Week 6 of the XFL season is upon us and our resident American Football expert Leigh Copson has picked out his favourite bets from this weekend’s action.
Houston Roughnecks at New York Guardians (Saturday 18:00 GMT)
A couple of weeks ago this game had ‘blow-out’ written all over it, but now the New York Guardians have burst into life and this matchup has suddenly got very interesting. Luis Perez has brought some life to the Guardians’ offense since replacing Matt McGloin at quarterback and that defense continues to dominate with the aid of a ferocious pass rush led by Cavon Walker and Jarrell Owens. This has resulted in back-to-back wins over Los Angeles and Dallas that have hauled them right back into the playoff race in the East at 3-2, but can New York continue their upturn with a victory that would send a message to the rest of the XFL?
Their visitors on Saturday are a Houston team who continue to boast the league’s only perfect record. The Roughnecks stand at 5-0, although they had to survive a major scare a week ago when star quarterback PJ Walker made some sloppy mistakes against Seattle. The Dragons led 14-0 early in the second quarter, but unlike New York’s McGloin or DC’s Cardale Jones there would be no meltdown from Walker or head coach June Jones. Instead they pressed on with their gameplan and it paid off as Walker turned around his performance with the aid of Cam Phillips and James Butler, and Houston came storming back to win 32-23. It would be wrong of me not to point out that Seattle should have been given one last crack at levelling it up, only for a refereeing botch to deny them, but at that point the momentum had shifted heavily in Houston’s favour and the defense was overwhelming BJ Daniels & Co. so it would be a fairly safe assumption to say that Seattle would not have capitalised on that chance.
What Seattle did show, however, is that Houston are far from perfect and Walker can be forced into errors. That performance will give the Guardians hope here, especially with how solid that defense has been over the first five weeks. The problem is that the Guardians are yet to beat what you would consider a ‘good’ team in the XFL, and they are now facing the cream of the crop, so there is no way that I can go against the Roughnecks here. However, I do expect New York to at least play their part by helping keep the scoreboard operator busy in this one. This Houston defense is opportunistic when it comes to forcing turnovers, but this group does cough up points.
St Louis BattleHawks at Tampa Bay Vipers (Saturday 21:00 GMT)
These two teams were involved in very different games a week ago, but both fell to defeat. St Louis saw their lead at the top of the East get erased by a low-scoring defeat in DC, while Tampa Bay failed to build on the shutout win over the Defenders as they lost a high-scoring shootout with the Wildcats in Los Angeles. So who bounces back here?
St Louis’ defense produced another strong showing last weekend as they held DC to 256 yards and 15 points while forcing the game’s only turnover, but offensively they spluttered despite racking up over 300 yards, with 173 of them coming on the ground. They went 4/16 on third down while failing to convert any of their three redzone visits into touchdowns – that will always be a recipe for defeat. Young quarterback Jordan Ta’amu cut an increasingly frustrated figure as the game went on – a far cry from a week earlier when he shone in the win over Seattle to earned Star of the Week honours – but it would be foolish to suddenly think that a massive collapse is on the cards.
However, they will need to be more clinical on offense this time around because Tampa Bay, despite their lowly 1-4 record, are one of the highest scoring teams in the division. A change at quarterback and a change of play-caller has done wonders for the Vipers after they produced limp offensive performances through the first two weeks, and they have now averaged almost 29 points per game since Week 3. They put 25 on that strong DC defense back in Week 4 so they have not feasted on poor units either, and this St Louis group will be another stiff challenge for offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo in what is simply a must-win game for Tampa.
They will not win though. These two teams are excellent at pounding the football on the ground and I expect that is what we will see here, with the two quarterbacks sparingly attempting big plays through the air. This should result in this being a low-scoring affair, but when all is said and done I expect the BattleHawks to be celebrating a victory. Last weekend was a pretty miserable one for them, but there is no reason to suddenly think they are going to go downhill.
Dallas Renegades at DC Defenders (Sunday 20:00 GMT)
A return to home comforts was just what the doctor ordered for DC a week ago as they stopped the rot and got their playoff push on track. The Defenders went into the game against St Louis reeling after a heavy defeat to Los Angeles was followed up by a shutout loss in Tampa, and things did not look like getting much better in Week 5 as Cardale Jones threw yet another interception to end their first possession.
