Betting on the first week of the XFL is fraught with peril, but having a little skin in the game can be fun. You can check out how the rules differ from the NFL here, but for our purposes, both teams will be on a level playing field and the best team will have the advantage. The trouble is, how do we know which team is the best? This week, we have to go on coaching, talent level and the betting lines.
We must assume that even though these teams have been together for a few months, they won’t be efficient offensively. There should be more overall plays than the NFL, but their ability to execute consistently will likely be compromised. We saw this in the AAF, as the sportsbooks had their over/under totals much too high, thinking that the games would be like the CFL, totaling in the 50-point range with ease. I do think the XFL will be a higher scoring league than the AAF, but the execution to start will likely lag.
With that being said, here are my thoughts on this weekend’s games:
Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders (-8)
The Dragons are missing their best offensive lineman and best receiver. They will be a run-first team and likely a low scoring team. Their quarterback, Brandon Silvers, appears to be on the bottom rung of ability in comparison to the rest of the league with no Kasen Williams to throw to or Isaiah Battle to block his blind side. I think you can see who I favor in this matchup before we get to the Defenders.
The Defenders are run by Pep Hamilton, who is a bit more innovative than Jim Zorn and has more talent, with Cardale Jones, Jhurrel Pressley, Donnel Pumphrey, Malachi Dupre, Rashad Ross, and Eli Rogers. They also have Tyree Jackson as the backup quarterback, who can do some damage under Hamilton as a Taysom Hill-esque weapon.
I like the Defenders to win this game and of the two higher spreads this weekend, this is the one I would consider going with the favorite.
My Pick: Defenders 27 - Dragons 13
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks (-6)
The Wildcats come into Houston with an injured Josh Johnson at quarterback. I’m going to pick this game as if he were out, which I think he will be, but that isn’t official. Johnson is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and his absence will hurt. At the moment, we don’t even know who his backup will be between Jalen McClendon and Charles Kanoff. I do like their running back combo of Elijah Hood and DuJuan Harris, but Johnson is the difference maker. I expect the Wildcats to run the ball quite a bit and try to keep the Roughnecks passing attack from getting too many chances.
The Roughnecks will start four wide receivers under June Jones and have some good ones, highlighted by Sammie Coates. The question is, will P.J. Walker be able to get the ball to his receivers? The Wildcats should be one of the better defenses under Winston Moss and the Run N’ Shoot still needs to connect on their passes to put up big points. I like the Roughnecks offense much better than the Wildcats’, but I think they can make this a close game with their rush and defense.
My Pick: Roughnecks 21 - Wildcats 17
Tampa Bay Vipers (-3) at New York Guardians
This is the only game where the home team isn’t favored. Tampa Bay will come into MetLife Stadium as three-point favorites under the tutelage of Marc Trestman. I expect the Vipers offense will be good under Trestman, as he’s played under similar play clock constraints in the CFL and managed three championships in Canada. He will throw the ball a bunch, but did lose his top wide receiver, Antonio Callaway, to injury. There is still receiving talent in Tampa Bay, but Callaway isn’t someone you replace in the XFL.
Kevin Gilbride returns to MetLife with veteran Matt McGloin and a strong running game. I expect the Defenders will be a solid team that balances the run and pass well and should be able to stay in any matchup. They did lose two of their better receivers to injury but Mekale McKay played well in the AAF and he has two bruisers at running back. This will likely be a game of two styles.
In the end, I like the home team to come out ahead.
My Pick: Guardians 23 - Vipers 21
St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades (-9.5)
This game has the biggest spread of the weekend, as Dallas has a strong coach in Bob Stoops and, if Landry Jones plays, one of the best offenses in the league. And even if Jones can’t play, Philip Nelson is one of the better backups. They also get a healthy Jazz Ferguson back and a speed demon in Jeff Badet at wide receiver. They are the team to beat in the XFL, so the 9.5 spread makes sense.
The BattleHawks are seemingly below average in almost everything other than running backs, as Christine Michael and Matt Jones are both good. It would make sense for them to go run heavy and there’s a good chance they will.
In the end, 9.5 points is just too much for me to give in Week 1 of the XFL season. If the BattleHawks can get anything going with their running back duo, they should be able to keep the score close enough to cover.
My Pick: Renegades 27 - BattleHawks 20
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