The start of the NFL preseason is less than four months away. The XFL is wrapping up a successful reboot, featuring NFL-caliber talent on (quite possibly) every team. And now, the relaunched USFL is returning for a second consecutive season. What are the USFL odds, picks, and predictions for Week 1, and what are our best bets?
USFL Week 1 Odds for Opening Weekend
Year No. 2 of the USFL is going to scratch the itch for football fans and bettors. In this piece, we’re going to focus on the latter (though the former connects directly to why we’re here — because we care about football).
The opening weekend features four matchups. Let’s take a look at the betting lines for each one and then walk through some of the best bets for each game.
Memphis Showboats vs. Philadelphia Stars
- Point Spread: Showboats (+2.5), Stars (-2.5)
- Moneyline: Showboats (+125), Stars (-145)
- Over/Under: 39 (-110)
Birmingham Stallions vs. New Jersey Generals
- Point Spread: Stallions (-5), Generals (+5)
- Moneyline: Stallions (-205), Generals (+175)
- Over/Under: 40 (-110)
Houston Gamblers vs. Michigan Panthers
- Point Spread: Gamblers (-1), Panthers (+1)
- Moneyline: Gamblers (-110), Panthers (-110)
- Over/Under: 38.5 (-110)
New Orleans Breakers vs. Pittsburgh Maulers
- Point Spread: Breakers (-4), Maulers (+4)
- Moneyline: Breakers (-180), Maulers (+155)
- Over/Under: 37.5 (-110)
USFL Picks and Best Bets
As with all nascent sports leagues, there’s a lot we don’t know. The new iteration of the USFL has one season under its belt. We can make pretty realistic assessments about certain players. But whereas we know that Patrick Mahomes will bring a certain caliber of production to his Kansas City Chiefs, no one can issue the same degree of certainty about, say, the USFL’s Case Cookus.
Yeah, we can feel pretty confident that Cookus will have a good season. But his range of outcomes — from middling to outstanding — is far wider than someone like Mahomes. For that matter, most USFL players (and their teams) have wider realistic ranges of outcomes than their NFL counterparts.
Simply put, the NFL is a mature league. The USFL is more like the Wild West.
With that in mind, here are a few recommended best bets. I’m basing this analysis on two primary assumptions. The first is that last year’s USFL was divided starkly between playoff-caliber teams and non-playoff-caliber teams. Birmingham and New Jersey crushed it. Philadelphia and New Orleans shook off losses to tough teams and took care of business against weaker teams.
As for the weaker teams, in hindsight, none were strong contenders to reach the postseason. They all had major weaknesses in multiple areas — issues they couldn’t easily overcome in a league with far more dominant franchises leading each division.
Based on personnel moves this offseason, I haven’t observed a significant shift in the “haves and have-nots.” Last year’s four playoff teams remain the four best teams, at least until proven otherwise. And among the four weakest teams, I believe only Michigan has a decent shot at pushing past New Jersey or Philly for a North Division playoff berth.
Secondly, unlike last season, some USFL teams this year will play home games at home (rather than all of their games in Birmingham). Home-field advantage is now a thing in this league, at least partially, with Michigan and Memphis enjoying in-state home games, along with Birmingham.
While it might not have as strong an impact as we see in the NFL, the fact is, betting markets are factoring it in. How much? Who knows. But if we see a true home team favored by two points, we might wonder if the point spread would be reversed if the location switched to the other team.
With that in mind, here are five recommended best bets.
Philadelphia Stars (-2.5) at Memphis Showboats
Some of you know my views on the Stars. I believe they’ll return to the title game with a good shot at winning it all this time. They have one of the league’s top quarterbacks, top running backs, and top receiving corps.
They started slowly last year because they faced a brutal schedule. Against lesser talent, they consistently won.
Memphis gets a home game in the franchise’s debut after relocating from Tampa Bay following the 2022 season. While that shouldn’t materially impact this contest, we might wonder how much of a home-field advantage Memphis actually has, with a fan base that might still be acclimating to the fact that they have a team.
Philadelphia Stars Defeat Memphis Showboats (-145)
These are quite reasonable odds for a favored road team — especially one as talented as Philadelphia. It’s quite possible Showboats QB Ryan Willis (assuming he starts) will elevate Memphis’s offense. It’s also quite possible that this will be an Alex-Collins-or-bust offense.
The latter scenario might play well against an offensively limited squad. But the Stars should put up 25+ points. Memphis will need to speed things up to keep pace. I don’t think they have the firepower to do it.
Birmingham Stallions Defeat New Jersey Generals (-205)
A rematch of Week 1 from last season. That turned out to be the Generals’ only defeat of the regular season, as both teams finished 9-1. They should have met in the finals. The Stars made sure that didn’t happen, upending the Generals in their third matchup of the year.
New Jersey should still be a great squad. 9-1? Candidly, I doubt it. But they’re a legitimate postseason candidate.
The problem is that they’re facing their toughest 2023 opponent out of the gate. The defending-champion Stallions still look incredible on paper. As alluded to above, we need to see all these teams in action to get a much better sense of their potential. But there are many reasons why Birmingham is the near-universal preseason favorite to win another championship.
Michigan Panthers (+1) at Houston Gamblers
Michigan’s an interesting team. They technically finished in last place in the 2022 season (on account of losing to the eventual 1-9 Pittsburgh Maulers in Week 10 — an interesting USFL rule to help ward off tanking). That’s why the Panthers picked No. 1 overall in this year’s draft.
So they received the benefit of a great draft position, despite actually looking like the fifth- or sixth-best team. Most of their losses were nail-biters. They boasted one of the better offenses. If their defense improves even modestly, they could be a 6-4 squad.
Given the point spread, let’s tack on the moneyline bet, as well. Michigan’s 2023 season outlook appears promising.
New Orleans Breakers Defeat Pittsburgh Maulers (-180)
I’m struck by how the Breakers have lower odds of winning their Week 1 game than the Stallions do. Why? Because the Breakers are facing last year’s worst team (based on record), the 1-9 Maulers. But the Stallions are facing the 9-1 Generals. One might think New Orleans has the easier matchup.
MORE: What is the USFL?
Or at least, that’s what I think. The Breakers are probably the third-, fourth-, or fifth-best USFL team. They lost their star running back and star tight end. Both have big shoes to fill. That said, they’ll begin the season with (presumably) the softest possible opponent. It’s a good opener for a Breakers team that might need a few weeks to re-establish their offensive identity.