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Michigan Panthers vs. Houston Gamblers Breakdown

Week one action of the 2023 USFL season continues Sunday with another doubleheader day. After FOX Sports airs both games on Saturday, NBC Sports takes to the air for its first USFL game of nine of the season.

Unlike Saturday, however, no home markets will be competing in either of Sunday’s two games. Live coverage of the split doubleheader begins with the first game at noon ET/ 11 am CT with a contest between two ballclubs that struggled last year.

Michigan/ Houston Kicks Off Sunday Doubleheader on NBC

Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis serves as the host ballpark of the first game of the day on Sunday afternoon. The Michigan Panthers (2-8 in 2022) look to turn over a new leaf after finishing with the league’s second-worst record when they take on Memphis’ other hub tenant, the Houston Gamblers (3-7 in 2022.)

This is the second time in as many years that Michigan and Houston have played one another on opening day. Last season, although the game was delayed for 45 minutes before kickoff (lightning), the Panthers defeated the Gamblers 17-12 in a game that featured former Gamblers linebacker Reggie Northrup returning a fumble for Houston’s first touchdown of the year.

This isn’t the only football game featuring a Houston-based team on Sunday. While the Panthers/Gamblers contest plays out on both NBC and Peacock, the XFL‘s Houston Roughnecks will travel to a sold-out Audi Field in Washington to take on the league’s top team, the DC Defenders.

Unlike last season in the USFL, Peacock will no longer have exclusive streaming media rights to selected NBC Sports-produced games. All games airing on an NBCUniversal linear platform, either NBC proper or the USA Network, will be simulcast on Peacock.

Cool Weather Expected for Sunday’s Ballgame

A storm is expected to hit Memphis Saturday night after the Stars/ Showboats contest amid a cold front. There’s no threat of inclement weather for the Panthers/Gamblers game on Sunday, though the forecast does call for seasonal temperatures.

As of Friday, temperatures will be in the upper-50s during the ballgame, with a projected high near 63 degrees. A west-northwest wind at 17 MPH could impact the kicking game, however.

Michigan Panthers vs. Houston Gamblers Betting Odds

Currently, the oddsmakers have the Houston Gamblers as a -1 point favorite for Sunday afternoon on the spread, with the team also favored on the money line (-110.) If you plan on betting on this or any other game happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

New Head Coach For Panthers Heading into 2023 Season

As has been the case throughout much of the league, there’s been a lot of turnover going into the new season, with the Michigan Panthers being no exception to the rule. Upon the USFL’s reboot last year, it was announced that former Houston Oilers/ Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher would be roaming the sidelines for the Gamblers.

Two months ago, he resigned from his post to tend to family matters. Fisher revealed his intentions to leave the team in a tweet on Feb. 3.

Mike Nolan, who formerly coached the San Francisco 49ers between 2005 and 2008, assumes the second head-coaching job of his career with the Panthers this year. After the 2020 NFL season, Nolan was terminated as the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, a team that finished the year at No. 28 in scoring defense.

Panthers Can’t Throw Too Many Interceptions

Michigan has to be cautious in throwing the football this season. In 2022, the Panthers threw 12 interceptions all told. Shea Patterson, now with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, accounted for five interceptions, with just four touchdowns to his credit.

Josh Love assumed duties at QB1 for Michigan later in the season after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Maulers through the waiver wire, finishing with 347 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Between the Maulers and Panthers, Love threw for 784 yards.

Should Josh Love stay at full strength, Michigan has a good shot to improve on last year’s 2-8 record.

Gamblers Struggled With Ball Security Last Year

Meanwhile, Houston, much like their opponents this weekend, had issues committing turnovers during the 2022 season. In 10 games, they turned over the pigskin 15 times, averaging to 1 1/2 turnovers per game.

The Gamblers have a new head coach of their own for the 2023 season. Curtis Johnson, who formerly served as the New Orleans Saints‘ senior offensive assistant between 2017 and 2020 and wide receivers coach in 2021 in addition to his assistant’s position, will take on his first head coaching position in the professional ranks at the age of 61.

Johnson mentioned that the team seeks to avoid careless turnovers this year.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, make mistakes and have a bunch of penalties, I think we can maintain and win games,” Johnson told rightsholder/league owner FOX Sports. “We have a good enough offensive line that we’ll be able to run the ball and do some things, but the main thing is turnovers and penalties. That will kill us. We can’t do that.”

Johnson Welcomes the Challenge

When Curtis Johnson was named the new head coach of the Houston Gamblers back in late February, he assumed the duties from Kevin Sumlin, who was hired by The University of Maryland as an associate head coach and tight ends coach under Mike Locksley. As previously mentioned, this is the first time that Johnson will be a professional head coach.

“It’s an exciting, new league,” he stated upon his hiring. “I love the product. I love what they did last year. And so just having the opportunity to coach again– because most of the time you don’t get a second chance– I’m over-the-moon excited.”

This is a new chapter in Curtis Johnson’s professional career, so can he make it a successful one? Tune in throughout the season and find out.

Final Thoughts

Both teams are trying to turn the page on Sunday. Which team will begin righting the ship?

Prediction: Michigan 24, Houston 10.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images

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