13 Jan

Expect Maulers to move on, lean on Breakers in postseason rematch

For the second year in a row, the USFL has completed a successful season and made it to the playoffs. The North and South divisions could not have been more different in 2022. The two best teams in the North held 4-6 records, while the top two teams in the South were the only clubs in the entire league with winning records. Here’s our “final four.”

The Pittsburgh Maulers and Michigan Panthers are your two representatives from the North. It’s pretty surprising both teams made it in, as Pittsburgh once sat at 2-6, and Michigan trailed the Philadelphia Stars 20-6 on Sunday before scoring 17 unanswered points to clinch a spot in the postseason.

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As for the South, we get a playoff rematch this weekend. It will be the reigning champion Birmingham Stallions vs. the New Orleans Breakers. Both teams enter red-hot, with the Stallions having won five in a row, and Breakers having won three in a row.

Below we break down how to watch the USFL playoffs, and give our gambling picks.

Michigan Panthers (4-6) at Pittsburgh Maulers (4-6)
When: Saturday, June 24, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game location: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton, OH

This is the playoff game being overlooked by everyone, but maybe these two first-year head coaches can put on a show. That show likely won’t include a ton of points, however. The Maulers allow just 257.4 yards of total offense per game, which ranks No. 1 in the league, and 17.2 points per game, which ranks second behind the Breakers. Offensively, everything goes through quarterback Troy Williams, who leads the team in passing yards (1,414), passing touchdowns (6), rushing yards (341) and rushing touchdowns (3).

For the Panthers, there’s a quarterback question as Josh Love was replaced by E.J. Perry last week. What you need to know for this matchup is that Pittsburgh swept Michigan in the regular season, defeating the Panthers twice by a combined score of 42-14.

The pick: Maulers -3
Projected score: Maulers 17-10

New Orleans Breakers (7-3) at Birmingham Stallions (8-2)
When: Sunday, June 25, 7 p.m. ET (Fox)
Game location: Protective Stadium, Birmingham, AL

Last year in the postseason, it was Kyle Sloter leading the Breakers into battle vs. the Stallions. Fast forward to now, and Sloter is on the Stallions roster, while McLeod Bethel-Thompson is under center for New Orleans. Bethel-Thompson led the league in passing with 2,433 yards, was third in passing touchdowns with 14 and had eight interceptions. He won a championship not even a year ago with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, and is looking for another. Running back Wes Hills led the league in rushing with 679 yards.

On the other side, no one has thrown more touchdowns than Birmingham’s Alex McGough, who has 20 TD tosses. His tight end, Jace Sternberger, leads the league in receiving touchdowns with seven, while wide receiver Davion Davis is second in the USFL with 575 receiving yards.

These two teams faced off twice in the regular season. In late April, the Breakers dropped 45 points on the Stallions in a 14-point win, and Hills exploded for 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns on a whopping 34 carries. A month later, the Stallions got their revenge with a 24-20 win despite the Breakers scoring 11 unanswered in the fourth quarter.

I find myself rooting for the veteran Bethel-Thompson, who is capable of overcoming what could be a raucous environment. Both offenses can put up points, but the Stallions defense allows a league-worst 309 yards per game! Isn’t there some saying about defenses and championships? Expect this fun matchup to be close, but I’m leaning toward the underdogs.

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