By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
USFL Week 9 is here. At this point, a few teams have locked up their playoff berths and a couple of squads are still fighting for their postseason lives. The reality is this: Everything comes down to this weekend and next.
This weekend is exciting because the stakes are so high. And by high, I’m talking about a chance to play in Canton, Ohio — the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — in the USFL’s inaugural season’s playoffs.
Last week, I was all about the underdogs covering. This week, I’m feeling the favorites again.
Come check out my best bets for Week 9, with all odds via FOX Bet.
New Jersey Generals (7-1) vs. michigan panthers (1-7), 1 p.m. ET Saturday, NBC
If you’re new to my weekly USFL wagering article, welcome. If you’re a return customer, you know the rule. We fade Jeff Fisher’s Panthers team.
His team is 2-6 against the spread through eight weeks, and going back to his days with the Rams, he’s 3-12-2 against the spread over his last 17 games as a head coach.
Statistically, Michigan ranks fifth in offensive expected points added (EPA) and seventh on defense. The Panthers just allowed 46 points to the Stars and now face an offense that ranks first in the league. Look out!
The Generals are first in offensive EPA, yardage per game and rushing yards. They allow the least amount of points in the league and excel at stopping the run, allowing only 74.9 yards per game.
The Panthers are just not well coached and do almost nothing at a high level.
I’ll take the Generals and lay the hook. They win by at least eight.
PICK: Generals (-7.5 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 7.5 points
Tampa Bay Bandits (3-4) vs. New Orleans Breakers (5-3), 4 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX
I’m going with the Breakers in this must-win contest for both teams. The winner of this game will take control of the final playoff seed in the USFL’s south division.
The Breakers have the best passing offense in the league, averaging 219 yards per game which is nearly 30 yards more than the next-best team. They rank second in the league on third-down offense and fourth in offensive EPA. The Breakers’ defense leads the league in efficiency, as they allow only 16.8 points per game.
The Breakers have a plus +38-point differential which ranks third in the league. This tells me they should have more than five wins.
On the other side are the Bandits who have a -19-point differential, a sixth-ranked offense and a fourth-ranked defense. The only thing they seem to do well regularly is turn the ball over. They lead the league in giveaways with 15 and have an -11 turnover margin. I’m not sure how they will score on the Breakers.
The Breakers have enough offense to cover this spread.
PICK: Breakers (-3.5 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 3.5 points
Philadelphia Stars (5-3) vs. Pittsburgh Maulers (1-7), 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday, FS1
The Pittsburgh Maulers have an anemic offense through eight weeks. They scored no more than 18 points in their last three games while losing by 10 or more points in all three. Pittsburgh is scoring just 13.75 points per game and rank sixth in third-down percentage. The Maulers also average the second-least yards per game and are dead last in yards per passing attempt.
This weekend the Maulers against Stars team that’s bad on defense. Philadelphia has allowed the most points in the league, giving up 30, 28, 24 and 24 the last four weekends. And two of those games were against some of the worst offenses in the league. So I do expect the Maulers to score more than their average, but that will not help them cover.
The reason the Maulers won’t cover is because of the Stars’ dynamic offense. Philadelphia is averaging 27.75 points per game and ranks second in offensive efficiency. And to put it nicely, the Maulers defense is stinky. They are last in efficiency, allow the second most points and have only sacked the quarterback 13 times in eight games.
The Stars have scored 35 points or more in three straight weeks, and I’m banking on them doing that against a Maulers defense that can’t stop a nose bleed.
Give me the Stars to cover the 8.5 and their team total over.
PICK: Stars (8.5 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 8.5 points
PICK: Over 28.5 points scored by the Stars
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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