The XFL has returned and our resident American Football expert Leigh Copson is offering his reaction to the returning league's first weekend of action.
Week 1 of the XFL season is in the books and it is safe to say one thing – this is no rehash of the 2001 league that turned away fans by the millions with poor play, silly rules and ridiculous attention-seeking stunts. The XFL claims it is ‘for the love of football’ and there was a lot to love about Week 1. The standard of play was very high for a new league with all new teams, and some of the unique rules are already being embraced by football fans.
Whenever anybody tries to reinvent the wheel you have to wonder if it is a wise move. Back in 2001 the XFL tried to inject ‘fun’ back into football with a series of unique rules that allowed the league to be different to the NFL, but none of them worked and were so confusing that fans simply gave up trying to understand them. So when Vince McMahon’s returning league confirmed that they would once again try to ‘reimagine’ the game many shuddered, but this time the WWE supremo has left the football to the football people and that is clear for all to see.
While first-time fans will need a little time to adapt, a couple of the new rules have received plenty of praise online. The new approach to kick-offs is something that the NFL should seriously consider because not only does it bring excitement back to this particular play of the game, it does it in a way that can be deemed much safer for the health of the plays. And while we did not see a huge return for a TD on opening weekend, I think it is safe to say that it is only a matter of time!
And what about those conversions? In the NFL you can kick an extra point for one or try an offensive play for two. Well, in the XFL there are no point-after kicks. Instead teams must run an offensive play and they have three options – go from the two-yard line for one, from the five-yard line for two of the 10-yard line for three. Nobody went for three in Week 1 because they did not need to, but the potential for a nine-point scoring drive means even the biggest of leads are not as commanding as they are in the NFL. After all, two touchdowns and two three-point conversions are good for 18 points! It is going to be fun to see how coaches use this unique opportunity down the line.
But what other takeaways are there from Week 1? Read on…
XFL Odds: Who will win it all?
BettingPro’s Week 1 XFL MVP: PJ Walker
The quarterbacks have received plenty of attention in the build-up to the XFL season, with Dallas’ Landry Jones and DC’s Cardale Jones getting much of the hype, but on opening weekend it was PJ Walker of the Houston Roughnecks who stole the show. Walker threw for 272 yards and four touchdowns on the day, and he showed great elusiveness in the pocket as he led his team to a convincing win over the Los Angeles Wildcats. If Week 1 is anything to go by then this young signal-caller is going to be one to watch over the coming weeks and months and could soon rival the two Jones’ in the battle be the best quarterback in the league.
When the XFL odds for 2020 were released the bookmakers quickly installed Dallas as the favourites, and it was an understandable decision despite there were no previous games or seasons to go on. After all, the Renegades boast considerable pedigree when it comes to both coaches and players. However, things did not go according to plan in Week 1 as they fell to a surprise 15-6 home defeat to a St Louis BattleHawks team that had been considered the joint worst team in the league when the bookies released their odds. Dallas failed to score a single touchdown as a fourth-quarter surge lifted the BattleHawks to victory, but did that loss suggest the bookmakers got it horribly wrong when pricing up the Renegades’ chances of a championship success in the XFL’s first season back? Time will tell, but what should not be overlooked is that head coach Bob Stoops was unable to call upon starting quarterback Landry Jones due to injury, and the absence of the man many considered to be the best QB in the XFL was a major blow for the season opener. Jones is expected to return in Week 2 and give that offense a much-needed spark, so for now the bookmakers are playing safe and keeping the Renegades at the head of the betting. However, if they falter in Week 2 then that could all change pretty quickly, especially if Western Conference rivals Houston build on their impressive start.