Head coach Pep Hamilton wasted little time in taking action though, pulling Jones and immediately replacing him with Tyree Jackson, and it was a move that paid off even if the results were not spectacular. Jackson completed nine of just 14 pass attempts for only 39 yards, but he did hit Khari Lee for the game’s only touchdown on his very first drive and he did make some plays with his feet to keep drives ticking over. It was the defense that were the stars of the show, holding the BattleHawks on 12 of their 16 third down attempts, and while Hamilton continues to try to figure things out on offense this DC defense is going to be crucial in the team’s quest to reach the postseason.
They should produce another strong and dominant performance this weekend when they face a Dallas team who have failed to live up to preseason predictions that they would win it all. First-choice quarterback Landry Jones is back on the shelf and his backup Philip Nelson did little to inspire confidence as they were soundly beaten at home by New York, throwing two interceptions including a pick six. The Renegades responded to that latest anaemic offensive showing by making a change at offensive co-ordinator (they claim it is due to an injury to Hal Mumme but I am not buying that), but I do not see that reaping immediate benefits here. And unlike DC, Dallas cannot rely on a strong defense to help keep things ticking over while they try to solve their offensive issues.
Everything is pointing to another home win for DC, who are 3-0 at Audi Field, and that is exactly what I expect to see here in what will turn out to be a low-scoring game. The Defenders will be ultra-cautious on offense and get the points they need while the defense shuts down Nelson & Co.
Los Angeles Wildcats at Seattle Dragons (Sunday 23:00 GMT)
Seattle and Los Angeles were both involved in thrilling matchups last weekend, but while the Dragons came up short in Houston (a bit like the clock), the Wildcats came storming back from an early hole to win a 75-point thriller with Tampa Bay. Starting with Seattle.
There was some buzz surrounding the Dragons heading into the matchup with the unbeaten Roughnecks thanks to the decision to install BJ Daniels at starting quarterback, and that excitement appeared to be justified as they stunned their hosts and raced into a 14-0 lead early in the second. However, they just could not cope with that explosive Houston offense and once the Roughnecks defense made the necessary adjustments, the limited offensive gameplan that Jim Zorn was offering got completely shut down. Yes, the officials blundered late on to deny Seattle one last play that could have levelled it up and forced overtime, but anybody who was watching the game would tell you that the chances of them pulling it off were slim at best. By that point momentum was solely with the Roughnecks and that Seattle offense had stalled. So can Seattle build on that early promise in Houston and put together a full 60 minutes here?
They will need to because this Los Angeles offense is going to put points on the board. The Wildcats made a nightmare start a week ago as Josh Johnson threw a pick on the very first play and Tampa opened up a huge 24-6 lead midway through the second quarter, but LA’s response was emphatic as their veteran QB kept his composure to get his team back on track and lead them to a 41-34 victory. In between throwing four touchdown passes Johnson even had time to chew out his offensive co-ordinator over the phone, telling him to calm down and focus on the gameplan, so you have to be feeling good about LA’s offense at this time. I know they certainly will be and I know that the bookies are liking what they see too.
But can they make it back-to-back wins? They will not be heading into hostile territory because fans have been banned from the stadium as part of ongoing attempts to minimise exposure to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the greater Seattle area. That will be a huge boost for the offense because it will not have to deal with what would have been a loud and raucous crowd, but even before that news broke I was firmly in the ‘LA will win’ camp. At 2-3 they are by no means out of the postseason race and they have shown enough positive signs to suggest they could follow Houston out into the playoffs from the West. They should climb to 3-3 here, but I am reluctant to get involved in the Over/Under when it comes to total points. It is tricky to predict what Seattle will contribute offensively in this one, especially with no fans to feed off.
XFL Week 6 Accumulator Tip
UK bookmakers are offering only a small selection of markets for the XFL, just like they did when the Alliance of American Football launched last year, so if you are looking for bigger odds then why not consider backing all four of our selections in an accumulator bet for Week 6? Doing this offers odds of just over 87/1, with a £10 stake leading to a return of £887.56 if all four legs are winners.