We’ve finally reached the title game of the new USFL’s first season. The Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars will battle for the championship on Sunday, July 3 (7:30 p.m., FOX) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
While the presence of the Stallions, a team that nearly went undefeated, isn’t unexpected by any means, the Stars making the title game is much more of a surprise. Although, coach Bart Andrus‘ club did play very well during the latter portion of the season.
These two teams met once during the 2022 regular season, with Birmingham toppling Philadelphia 30-17 in Week 5.
However, Stars quarterback Case Cookus has made significant strides under center since then. Philadelphia’s defense also appears to have taken a couple of steps forward in recent weeks after struggling, especially against the run, earlier in the season.
All USFL Championship Game odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook and current as of Thursday, June 30 at 3 p.m. ET.
- Juan Blanco USFL Playoffs Betting Record: 0-2
- Juan Blanco USFL Season Betting Record: 16-26
Philadelphia Stars vs Birmingham Stallions Prediction
The Stars shocked the Generals in their semifinal playoff game last Saturday, boosted by an 87-yard punt return touchdown by Maurice Alexander to escape with the 19-14 win.
The Stallions made the final after upending the Breakers for the third time this season, registering a 31-17 win that saw them pull away late with 10 fourth-quarter points.
While the Stars are commended for getting within one step of the USFL title after opening the season with a 2-3 mark, they’d also have to acknowledge that their offense, a hallmark of most of their success this season, was missing in action for the most part against New Jersey.
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While the offense has sputtered, Philadelphia can take solace in how much better its defense appears to have gotten over the second half of the season.
The Stars held the Generals to only 179 total yards and 5.0 yards per play. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their performance was their work in the run game, where they have typically struggled this season. Facing the daunting duo of Darius Victor and Trey Williams, Philadelphia responded by holding the Generals to 3.5 yards per carry on 30 rushing attempts.
The Stars go from the proverbial frying pan to the fire in the championship game, however, as a similarly talented 1-2 punch in the form of Bo Scarbrough and C.J. Marable awaits.
That combination is not only capable on the ground, but through the air as well. Although they found tough sledding against the Breakers in their semifinal win, they’re certainly able to capitalize on any potential regression on the part of the Stars’ run defense.
Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz was encouragingly stubborn about offensive balance all season, and that should come to bear again in this week’s title game.
Quarterback J’Mar Smith has proven capable of being consistently effective if he’s able to enjoy the benefit of at least a moderately successful ground attack, and he stepped up his play last week to throw for 190 yards and a touchdown while adding 48 yards and another score on the ground.
One of the biggest pieces of news leading up to this game is the confirmation that Stars running back Matt Colburn II, who proved so critical to the team’s second-half surge this season, will miss the championship clash due to the ankle injury that forced him from last Saturday’s win over the Generals.
Cookus scuffled against the Generals, including after Colburn’s exit. In all, he completed only 50% of passes for 133 yards and threw an interception.
The Stallions notched a 30-17 win over the Stars back in Week 5, with Philly beginning its march to the championship in earnest the following week. Although the Stars are a very different team in many ways since that game, the Stallions continue to play lights-out defense and Philadelphia is now missing one of its most important components.
While I think Bart Andrus’ team certainly puts up a good fight, I think the combination of the Stallions’ offensive balance and aggressive defense will prove too much to overcome.
Birmingham Stallions 24, Philadelphia Stars 16
Stars vs Stallions Best Bets
Stallions Moneyline (-190)
Stallions Moneyline & Under 45.5 Points (+191)
WAGER: 1 Unit on Each
The Stallions have had just one hiccup since the start of the season, and that came by two points against a Gamblers team they may have well taken a bit lightly. That naturally won’t be an issue in this game, and Birmingham also comes in with a blueprint of how to attack this Stars squad after notching that aforementioned Week 5 win.
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Colburn’s absence could loom particularly large here, even though the Stallions limited him to 10 rushing yards on seven carries in the first meeting. Philly does have some talented options in Darnell Holland and Paul Terry, but Birmingham’s run defense has been formidable all season and their ability to pressure Cookus is going to be critical to the outcome.
The Stars relied heavily on their defense and special teams to get it done last week against the Generals, yet I don’t believe lightning will strike twice. Additionally, the Smith-Marable-Scarbrough trio will eventually be too much for the Stars to overcome, especially with Smith having a host of dangerous targets to throw to, including Victor Bolden and Marlon Williams.
Ultimately, I have the most faith in an outright Stallions win for our USFL bet of the day, but a parlay that brings in the Under is also worthy of consideration.