USFL Playoffs 2022: Best bets and how to navigate the underdogs

Birmingham, AL, USA; New Orleans Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter (10) throws against the Birmingham Stallions during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019 and 2020, two spring football leagues opened their doors, but due to bad management (the AAF) and a global pandemic (the XFL), they batted 0-for in terms of finishing the regular season.

And then came the USFL in 2022.

They started a little later than the other two leagues did — right after the NFL season concluded — and played in a bubble in Birmingham, Alabama, but they recently concluded their regular season and will be commencing their playoffs this Saturday.

While I have not written any USFL betting content, PFF's Ian Hartitz has — both in podcast form and article form. I’ve been simply betting this league on my own, keeping my own numbers and using a form of PFF ELO and expected points added (EPA) systems to place wagers.

Let's go over the current futures market for the league and give strategies for betting the final two weeks of (American) football until we get to the end of August.

First, how good are the teams? As you can see above, Philadelphia and New Jersey — who squared off last week and face each other again this week — are the two best offenses in the league and the two worst defenses, at least in terms of expected points added. New Jersey is both explosive (high EPA) and efficient (high success rate), while Philadelphia, a side that dealt with injuries at the quarterback position, is often more explosive than it is efficient. While the number is still there, it’s probably good to take OVER 47/47.5 on this game Saturday.

Birmingham and New Orleans, despite the fact that Kyle Sloter was first-team All-USFL, were just okay offensively but did field the two best defenses in football. The total for their game Saturday opened at 45.5 but has been bet down to 44.5. (I’d like to think because of me). Sloter led the USFL in turnover-worthy plays this year (23) and was the league’s leader in interceptions before he sat in Week 10. There is always a risk that the game can turn into a turnover-fest, but if variance is modest Saturday, the UNDER 44.5 is still a play.

PFF's USFL championship odds compared to the market (per DraftKings) are shown below. The difference means we’re going to like both underdogs this week — and presumably next week when the teams square off:

Team Week 1 Odds Week 1 PFF Odds This Week’s Odds This Week’s PFF Odds
Birmingham +700 +843 +150 +246
New Jersey +700 +1042 +175 +269
New Orleans +550 +646 +450 +322
Philadelphia +600 +817 +500 +412

There appears to be a decent edge on both New Orleans and Philadelphia. However, given our power rankings for each team (in terms of points better on the point spread than the average team on a neutral field) and accounting for rest, we have that Birmingham should be about a two-point favorite over New Orleans and New Jersey a two-and-a-half-point favorite over Philly:

Team Points
Birmingham 5.5
New Jersey 4.7
New Orleans 4.0
Philadelphia 2.0
Tampa Bay -1.1
Houston -2.2
Michigan -4.0
Pittsburgh -9.0

Thus, in lieu of betting New Orleans +450 or Philadelphia +500, a moneyline rollover is advised.

To see this, consider placing one unit on New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs at +180.  If this loses, so will the futures bet.  If it wins, you can choose to let the (now) 2.8 units ride into the championship round (you don’t have such a choice if you bet the future now).

In the championship round, they will either play Philadelphia (we’d make this NO [-2]) or New Jersey (we’d make this New Jersey [-1]). For the sake of the argument, and given where the market is on Philadelphia, New Jersey and New Orleans, assume they are on average even money to win the championship game (+100). The 2.8 units are then turned into 2.8 units with a win, for a total of 5.6 units, which pays +460 versus the original +450 on the futures market.  New Orleans is probably going to be bigger underdogs to New Jersey than +1, so the payout could be even bigger here. But this shows the main argument.

If betting Philadelphia, they are +175 to beat New Jersey but would then be +2 against New Orleans or +3.5 versus Birmingham, per our numbers, which are higher on Philadelphia than the market.

Thus, for the moneyline rollover to work in this instance, you’d need an average price of (5 + 1)/(1 + 1.75) = 2.18 or +118 to make the rollover make sense, which is very likely going to take place given the current market consensus on the Stars. Thus, I’ll advise a bet on Philadelphia +4.5/+175 and New Orleans +5/+180 for this weekend’s games.

Enjoy the action!

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