13 Jan

How things stack up through Week 8, as every team still has a shot at making postseason

With just two weeks left in the USFL’s regular season, every team is still in playoff contention. And one thing is clear — at least one deserving team from the South Division is going to miss the postseason.

In Week 8, when the four South teams were matched up with North opponents, all four from the South prevailed, setting up an odd situation where the worst team in the South has a better record than the best in the North. With the top two teams in each division making the playoffs, here’s how the standings look with just eight games still to be played in the regular season.

The Memphis Showboats are the league’s hottest team, winning their fifth straight after an 0-3 start, yet they could very well be left out of the postseason. The New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers are tied for the worst record in the league, yet there’s still a path for each to make the playoffs. We’ll break down the playoff picture and the biggest takeaway from each game below; first, a look at the Week 8 scores.

Houston Gamblers 20, Pittsburgh Maulers 19
Birmingham Stallions 27, Philadelphia Stars 24
Memphis Showboats 25, New Jersey Generals 16
New Orleans Breakers 24, Michigan Panthers 20

Playoff picture
Let’s start with the North Division. The good news for the Philadelphia Stars, who reached the USFL title game last year, is that they’re in first place. The bad news? They’re only .500 after losing to the Birmingham Stallions, and have allowed 31 more points this season than they’ve scored. In fact, every team in the East owns a minus point differential. The Michigan Panthers are currently in the playoff picture, sitting in second place in the North despite a 3-5 record.

The Stars finish the season with games against the Generals and Panthers, so Philly controls its own fate. In fact, every team in the USFL faces only divisional opponents in what should be a wild final two weeks of the regular season. Everything is still up for grabs.

In the South Division, where all four teams are 5-3 or better, the defending champion Birmingham Stallions boast the league’s best record at 6-2, but a stumble in the final two weeks against a pair of strong divisional opponents (Gamblers, Showboats) could still leave them home for the playoffs. Those Gamblers and Showboats, along with the Breakers — who finally got back in the win column after a three-game slide — are knotted at 5-3, with games remaining only within the division.

Our best guess for the playoffs? Stars and Panthers in the North, Stallions and Showboats in the South. But as we saw in the XFL title game, a better regular season record won’t necessarily translate to playoff success.

Showboats win fifth straight after 0-3 start
Memphis has been on fire of late — they’re even our new No. 1 team — and that continued on Sunday. The Showboats haven’t lost since starting 0-3, and their defense has been the biggest reason for the turnaround.

Memphis leads the league in takeaways the last five weeks, and in Week 8 the Showboats got two quick ones — forcing a fumble on a kick return, followed by this Greg Reaves interception off Generals quarterback Kyle Lauletta.

Look at @G_Reaves41 with the INT at the line! 👏 pic.twitter.com/DsU2phiXUl

— USFL (@USFL) June 4, 2023
Kerrith Whyte led the way on offense for the Showboats, rushing for 102 yards on 24 carried with a touchdown.

Breakers finally stop skid with win over Panthers
New Orleans looked like the class of the league when it was the only team to start 4-0, but it immediately followed that with a three-game losing streak. The Breakers finally got a win on Sunday, as they held on after running out to a 21-0 lead on Michigan. The Panthers scored 10 points in the final minute of the first half, however, and cut the lead to 21-17 in the third. In the end, Michigan was down four in the final ticks, but a Hail Mary attempt was picked off.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the way for the Breakers, throwing for 328 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

👀 McLeod Bethel-Thompson finds Johnnie Dixon for a 36-yard score! pic.twitter.com/SkmtpopnFL

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) June 4, 2023
Stallions come back to beat Stars in 2022 title game rematch
Birmingham and Philadelphia clashed in the first USFL championship game last year, and their first meeting since that game was a thriller. It was tied with less than five minutes remaining when a Birmingham field goal put it up three with 4:35 left. Stars quarterback Case Cookus responded with his third TD of the game to put Philly back on top with 3:10 left.

The Stallions got the last laugh, as Alex McGough found La’Michael Pettway on a 7-yard TD with just 25 seconds remaining in the game.

What a game this has been. Alex McGough finds La’Michael Pettway for the go-ahead score with under 30 seconds to go, and the @USFLStallions are back in front.

It’s been an entertaining day for #USFL football. You love to see it.pic.twitter.com/UjtJTfKrIF

— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) June 3, 2023
McGough threw 3 TDs without tossing a pick, finishing with 333 yards passing. McGough and Cookus had a combined 6 TDs and 598 yards.

Gamblers never lead until final 5 minutes; Thompson saves day
The Maulers led the entire game Saturday until just under five minutes remained in the fourth quarter. That’s when the Gamblers’ Mark Thompson — who leads the USFL in rushing touchdowns — got loose for this 33-yard score, which turned out to be the game-winner.

LUCKY NUMBER 1️⃣3️⃣ @InMarkWeTrust’s 33-yard TD gives us the lead! 🙌

🎥: @USANetwork pic.twitter.com/3tfAXRKymn

— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) June 3, 2023
It was Thompson’s second TD run of the game, his fifth multiple-TD game in eight weeks, which tops the league. He finished with 98 yards on 14 carries.

The Maulers had led 13-6 at the half. A 53-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt put Pittsburgh up 19-13 with nine minutes left in the game before Thompson’s heroics. The Maulers had a chance to retake the lead with 1:50 remaining, but Blewitt missed from 41 yards out.

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