Time flies when you are betting on spring football. We are on to Week 5 of the USFL season, marking the halfway point of its scheduled 10-week season. Last week's best bet cashed, as the Birmingham Stallions covered as -3.5 point favorites in a 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Bandits. The offenses continue to look better as teams averaged over five yards per play this past weekend. Team scoring remained consistent at 18.8 points per game despite the USFL instituting a new rule enforcing a running clock after incompletions in the first and third quarters.
This week's slate provides some matchups that will be very telling as teams play outside of their divisions for the first time since Week 1. The South Division includes the league's top two teams, Birmingham and New Orleans, and swept the North Division in all four games in the league's opening week. I am confident it can continue its dominance, but the biggest edge I found this week was on a total. Betting an over on a USFL game might sound like lighting your money on fire, but I believe the market opened this number too low. Overs are only 5-6-1 since Week 2, but these two teams should be able to put up plenty of points.
Birmingham Stallions vs. Philadelphia Stars (Over 36.5)
The Philadelphia Stars are one of the most exciting teams in the USFL. Their pass-heavy aerial attack can march down the field on any defense in the league. Even with their starting quarterback going down prior to Week 4, the Stars kept rolling under back up QB Case Cookus. He completed 73% of his passes while scorching Michigan for 26 points. Not bad when you take into account that Michigan had only allowed 27 total points in their first three games.
The Stars offense averages 22.2 points per game and is certainly capable of getting into the 20s against a Birmingham defense that is only fifth best in Football Outsiders defensive EVOA metric, as well as yards allowed per game. When compared to the Michigan Panthers defense that Philly just torched, Birmingham allowed an average of 12.5 more points, and 98.5 more yards than Michigan against two common opponents (New Jersey and Houston). I am comfortable the Stars will score points against the Stallions, but the strength in the handicap lies on the other side of the ball.
"Bigger people beat up little people." A candid quote from Chip Kelly's tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles illustrates the biggest challenge for Philly's USFL team. The Stars get dominated in the trenches and every week it gets worse. Opponents now see blood in the water and salivate at the chance to exploit its biggest vulnerability: stopping the run. New Jersey and Michigan each ran for over 250 yards against Philadelphia in the last two weeks, with the Panthers gaining an unprecedented 6.9 yards per rushing attempt. The Stallions just recently bolstered their backfield by signing former Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough in preparation to batter Philadelphia on the ground this Sunday.
The Birmingham offense is coming off its worst performance of the season in its 16-10 win over Tampa Bay, which I am guessing is the driving force behind the oddsmakers opening this total at 36.5. Head coach Skip Holtz went back to Week 1 starting QB Alex McGough despite J'Mar Smith leading the team to a 3-0 start and averaging over 27 points per game. Holtz's decision on which QB gets the call this week makes little difference, as it's rare that Philly forces the opposing quarterback to throw. In their Week 3 loss to New Jersey, the Stars blew a 16-10 4th quarter lead by allowing a 75-yard scoring drive in which the Generals didn't have to pass the football once. Twelve straight rushes resulted in the go-ahead touchdown.
Philadelphia has allowed its last three opponents to record its highest point total of the season and has yet to hold an opponent under 23 points. Penciling in the Stallions for 23 leaves Philly with only having to score 14 to cash this bet. The Houston Gamblers are statistically the most comparable defense to Philadelphia. When Birmingham defeated Houston in Week 2, it scored 33 points on 6.1 yards per play and 391 total yards. We could conceivably hit this over by the 3rd quarter.
The bet looks even more attractive when analyzing the combined scores for each of Philadelphia's games this year: 40, 53, 40 and 51 for an average of 46. I don't think it's reasonable to expect this game to go under a total that is 9.5 points below the average of Philly's first four games. Factor in that the Stars are playing the league's only remaining undefeated team, and it's hard to deny the value in a bet to the over. Every one of Philadelphia's games has hit at least 40 points, and I see no reason the trend stops this week.
Stats provided by football outsiders, and foxsports.com.