13 Jan

Showboats, Stars making playoff push as every team remains in division hunt

The USFL’s sophomore season has been one to remember through seven weeks. Every team remains in contention for the league title, thanks to some wild division races that are coming down to the final weeks of the regular season.

In the North Division, all four teams are separated by two games. The South Division has all four teams separated by a game, with three teams tied for second place. Five of the eight teams are over .500 with three weeks left.

The final stretch of the USFL season will separate the contenders from the pretenders, especially since four teams will be competing for the league championship in a month. The Birmingham Stallions are the defending champions and have the best record, so the slightest slip up could keep them out of the playoffs.

Heading into Week 8 of the season, the USFL power rankings are wilder than ever.

  1. Memphis Showboats (4-3)
    The last team to win a game in the league this season is just one game behind Birmingham for the South Division title. Memphis has won an impressive four games in a row since its 0-3 start, including an impressive 23-20 victory over Houston to get in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Cole Kelly’s 64-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Green with 1:44 left is a contender for play of the year thus far — and the pass that could get Memphis into the postseason in their first year back in the USFL. There’s still some work to do for Memphis, as it faces New Orleans and Birmingham in the final two weeks (the Showboats do have the edge in the three-way tiebreaker thanks to a 2-1 record against Houston and New Orleans).

  1. Philadelphia Stars (4-3)
    Wouldn’t be the second half of the USFL season without the Stars making a run at a playoff berth. Philadelphia rallied in the second half for a 37-31 victory over Pittsburgh, with Case Cookus finding Corey Coleman for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the Stars up for good.

The Stars have taken the North Division lead and have won three straight. A Week 8 showdown with Birmingham — and a rematch of last season’s USFL Championship Game — could determine the Stars’ division-title chances. The Stars actually clinch the division with a win over the Stallions and losses by the Maulers and Generals.

  1. Birmingham Stallions (5-2)
    The Stallions have the best record in the USFL, yet are one loss away from the outside looking in regarding the playoff race. So is life in the South Division.

Birmingham avenged an earlier loss to New Orleans with a 24-20 victory to take over the South Division lead, holding on to the advantage in the final quarter. The Stallions have the league’s best record and the league’s best quarterback and Alex McGough, but have a showdown with Philadelphia in Week 8.

A rematch of the USFL Championship Game could turn out to be the game of the season. The Stallions’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, facing over .500 teams the last of the way.

  1. Michigan Panthers (3-4)
    Michigan continued its surprising season by beating New Jersey in Week 7, as Josh Love found Joe Walker for a 68-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead with 4:41 left in a 25-22 victory. The win put Michigan in second place in the North Division, a game ahead of New Jersey and Pittsburgh with three to play.

The Panthers split with the Generals and have the opportunity to split with the Maulers in Week 9. A tough matchup with New Orleans awaits this week.

  1. Houston Gamblers (4-3)
    A 23-20 loss to Memphis didn’t help Houston’s playoff chances, as the Gamblers are third in the three-way tiebreaker for second place in the South Division (despite having the highest point differential over Memphis and New Orleans). Memphis actually gets the second playoff spot due to having a 2-1 record against New Orleans and Houston.

Houston faces Pittsburgh this week in a trap game with Birmingham and New Orleans closing out the year. The Gamblers allow 23.1 points per game, second highest in the league.

There’s still work to do in Houston.

  1. New Orleans Breakers (4-3)
    The USFL’s last unbeaten team can’t buy a win, as New Orleans has lost three straight following a Week 7 loss to Michigan. New Orleans has the league’s leading passer in McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the league’s leading rusher in Wes Hills, and the league’s leading receiver in Sage Surratt.

The Breakers have the league’s best passing offense and the top offense in yards per game. New Orleans is also third in scoring defense and yards allowed. This team should be better than its record indicates, but averaging 13.3 points over the last three games isn’t going to win many contests.

  1. Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)
    The Maulers are falling out of the playoff picture after a tough 37-31 loss to the Stars. On the bright side, Pittsburgh scored 31 points after getting shut out the week prior.

Pittsburgh is two games behind Philadelphia for the North Division lead, but still remain one game behind Michigan for the final playoff spot. The Maulers have to beat the Gamblers this week to have a shot in Week 9, as they’ll play the Panthers.

  1. New Jersey Generals (2-5)
    A four-game losing streak has the Generals begging for a win at this point, as a repeat of the North Division title appears to be out of reach. New Jersey is still one game out of a playoff spot, but has to beat Memphis and Philadelphia to set themselves up to make the playoffs (finish the year against Pittsburgh in Week 10).

DeAndre Johnson’s head injury is a major blow to the league’s top-ranked rushing offense. Johnson doesn’t appear to be playing this week, so Kyle Lauletta will lead an offense averaging just 17.5 points during the four-game losing streak.

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