Three weeks remain in the regular year. Entering the week before the penultimate weekend of action, not one team has qualified or been eliminated from the postseason chase.
This week, however, we could have our first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs later on in the month. Last year’s runners-up, the Philadelphia Stars (4-3) could be postseason bound if three results go their way on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Houston Clashes With Pittsburgh on Saturday
The Stars’ road to the postseason begins with the early kickoff in Canton. In the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday afternoon, Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium plays host to an interdivision clash between the Houston Gamblers (4-3) and the Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5).
Unlike the games from last weekend, Saturday’s Gamblers/Maulers tilt is the first and only meeting in the regular season between them. In order to find when they played each other last time, you’ll have to go back to week five of last season.
That day, Pittsburgh bested Houston, 21-20. It’s been more than a full year since that game, so what happens now?
Kickoff time is scheduled for just past noon ET/ 11 am CT on USA Network. According to the USFL playoff picture, in order for the Stars to still be in-line for a postseason spot, Pittsburgh would have to lose.
There’s been a heatwave up and down the United States all week long. It’s expected to continue into this weekend in Canton.
Current weather forecastsindicate that temperatures will be around 81 degrees for kickoff under partly cloudy skies with high temperatures reaching 85 by the final whistle blows. No threat of rain is expected.
Houston Gamblers vs. Pittsburgh Maulers Betting Odds
As of Friday afternoon, the oddsmakershave the Gamblers installed as a -3-point favorite on the spread and a -167 favorite on the money line. Pittsburgh counters as a +130 underdog on the money line.
The over/under for the first game of the weekend is set at 43 1/2 points. If you plan on betting on this or any other game happening in the USFL this weekend, please wager responsibly.
What Can’t Mark Thompson Do?
Throughout the first seven weeks of the regular season, USFL fans have tuned into the ballgames to watch Gamblers halfback Mark Thompsondo his thing in the backfield. A week ago, although he was held to just 42 yards on the ground, he scored two touchdowns.
Another key statistic: With just 74 yards this week, he’ll eclipse the 500-yard plateau for the season. Like we’ve said about Thompson earlier on in the year, this guy can make opposing defenses pay if they just give him a little bit of room to run.
Can he erupt once again? Tune in on Saturday to find out.
Manny Bunch Looking for Second INT of Season
After not having recorded an interception since 2017 as a member of the University of Tulsa’s football program, Houston safety Manny Bunchfinally picked off a pass last Sunday at Memphis. He led the charge with 11 tackles and one quarterback sack.
At the core, the USFL is about giving athletes like Bunch the chance to get noticed by NFL scouts and teams looking to fill vacant spots on the roster before training camp begins in a month and a half from now. Another performance like the one he turned in last week certainly helps his cause.
Maulers Have to Give Simmons a Lane
At 2-5 through seven ballgames, the Pittsburgh Maulers have given their fans precious little to stand up and cheer about. One aspect of the game that they’re extremely adept at is kickoff returns.
Last Saturday night, after Philadelphia kicker Luis Aguilar converted on a 30-yard field goal attempt to make the game 10-7, Pittsburgh wide receiver/ kick returner Josh Simmons electrified the crowd with an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown. It was his first such TD since 2016, when he was on Prairie View A&M’s football program.
All Josh Simmons needs to do is find a seam in the open field. If he gets a lane, it’ll be hello and goodbye all over again.
JOSHUA. SIMMONS. What a massive special teams play for the @USFLMaulers, as they take the lead after an 88 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, courtesy of @TM7_JS7.
Another knee injury sidelined Foster earlier this season for the Maulers, but he’s come back with a vengeance in recent weeks. He notched seven tackles a week ago.
Will Foster be able to light up the stat sheet again on Saturday? Don’t forget to tune in.
While the Houston Gamblers will be unable to book a trip to the playoffs in the same Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton until at least week nine (no team in the South Division will clinch a playoff spot this week, nor can a team get eliminated), they can play spoiler for Pittsburgh and all but eliminate them this week. They’ve got the skills to do it.
Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and a better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.