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. Let’s examine the USFL Power Rankings ahead of Week 1.
USFL Week 1 Power Rankings
In larger recurring leagues, power rankings are easier to gauge during the preseason. We generally know the realistic range of outcomes for each squad. But with only eight teams competing in the new USFL’s second season, there are many unknowns — and with it, greater confusion over which seemingly “great” teams are pretenders and which underperformers are contenders.
1) Birmingham Stallions
Don’t read too much into how the Stallions perform in Week 1. They’re facing one of their toughest opponents, the New Jersey Generals. Last year, New Jersey came two minutes away from facing Birmingham in the USFL title game.
So this is a rematch of a game that never happened — a what-could-have-been showdown between two conceivably elite squads.
Keep a close eye on which QB Birmingham rolls with. I’ve publicly predicted that J’Mar Smith will thrive as the starter. But, of course, anything can happen for a team eyeing back-to-back championships. At the very least, Alex McGough looms. Smith needs to get off to a great start, and I believe he will.
2) Philadelphia Stars
The Stars have the luxury (somewhat) of facing the beatable Memphis Showboats in Week 1. Although it’s on the road, Philly sports one of the league’s top quarterbacks, running backs, and a superb receiving corps. In fact, they comfortably led all teams in scoring last season.
If they somehow lose to Memphis, I believe it will reflect more positively on the Showboats than negatively on the Stars because Philadelphia enters 2023 as one of the league’s most complete teams. They started 2-3 last year before marching to the title game. Like Birmingham, they can overcome an early-season defeat.
3) New Jersey Generals
As alluded to above, the Generals have arguably their toughest matchup of the year in Week 1, going on the road to face the defending champions. They had the same setup in Week 1 last year, losing 28-24 to the (almost same) Stallions. Then, New Jersey won nine straight.
On paper, the Generals remain a fearsome team on both sides of the ball. But keep in mind that four of their victories last year were by four points or less. Their other five wins were by seven to 11 points. Yes, they’re terrific. And there’s also some strong regression potential.
4) New Orleans Breakers
Rounding out the top four, the Breakers look poised for another run at the postseason. And as with leagues like the USFL, teams benefit and struggle based somewhat on which players stick around and which ones jump to another league.
In the Breakers’ case, they’re coming off a season where they held opponents to the fewest points. Defensive playmakers like Vontae Diggs and Adonis Alexander are returning for another season.
And they have the benefit of facing the Pittsburgh Maulers at home. While no win is guaranteed — not by any stretch — Week 1 affords New Orleans the opportunity to test out a questionable backfield that should be led by Anthony Jones.
They lost Jordan Ellis, who led the league in 2022 with 150 carries for 596 yards. Before we can adequately assess the Breakers’ ranking, we need to see what this new-look backfield can do.
5) Michigan Panthers
Speaking of RBs, perhaps no one matters more to their team than Reggie Corbin does to Michigan. While he might not be the engine of this offense, he’s certainly one engine. And with a three-headed QB situation that could go any which way from week to week, Corbin is expected to be the offensive constant.
While the Panthers finished 2-8 last year, they scored the fourth-most points while producing a respectable net -25 point differential. They get a winnable game in Week 1 versus Houston on the road. My No. 5 ranking for Michigan assumes they’ll prevail, setting them up as the “best of the rest” beyond last year’s four playoff teams.
6) Houston Gamblers
And if Houston wins? Then I might move them ahead of Michigan next week. But “might” is the key. As with Birmingham, one game won’t necessarily shift one’s standing, at least when it comes to power rankings. The Gamblers likely will be favorites. They’re expected to take care of business at home.
So what could go wrong? Well, things will get a lot tougher after this weekend. Four of their following five contests will be against last year’s playoff teams.
QB Kenji Bahar has his work cut out for him. So does seemingly talented RB Mark Thompson. If this team experiences negative game scripts, we might see a lot of Bahar, which in the short term might not be best for this rebuilding squad.
7) Memphis Showboats
The Showboats’ first two matchups are against last year’s title-game opponents: Philadelphia and Birmingham. That’s a tough way to begin a season.
Memphis will lean heavily on former NFL starting RB Alex Collins, and they have to hope Ryan Willis can develop into a top-four USFL quarterback. The loss of TE Cheyenne O’Grady (their No. 2 receiver in 2022) won’t help. And for XFL fans, keep in mind that current XFL star Jordan Ta’amu was Memphis’ starting QB last year.
I referenced “unknowns” earlier in this article, and Memphis is chock full of them. On a playoff-bound team, Collins could excel. But if this franchise encounters repeated negative game scripts, they might not get enough out of one of their best playmakers.
8) Pittsburgh Maulers
Pittsburgh scored the fewest points in 2022 and tied for the most points surrendered. They have a lot of catching up to do and not enough personnel at their disposal to do it.
They’re hoping No. 2 overall draft pick Lindsey Scott Jr. can be their QB of the future. But I expect it will be tough sledding for him and the rest of this team for most of the season. Realistically, they might secure two or three wins by beating up on the league’s other least-talented squads.
Their first four games are vs. New Orleans, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Birmingham. Yes, all four 2022 postseason teams.
They’re trying to hurry up and gel while facing the league’s most brutal opening month. I can’t conceive of Pittsburgh making out of the cellar of power rankings until at least Week 8’s home tilt against Houston.