sides of the football.

Next Up: Tampa Bay. It would make sense for Holtz to rest most of his starters, but with how shaky this offense has looked, it might be wise to give them some reps. They need to get back into a rhythm, before it’s too late.

#1: New Jersey Generals (8-1)

New Jersey continues to win football games, which keeps them at the top of our list after week nine. Mike Riley has done an incredible job with his Generals, putting the team in a position to win every time. Luis Perez and DeAndre Johnson have been excellent at the QB position, and we all know how impressive this offense is with all of the pieces. The craziest part is that it feels like New Jersey hasn’t even played their best football yet. If the Generals can fire on all cylinders at the same time, they’ll blow past everyone in the postseason.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s defense has been great. They weren’t perfect on Saturday, but they did enough to ultimately get the job done. After Michigan went up by four in the fourth quarter, the Generals completely shut them down to put the game away. Without a doubt, the New Jersey Generals are the USFL’s best team, and it should remain that way heading into the postseason.

Next Up: Philadelphia. Mike Riley was quoted on Sunday saying that he’ll approach this game like he does every other, so odds are we will see most of the starters on the field. If this is the case, expect to see more of DeAndre Johnson, as he gets ready for the playoffs returning from an ankle injury.

Final Thoughts

With only one week left to play in the USFL, we finally have all four teams who will officially face off in Canton. It should be an excellent couple of weeks in the postseason, as each franchise has shown plenty of talent throughout the season so far.

Even though week ten doesn’t have playoffs on the line, it should be a fun slate of games to finish off the regular season. Interestingly enough, Michigan vs. Pittsburgh may just be the most entertaining of the bunch: which team will drop to 1-9?

What do you think of these power rankings? Where do you see these teams in season two? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!