Bookies Impressed As DC Put Out Dragons’ Fire
The DC Defenders wrote their name in the history books by becoming the first team to win a game in XFL 2.0, and in doing so they grabbed the attention of analysts and bookmakers. While the bookies were not exactly writing off DC ahead of the new season, their 15/2 XFL odds meant that they were ranked just fifth out of the eight teams heading into the new campaign. That has all changed though, with their Week 1 win over the Seattle Dragons causing the bookmakers to slash their odds and make them the new 7/2 joint favourites alongside Dallas. Much is expected of quarterback Cardale Jones this season and he started reasonably well with a couple of touchdown passes, but he cannot do it all on his own and it appears as though he has the supporting cast he needs for a run at the championship. Jones hit nine different receivers during the game and enjoyed an outstanding level of reliability from his team-mates as they rarely dropped a pass – leading receiver Eli Rogers was flawless with six catches from six targets for 73 yards, while Rashad Ross hauled in both of his targets, one of which produced a touchdown. The offense was not the only unit that impressed in a 31-19 win though. The defense picked off Brandon Silvers twice, one of which was returned for a TD, and also recovered a fumble, while Jonathan Celestin recovered Elijah Campbell’s blocked punt for a touchdown in an impressive all-round display. The XFL season may only be one week old and the Defenders will face tougher tests than Seattle, but there was a lot to like about this performance the bookies have been smart slashing DC’s odds!
Roughnecks The Real Deal?
The bookmakers were not expecting much from the Houston Roughnecks heading into the inaugural XFL season, ranking them sixth out of the eight teams in the XFL odds betting. Week 1 suggested that they got that horribly wrong. Houston got off to a flying start when PJ Walker hit Cam Phillips for a 50-yard score inside two minutes and that was a sign of things to come as the Roughnecks quarterback stole the show, throwing four touchdown passes and running in a conversion himself as the Roughnecks romped to a 37-17 victory. Walker is likely to be one of the stars of the XFL on the back of that showing, and he has an excellent supporting cast around him, both on offense and defense, that could mean they are serious contenders to go all the way and win the XFL Championship this season. While statistically nobody shone quite like Walker, he has so many weapons on this offense that they should put plenty of points on the board this season and if that defense can perform like they did in the second half against LA, then Houston will have a championship-winning package. Granted the Roughnecks did come up against a second-string QB on Saturday night, but there were lots of promising signs and the bookmakers clearly feel that way because they have slashed the odds on the Texas franchise winning the XFL this season. Having been out at 10/1 early on, June Jones’ team are now into 5/1 in the XFL odds behind just two teams.
Trestman’s Terrible Tampa Team?
When the XFL odds for were released the bookmakers installed the Tampa Bay Vipers as one of the leading contenders to win it all. Week 1 suggests the bookies got it horribly wrong. When Marc Trestman was appointed head coach and general manager all of the chatter was about whether or not he could work wonders with quarterback Aaron Murray, who had failed so miserably in the now defunct Alliance of American Football a year ago. Trestman was considered a ‘QB guru’ having worked with Steve Young during the QB’s peak days in San Francisco, and in his first season as an NFL coach with the Chicago Bears that offense exploded into life to become the second best unit in the entire league… for a year. However, those days with Young were a long, long time ago and his second season in Chicago was a complete disaster that set the franchise back several years. Now after just one week of XFL action many are asking if Trestman will be the first head coach to be fired from the CFL, the NFL and the XFL? Over-reaction? Maybe. Possible? Definitely. Tampa Bay produced the worst performance of any team on opening weekend as they turned the ball over multiple times and failed to score a single touchdown – giving Chicago Bears fans horrible flashbacks to his second season in the ‘Windy City’ – and Murray showed that maybe he is beyond fixable with some sloppy play and poor accuracy. He did get benched during parts of the game and he may want to get a cushion because he could soon be sat on it permanently. And if you are thinking ‘it’s OK, it’s only one week and Trestman can fire them up’, then this footage from half-time suggests you should think again. He’s more likely to put his players to sleep then fire them up!
Thanks to the XFL for an inside look at a Marc Trestman halftime speech. pic.twitter.com/yEnU56KIrr
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) February 9, 2020
This Wildcat Looks More Like A Viper!
The first incarnation of the XFL was heavily criticised for being too ‘in bed’ with Vince McMahon’s other business at the time, World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE superstars would be all over broadcasts, even in the announce booth, but McMahon has clearly learned his lesson because there were no WWE sightings on Saturday or Sunday. However, the XFL could not escape the WWE completely, it seems LA Wildcats wide receiver Jordan Smallwood is a big fan of Randy Orton. Get used to seeing him hit ‘The Viper’s’ pose after making catches!
Week 1 XFL Highlights
DC Defenders 31 Seattle Dragons 19
Houston Roughnecks 37 Los Angeles Wildcats 17
New York Guardians 23 Tampa Bay Vipers
Dallas Renegades 9 St Louis BattleHawks 15