Week 3 of the XFL season is in the books and our resident American Football expert Leigh Copson has been offering his reaction to the latest round of action in the new league.
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What a weekend that was – it had everything! From history-making moments and plays to a major upset, from sensational individual performances to complete team implosions. Week 3 had everything a football fan could want over the course of four games – it even had a player trading a game ball for Girl Scout cookies on the sideline while a game was in progress! I wonder what trade offers will be made during Week 4!?!
But back to football. Week 3 proved that maybe it was too early to write off times and maybe some teams had been over-rated. The winless Tampa Bay Vipers burst into life against the league’s only unbeaten team, Houston, before falling to defeat, the Dallas Renegades survived another lacklustre first half to win on the road, and the DC Defenders saw their 100% record disappear as they were blown out by a Los Angeles Wildcats team who had been beaten in both of their previous games.
I was as sore as the Defenders were after that embarrassing loss – and not because I am a fan of the team. Having gone 3/3 with my first three tips for the weekend I was just one game away from completing a perfect haul, but DC let me down in pretty emphatic fashion so that is now the third straight week that I have been 3/4 with my XFL tips. That is right… every week I have gone 3/4, although I did pick all four winners in Week 2 so I am claiming that as a moral victory.
Week 4 of the season is now on the horizon, but before I look ahead to next weekend (and try to figure out which game will ruin my latest accumulator/parlay bet), here are my takes on the Week 3 XFL action…
XFL Odds: Who Will Win It All?
BettingPro’s Week 3 XFL MVP: Cam Phillips
The Houston Roughnecks dominated the league’s Star of the Week award through the first two weeks of the season as quarterback PJ Walker took the honours in Week 1 and wide receiver Cam Phillips claimed it in Week 2, and while I did agree with the league after opening weekend, giving my MVP honours to Walker, I opted against sticking with Houston in Week 2. Instead of going with Phillips for this three-TD haul against St Louis, I gave my (imaginary) gong to Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne after his two crucial fourth-quarter scores lifted the Renegades a first ever win. However, there is no way that I can ignore Phillips for a second time after he produced a sensational three-touchdown display in the Roughnecks’ win over Tampa Bay, a performance which also saw him set a single-game record with 194 yards receiving. Those numbers have rightfully made him BettingPro’s XFL Week 3 MVP.
PJ & Cam Show Inspires Roughnecks To 3-0
Can anyone stop the combination of PJ Walker and Cam Phillips? The Houston Roughnecks pair gave the glimpse of what was to come in the very first game as they took just over a minute to combine for a 50-yard score in the season-opening win over Los Angeles, and since that night they have gone strength to strength to lead Houston to a perfect 3-0 record. Phillips hauled in three touchdown passes as Houston battled past St Louis in Week 2, and he matched those exploits in Week 3 as he hit paydirt three more times to cement his status as the most dangerous receiver in the XFL and help the Roughnecks get past a vastly-improved Tampa Bay team. Walker hooked up with Phillips for an 84-yard score in the first quarter, found him again for another 24-yard score in the third, and the Roughnecks receiver was not going to be denied back-to-back hat-tricks as he cut inside to get on the receiving end of another Walker pass for a 17-yard score. Walker also got into the act with a rushing score of his own and by the end of the game the stats made for scary reading for the rest of the league. Walker had completed 24 of his 36 pass attempts for 306 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing in one himself, Phillips has racked up 194 yards and three scores off eight catches, and there was also some support on the ground as James Butler rushed for 72 yards off only seven carries. So the question is, can anyone stop this explosive Houston offense? Bigger challenges than Tampa Bay lie in wait for them, but right now they are the clear front-runners to win it all this season in the wake of DC’s shocking collapse 24 hours later (more to come on that). The bookmakers certainly feel that way – having been sixth favourites in preseason they are now the bookies’ pick to be crowned champions in April.
Second-Half Surge Leads Dallas To Victory… Again
For the second weekend running the Dallas Renegades found their form late on to claim a victory on the road. Seattle, buoyed by a first win of the season and cheered on by a raucous crowd, took a 12-6 lead into the break after Brandon Silvers threw touchdown passes to Austin Proehl and Kenneth Farrow, but Dallas finally found a spark late in the third quarter and put up 18 unanswered points to surge to victory. Veteran quarterback Landry Jones showed once again that he will need some time to shake off the rust, tossing a couple of picks, but he twice hit Donald Parham for touchdowns in the second half and Austin MacGinnis booted in a couple of field goals as the Renegades surged to a 24-12 win that sets them up nicely for next Sunday’s huge all-Texas showdown with unbeaten Houston. Dallas cannot afford to lose that one or they will fall two games behind the Roughnecks in the race to win the conference, something the bookmakers clearly did not expect to happen when they made the Renegades the outright favourites in preseason while ranking the Roughnecks just sixth. However, out of these two teams it is Houston who have looked more like champions through three weeks, and if Dallas come out cold once again they could find themselves in too big of a hole to climb out of. Houston have racked up 99 points already this season to average 33 points per game, while Dallas are yet to score more than 25. If this turns into a shootout then it could get messy for the Renegades and if they slip to 2-2 those outright odds will almost certainly drift again.
