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USFL Week 8 power rankings, DFS and betting preview

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

Week 7 was another great week to be great in the USFL. Check out my Week 7 USFL review for full notes on every touchdown scored, offensive and defensive players of the game, key fantasy football workload metrics, and overall thoughts. More USFL goodness can be found weekly on The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast.

What follows is a breakdown of the league’s power rankings, favorite DFS plays and best bets. Keep your head on a swivel, and let’s get after it.

Projected playoff bracket

The top two teams from the North and South divisions make the playoffs. Currently, the four teams projected to make the playoffs are:

  • North: New Jersey Generals (clinched), Philadelphia Stars
  • South: Birmingham Stallions (clinched), New Orleans Breakers

The Stars are 4-3 in a division with the 1-6 Panthers and Maulers. They are in with a win this week, but a loss would keep their opponent (Michigan) just ever so slightly alive. The latter point holds true for Pittsburgh if tit can manage to pull an upset over New Jersey, but just realize one more loss by either the Panthers or Maulers will eliminate them from playoff contention.

Meanwhile, the Breakers (5-2) sure could help their end-of-season stretch with a win over the unbeaten Stallions this week. The Bandits (3-4) aren’t too far behind and are favored to beat the Gamblers this week. Week 9 conveniently pits a showdown between the Breakers and Bandits, meaning Jordan Ta’amu and company have one last real chance to make a playoff push with a few good performances over the season’s final three weeks. The Gamblers are the first USFL team to be eliminated from playoff contention.

USFL Week 8 Power Rankings

  • Birmingham Stallions (7-0): Still undefeated despite needing a fake-punt touchdown to clear 20 points against the lowly Maulers. Still, J’Mar Smith has demonstrated the ability to put up points in a hurry, and the Stallions still have the USFL's scariest pass rush. Overall, Birmingham has pressured opponents on 42.6% of their dropbacks – the Gamblers (36.6%) are the only other team to disrupt the opposing quarterback on more than a third of their dropbacks this season.
  • New Jersey Generals (6-1): Continue to look like the league’s toughest team to stop when playing with a lead thanks to their plethora of playmakers in the run game. WR KaVontae Turpin and RB Darius Victor are PFF’s top-two highest-graded offensive players this season, and De’Andre Johnson's (ankle) return could push this offense over the edge. Nobody has run more total snaps than the Generals (124) when leading by at least seven points this season.
  • New Orleans Breakers (5-2): Official Week 7 USFL player of the week Kyle Sloter has shown off some high highs and low lows this season. I maintain that the best version of the New Orleans offense is when he's healthy and taking every snap, so Zach Smith's presence in relief during back-to-back weeks isn’t ideal. Still, the Breakers boast a top-four offense (65.8) and defense (77.0) in team PFF grade, something neither the Stallions nor Generals can attest to achieving at this point.
  • Philadelphia Stars (4-3):.Bryan Scott’s status on the inactive/injured reserve roster seems to end his chances of returning this season. While backup Case Cookus hasn't exactly made a habit of putting NFL-level throws on tape (2.2% big-time throw rate, which ranks 13th among 14 qualified quarterbacks), his top-five marks in PFF passing grade (61.4) and adjusted completion rate (72.4%) reflect the reality that he's generally kept this offense on track. The problem is that Philly easily boasts the USFL's worst defense in PFF grade across the board. Overall (63.6), against the run (61.3), pass rush (62.4), and coverage (62.6): This is the league's worst defense by a decent margin.
  • Tampa Bay Bandits (3-4): The Bandits ended Week 7 with one final shot at the end zone but came up short. The same scenario occurred in Week 6. Jordan Ta'amu and company have stayed competitive despite being on the wrong side of .500 after seven weeks of action. With PFF’s second-lowest graded offense and defense, Tampa Bay doesn’t resemble one of the USFL’s most-complete teams, but the Bandits have proven capable of staying competitive with just about anyone when Ta’amu has the offense clicking.
  • Michigan Panthers (1-6): The “Fighting Jeff Fishers” are 1-6 despite boasting a modest -13 point differential. For reference, this is far superior to the Bandits (-29), who have two additional wins for their efforts. PFF’s second-highest graded defense has made it difficult for opposing offenses to make too much happen, and Josh Love truly impressed in Week 7 despite his average counting numbers. Don’t discount the Panthers’ chances of causing some havoc in the playoff race during these final three weeks.
  • Houston Gamblers (1-6): Their 11-point loss in Week 7 marked the first time Houston lost by more than seven all season. The problem is that Clayton Thorson (elbow) is hurt, and the reality that the Gamblers are eliminated from playoff contention could plausibly lead to lower team-wide motivation over the final three weeks. The Gamblers' modest -21 point differential reflects the reality that they aren't as bad as their record indicates, but things might get worse before they get better without Thorson to steer the ship.
  • Pittsburgh Maulers (1-6): Head coach Kirby Wilson infamously cut his starting running back prior to Week 1 over a pizza request. He's followed this up by posting a league-worst -72 point differential. The offense has rotated through four quarterbacks as Wilson benched his starter in the fourth quarter twice in favor of someone who literally just joined the team that week. Otherwise, everything is going great!

Point differential and PFF team grades in specific categories are listed below:

DFS DraftKings Preview

One thing to keep in mind ahead of Saturday and the rest of the weekend is the potential for injured players to return to action. This USFL Twitter list includes all eight teams, and they tweet out their injury reports and roster moves throughout the week. Key situations to keep an eye on will be listed in each ensuring section about the best positional targets.

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