And there were two.
Last week’s USFL action featured the 6-4 Philadelphia Stars taking down the 9-1 New Jersey Generals and the 9-1 Birmingham Stallions winning their first road game of the year. Now, we have the fourth USFL championship game in history — the third that will involve the Philadelphia Stars (they played in the 1983 and 1984 championship games) and, interestingly enough, the fourth that has involved the Stars (the Baltimore Stars played in the 1985 championship game).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
It’s been quite a ride for these two teams, both of which are starting quarterbacks who did not open the season as the No. 1 guy.
Philadelphia's Case Cookus has largely taken the league by storm as a passer and a runner, earning the third-highest PFF grade (66.6) among USFL quarterbacks with more than 100 dropbacks. He's generated 12 touchdowns (second in the league) to go along with nine big-time throws.
Cookus’ 78.5 rushing grade is the highest among quarterbacks, as is the 42.9% of his running attempts that have resulted in a first down. Only De’Andre Johnson (the man he beat last week in the playoffs) and Jordan Ta’Amu have generated more yards rushing from the position despite Cookus not starting much of the year.
Birmingham's Smith has not been as consistent a passer as Cookus, earning the league’s fourth-highest grade (63.4), but he has had his moments. He was very good last week, putting up a 76.0 passing grade en route to a 31-17 come-from-behind win against the league’s best defense in the Breakers, which was both aided by two return touchdowns and guided well by the quarterback.
Smith, who is fourth in the league in rushing yards by a quarterback, probably had his best game of the season coming off the bench in a come-from-behind meeting between the two teams earlier this season, where he earned a 91.8 grade against the Stars in week 5.
Wide receivers Maurice Alexander and Victor Bolden Jr. were stars last week, a week that quadrupled the number of return touchdowns in the league from one to four, with Alexander’s return against the Generals the difference in the game.
Boldon has added 428 receiving yards during the season, while Alexander 234.
Bo Scarborough has been a great addition to the Stallions mid-season running the football, earning 65 total yards last week in a win, while the Stars’ Matt Colburn missed the second part of last week’s game with an injury, which hurt their offense down the stretch of the game.
The Path to the Title Game
The path to the title game has been less of a grind for the 10-1 Stallions than the 7-4 Stars. Still, both teams opened the season around the same likelihood of roughly 10.5% of winning it all per our model, which incorporated market odds and our own internals.
Birmingham rushed out of the gates by winning their first nine games, of course, but Philadelphia’s 1-1 start in a soft North division, which at the time was even with the 1-1 Generals, in addition to the very apparent weakness of the Michigan Panthers and the Pittsburgh Maulers, actually gave them better odds than the 2-0 Stallions entering week 3. However, the Stars lost to the Generals and Stallions in the span of three weeks, which basically left them in the fourth position to win the title until they unseated the Generals last week.
The Stallions, after defeating the Breakers 22-13 in week 3, have had the highest odds to win the title — odds that never eclipsed 35% until this week, where they are 60.6%, per our model.
USFL Championship Betting
Last week’s article got off to an OK start, with the Stars (+175) winning outright and keeping one of my long-shot futures alive:
That game also did kill one of the better futures bets I alluded to multiple times during the season, with the Generals underrated to the point where they were at times near +600 to win the title and closed last week at +175:
The Generals are 11/2 to win it all https://t.co/xyb3aDYIEX
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) May 10, 2022
That being said, Cookus was the only thing standing between them and a faceoff with Birmingham, and the former Northern Arizona quarterback indeed stood tall:
Generals are +275 to win the title and the only thing between them and the title game is Case Cookus https://t.co/dSog6Lg3f7
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) May 17, 2022
Ultimately, that thing between them and the title game won outright, with help from opportunistic defense and special teams.
The second game was pear-shaped in the worst way. Not only did the Breakers fail to win or cover +4.5 or +5 in a game where they closed +3, but they also gave up two return touchdowns — one on Kyle Sloter’s league-leading 13th interception and another after they tied the game at 14 on a sweet catch-and-run by Jordan Ellis with about a minute left in the first half.
While the first-half total of 21.5 was sailed over, both a Breakers drive that took two-thirds of the third quarter and a Stallions drive that went into the fourth ended in field goals, and the under 44.5 (which opened 45.5 and closed 42) was in play at 24-17 with less than a minute left. The Stallions, despite the Breakers having no timeouts left, plunged in the final touchdown to break under bettors’ hearts and wallets, unfortunately, leaving us with a 1-3 week.
With that win, the Stallions are now favored to make me wrong on this tweet, with the only thing standing in their way being Case Cookus and the Stars:
I don’t think Birmingham is going to win the USFL championship tho
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) June 4, 2022
Our model, which we referenced in last week’s article and has only changed some after last week’s action, makes the Stallions -3.5, which is where Circa opened the market this week on Sunday.
However, most of the market is painted at Stallions -4.5, which means we’re on the Philadelphia Stars +4.5/+145. The +4.5 is a better bet than +145 is, especially if you already have a +700 in your pocket.