If At First You Don’t Succeed… Try Again!
One of the unique rules of the XFL allows for two forward passes to be made, as long as the ball does not cross the line of scrimmage. But when that rule was created it is highly unlikely that anybody thought it would be exploited like it was in Saturday night’s clash between Dallas and Seattle. Landry Jones’ attempted second-quarter pass was batted backwards by an onrushing linebacker, and after a couple of deflections the ball landed safely back in the hands of the Renegades quarterback. If this was the NFL an aging Jones would have had to start ambling downfield, but this is (in my best Vince McMahon voice)… the… X… F… L… Jones calmly looked downfield and found running back Lance Dunbar for a 15-yard gain and a first down. Check out this bizarre play…
Wildcats Take Big Bite Of DC
A blowout in a meeting between the 2-0 DC Defenders and the 0-2 Los Angeles Wildcats was not a surprise – however, the Wildcats were not expected to be the team dishing out the beating. DC had looked strong in all three areas of the game through the first couple of weeks of the season to establish themselves as the bookmakers’ favourites to win it all, but their first road game of the 2020 XFL campaign brought about an alarming slump. Quarterback Cardale Jones, so reliable through the first two weeks, threw four interceptions as the offense seemingly fell apart at the seams, and the Wildcats took full advantage to kick-start their season. Veteran quarterback Josh Johnson was efficient as he threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, while the stars of the show were Martez Carter and Tre McBride, who both found the endzone twice as Los Angeles ran riot against the shell-shocked Defenders. By the end of the game DC quarterback Jones had been benched after throwing for just 103 yards and four picks, and there will be some real soul-searching in the Defenders camp this week because next up for them is a Week 4 trip to face a Tampa Bay outfit who sparked into life last Saturday to make Houston work for the win and the league’s only perfect record. If the Defenders, who are no longer outright favourites, fall to the Vipers it would be a huge setback to a team many felt was the most complete unit heading into Week 3. And what about the Wildcats? That victory has breathed new life into their season and they have the perfect opportunity to improve to 2-2 on Saturday because they are facing the 1-2 New York Guardians team whose maiden campaign appears to be going from bad to worse.
St Louis Celebrates Football ‘Homecoming’ In Style
It was a day that football fans in St Louis had been waiting for since the Rams walked out in 2015, and they certainly made the most of it as almost 30,000 of them descended on the Dome to watch the BattleHawks play in their home opener… and tell Stan Kroenke what they think of him. They were treated to an impressive display from their new heroes, who dominated the slumping New York Guardians on their way to a 29-9 victory. The win never looked to be in doubt once Christine Michael capped off the BattleHawks’ first ever drive at home with a 14-yard rushing score, but that was not the only memorable and historic moment on the day. T Russolino nailed a 58-yard field goal, defensive tackle Casey Sayles celebrated a sack by trading a game ball for a box of Girl Scout cookies (see below), and the XFL witnessed its first ever kick return for a touchdown as Joe Powell took it to the house (see below too!). All of this was played out in front of a raucous crowd who have already fallen in love with the BattleHawks. Merchandise must have flown off the shelves in recent weeks in anticipation of the big day, and those who did not shell out opted for the fancy dress route as a sign of allegiance instead (I can imagine the maintenance crew at the Dome had to sweep up quite a few feathers afterwards). Something special appears to be brewing in the ‘Gateway to the West’ and home field advantage could become huge for the 2-1 BattleHawks as they look to reach the four-team playoffs and XFL champions this season. The bookies have certainly seen enough through three weeks to shorten their odds – this team are no longer write-offs like they were before Week 1.
BattleHawks Master Kick Return For Historic TD
One of the unique XFL rules that has already gained much popularity is the new kick-off rule designed to make the play exciting while also protecting the health of the playoffs. The coverage team lines up on the return side’s 35-yard line and the return team lines up on their own 30, and no player can move until the ball is caught by the returner. Teams have spent several weeks trying to figure out how they can create opportunities for their kick-returner to take one to the house, and on Sunday night St Louis found the formula to delight the home fans. A lateraled kickoff presented the BattleHawks’ Joe Powell with an opening, and he raced down the sideline to dive into the endzone just as it looked as though he had run out of room.
XFL Week 3 Highlights
Houston Roughnecks 34 Tampa Bay Vipers 27
Dallas Renegades 24 Seattle Dragons 12
New York Guardians 9 St Louis BattleHawks 29
DC Defenders 9 Los Angeles Wildcats 39