More spring football is on the way this weekend from the USFL. While the XFL regular season ends Saturday and Sunday with week 10, the USFL’s sophomore season continues with week two. This week, Birmingham’s Protective Stadium and Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium will be the host sites for the four ballgames on the schedule.
Week two dawns with some good news where it matters most from a TV standpoint. On Tuesday, the official USFL Twitter account posted that the Nielsen ratings from last weekend’s games accounted for a four percent increase when compared to the same period last season.
It should be noted that week one of the USFL season in 2022 occurred during the Easter holiday weekend and the schedule spilled into the following Monday after a Pittsburgh Maulers/ Tampa Bay Bandits game was pushed back by 24 hours due to inclement weather conditions in the Birmingham hub, With Easter being a non-factor this year, more potential viewers were home for the games last week.
Week Two Kicks Off With Houston/ New Orleans Saturday Afternoon
Speaking of the Birmingham hub, Protective Stadium will be the setting for a Saturday doubleheader featuring two teams that traveled in opposite directions and are coming off of short weeks. The Houston Gamblers (0-1) look to rebound from their defeat to the Michigan Panthers in Memphis when they battle the New Orleans Breakers (1-0).
New Orleans defeated Pittsburgh in Birmingham last Sunday night on FS1. Both teams played on Sunday last weekend, meaning that they’ll have equal footing when it comes to preparation heading into week two.
For the first time of a scheduled seven (barring flex scheduling by the league to show more appealing games in a primetime window), USA Network will show this contest at 12:30 pm ET/ 11:30 am CT. As with all NBCUniversal-aired games, the Houston/ New Orleans battle will be live-streamed on NBC’s subscription-based platform, Peacock.
Great Weather is Expected for Early Kickoff
Throughout the first four games in the 2023 USFL season, the league has been very fortunate to not run into episodes of weather delays. That stretch of good luck is expected to continue in Birmingham for Saturday afternoon’s kickoff.
Being an 11:30 am local time start, cool temperatures are in the forecast for kickoff, with the afternoon high projected to top out at 73 degrees. Sunshine is in the cards on Saturday with no threat of rain for either of the two games on the schedule.
Houston Gamblers vs. New Orleans Breakers Betting Odds
As of early Thursday afternoon, the oddsmakers have the New Orleans Breakers installed as a – 61/2-point favorite for Saturday’s game on the spread and a -227 favorite on the money line. Houston counters as a +170 underdog on the money line, with the over/under set at 39 1/2 points.
If you plan on betting on this or any other game happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.
Gamblers Sputter Out of the Gate
Last Sunday’s ballgame seemed like a replay of a game from the 2022 season for the Houston Gamblers and their fans. Houston’s issues with ball security last season carried over into the new year.
The Gamblers turned the ball over four times last weekend, including two fumbles. It goes without saying that this was an inglorious beginning to the team’s season, especially when you consider that Houston committed 15 turnovers during the 10 games last season.
If the Gamblers show up in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon and play the same way that they played against the Panthers, it’ll be a long day for them. A 10-week season means that there’s very little room for error and they can’t afford to get behind the eight-ball early on.
TJ Pledger Bright Spot For Houston
Although the Gamblers only posted 194 yards on offense, there were some positives to take away from the game, including running back TJ Pledger. A University of Utah product, he had a decent day for Houston last week, scoring two touchdowns in goal-line situations, and leading the league in rushing touchdowns going into week two.
The key for the Gamblers this weekend is to create blocks on the offensive line to open up bigger lanes for TJ Pledger to run. His longest attempt of the entire afternoon was a nine-yard carry. Pledger is a guy with a small stature, standing just 5-foot-8, but he’s capable of having a productive day in the backfield.
In his senior year for the Utes, Pledger had four 100-yard games, including a season-high 119 yards on Nov. 13, 2021, against Arizona. Again, it all starts with decent blocking up front.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson Show Stays in Birmingham for Next Episode
Those who turn on USA Network for the Houston/ New Orleans game on Saturday afternoon will be treated to an all-new episode of The McLeod Bethel-Thompson Show. Last week’s installment was a successful performance.
Bethel-Thompson, a former starting quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, ranks at No. 1 in passing yards (303) heading into this weekend’s action, throwing for a single touchdown in New Orleans’ 22-15 victory. When announcing his decision to join the New Orleans Breakers this season, he said that he wants to target a possible return to the NFL this fall.
300-yard performances like the one he put in last Sunday can get him noticed, especially considering that he’s never started in the NFL. General managers in need of a quarterback later on in the offseason should begin to take notice of McLeod Bethel-Thompson right away. He has the skill set to succeed in the fall.
Breakers Should Try to Put the Game Away Early
While the Breakers got a win last week against the Maulers, it was much too close for comfort if you’re a New Orleans fan, 22-15. With McLeod Bethel-Thompson in the fold for the team, there’s no reason not to think that the Breakers can write an early ending to the story in week two.
If New Orleans can get out to a quick start, the game will be over as a contest by halftime, but they can’t bog down on offense. Breakers placekicker/punter Matt Coghlin went 5-for-5 on field goal attempts.
Had a few of those possessions resulted in touchdowns, it would have been a different story. The Breakers might not be so lucky this week if they have to settle for field goals.
This might only be week two, but this is an important game for both teams. Who will be able to set the tone? Tune in Saturday and find out.
Prediction: New Orleans 24, Houston 10.
Featured Image Credit: Getty Images