After a surprising comeback upset victory by the Panthers in the final game of the USFL regular season Sunday night, the four-team playoff field is set.
Saturday night features that same Michigan squad trying to upend another team that punched its playoff ticket in Week 10, the Maulers, for the North Division Championship. That’s followed by what could be a classic rematch of last year’s South Division Championship, a battle between the Breakers and defending champion Stallions.
Each week through the USFL Championship Game in July, I’ll offer a betting prediction for each game on the schedule.
USFL South and North Division Championship Predictions & Best Bets
Under 38.5 points (-110) • DraftKings Sportsbook
Michigan Panthers vs Pittsburgh Maulers Betting • WAGER: 1 unit
Panthers head coach Mike Nolan made the bold move of switching up his quarterbacks for Sunday night’s must-win game, and the gamble paid off, with E.J. Perry doing just enough to manage the game effectively through the air (121 yards, no INTs) and adding 48 yards and a rushing TD.
That was sufficient with a pair of long kickoff returns that set up short fields. However, the matchup gets tough against the Maulers, which surrendered a league-low 17.8 points and 257.5 total yards per game during the regular season.
Pittsburgh held Michigan to just seven points apiece in Weeks 5 and 9. Although those victories came with Carson Strong and Josh Love at quarterback for the Panthers, it doesn’t appear Perry will make a sizable impact through the air while managing a likely conservative game plan.
Conversely, the Panthers were particularly impressive against the pass (186.4 PYPG allowed) and applied above-average pressure, leading to 23 sacks. Pittsburgh also ran a mostly one-dimensional offense this season, with the Maulers averaging under 4.0 yards per carry and getting the most rushing production from QB Troy Williams (341 yards, 3 rush TDs).
The two regular-season games between these teams finished with 30 and 26 points. With defense typically tightening up even more in the postseason, I’m going with the Under for my USFL bet of the day.
Breakers +3 (-110) • DraftKings Sportsbook
New Orleans Breakers vs Birmingham Stallions Betting • WAGER: 1 unit
The Stallions carry the highest spot in the USFL Championship Odds leaderboard as the postseason begins, given their status as defending champs, their league-best 8-2 record, and the five-game winning streak they finished the regular season.
However, the Breakers weren’t too far off their pace. New Orleans had a bit of a mid-season lull, but John DiFillipo’s squad also finished very strong with three straight wins to get to 7-3. The Breakers arguably have the better defense of the two teams, finishing the 2023 campaign just behind the league-leading Maulers with 18.4 points and 272.0 total yards allowed per game.
Moreover, no team harassed quarterbacks as effectively as the Breakers, which finished tied for second in interceptions (12) while leading the league in sacks (28). That will be key against Stallions QB Alex McGough, a leading MVP candidate who took six sacks and threw a pick in two regular-season clashes with New Orleans.
The Breakers recorded a 14-point win in the first meeting between the teams and lost by just four in the second. New Orleans RB Wes Hills had a quiet finish to the season but did light up Birmingham for 191 yards and three touchdowns back in the Week 3 game, lending credence to the notion he could help keep the Stallions’ talented offense off the field.
These two teams are evenly matched and have an intriguing rivalry that results in close games. Plenty of key Breakers players were on the 2022 roster and are therefore looking to avenge their 31-17 loss to Birmingham in last year’s South Division Championship.
Given all the factors cited, I’m in the camp of the Breakers keeping matters close enough for the cover, especially with quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson offering superior quarterback play to last year’s starter, Kyle Sloter.