XFL Picks Week #5 (2020 regular season)
XFL PICKS (WEEK #5)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Wednesday March 3rd, 2020 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
PICK #1: Los Angeles Wildcats -1 vs Tampa Bay Vipers (rated 5 stars)
When handicapping this game, I thought the Wildcats would be 6-point favorites. I literally fell off my chair when I saw they were favored by a single point!
I love this play and I’ve got several arguments backing it.
First of all, the sportsbooks are not being very coherent here. Some of them posted odds to win the XFL championship. All bookies have lower odds on L.A. than Tampa, which means they believe L.A has a higher probability of winning the title. So how in the world could they be just one-point favorites AT HOME against a weaker opponent?
The home-field advantage in the NFL is worth about three points. It must somewhere close to that in the XFL as well. Therefore, if you have two evenly matched teams, the home team should be a 3-point favorite. Since the Wildcats are a bit superior to the Vipers, they should be laying AT LEAST 4 points. At -1 point, they are a bargain!
Here is one more key argument. We have two Pacific time zone teams in the XFL: Los Angeles and Seattle. Meanwhile, we have three Eastern time zone teams: New York, Tampa Bay and D.C. So far this season, when a team from the West travels across the country or vice versa, the home team is a perfect 4-0 against the spread (ATS). We have a fifth occurrence of this betting angle coming up with the current matchup, and it makes me like the home team even more.
L.A.’s quarterback Josh Johnson did well last week despite putting just 14 points on the board. He racked up 325 passing yards with 2 TDs and 1 interception. The latter wasn’t a bad pass; it was more of a great defensive play, where the defender tipped the ball and picked it up in the air. He also showed good pocket awareness and an ability to escape the rush.
His top target, Nelson Spruce, sat out with an injury. However, Tre McBride picked up the slack and was awesome. He caught 8 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown, after making his debut the week before with 5 catches for 109 yards a two TDs. This guy came close from making the Jaguars roster. He looked very good to me as he ran great routes and made a great catch on a deep ball.
I also like L.A.’s head coach, Winston Moss. He is very intense and he spent 19 years as an assistant coach in the NFL. This is his first head coaching job, so he wants to prove his worth. He is all business.
The Wildcats defense causes me more concern, though. They started the year by allowing 37 and 25 points, but made adjustments and allowed 9 and 17 points over their past two games. Granted, they faced weaker offenses and I have to admit their tackling did not impress me against New York.
Let’s now talk about the Tampa Bay Vipers a little bit. A week ago they were considered the worst team in the league, and after shutting out D.C. 25-0 the public could be overreacting here.
There hadn’t been a RB recording 100+ rushing yards this year in the XFL; Tampa had two in the same game last week! 122 for De’Veon Smith and 108 for Jacques Patrick.
I may get flamed for making this comment, but these two running backs did not necessarily impress me that much. In my opinion, a lot of those yards were due to extremely poor tackling from D.C.’s defense, who looked awful to me. I saw many occurrences of Vipers players looking like they were going to go nowhere, only to suddenly burst for 40 yards. It happened frequently, not only on running plays but also on quick passes.
Speaking of short passes, you may believe quarterback Taylor Cornelius had a great game from looking at the stat sheet. However, he threw NUMEROUS super short passes, including many wide receiver screens. He did have some zip on his passes, but he hasn’t shown me he can actually beat opponents other than with short throws or his backs running wild.
Cornelius seemed like a decent runner; not super explosive nor fast, but he’ll run if necessary.
In his previous two contests, he completed 32 passes out of 58 attempts. That equates to a 55% completion rate, which isn’t great. He threw 1 TD pass versus 3 picks. So as I said, overall I don’t trust him too much.
For all of these reasons, I’m betting the Wildcats -1 point against the Vipers.
PICK #2: Seattle Dragons +13.5 at Houston Roughnecks (rated 3 stars)
There is a pretty big gap between my level of confidence for the first pick and this one. Still, I like the Dragons to cover that big spread in Houston.
There is certainly a buzz around the league about the Roughnecks since they are the only undefeated team. But let’s face the reality: they have slowed down quite a bit over the last two weeks.
Back in Week #3, they narrowly beat a struggling Tampa team (they were down by one point early in the fourth quarter). Last week, it came down to the wire despite creating five turnovers! Getting five takeaways is not going to happen every week.
Houston QB P.J. Walker didn’t have his best game in Dallas last week, but he still posted fairly good numbers. Wide receiver Cam Phillips finally looked human. He came into the game with 7 TDs in just three games, but he caught just one pass last week. However, Nick Holley and Khalil Lewis picked up the slack by catching 8 and 6 balls, respectively.
Here are some numbers that will surprise you: despite their perfect 4-0 record, Houston ranks 4th in terms of total yards on offense per game and 6th for total yards allowed per game. In other words, they are average in both categories.
I was taking some notes while watching the XFL games last week. One of the things I noticed pregame was how nervous Seattle QB Brandon Silvers looked. It didn’t get better once the game started.
He had happy feet, he didn’t look poised and he made several bad throws. Early in the game, he faced a 3rd down and 5 yards to go. He could have easily run for the first down, but instead attempted a pass that sailed well above his receiver’s head.
Towards the end of the first half, he was 1-for-7. Then, he completed three straight passes, but they were all very short and easy passes.
After the halftime break, here came backup QB B.J. Daniels. Claiming he provided a spark would be an understatement. This guy was spectacular, especially with his legs! The Dragons scored touchdowns on his second and third drives, but they couldn’t catch up the BattleHawks.
Daniels was a legend at USF. He ran for over 2,000 yards in college.
Obviously, when a team is a 13.5-point underdogs, there will be sources of concern. First, their offensive line has had many different faces thus far this year. They had trouble creating holes for the running game. Also, their receivers have trouble getting separation. Did you know that only one guy had more than 1 reception last week? That’s bad!
Seattle’s defense has carried them so far. They have what may be the best defensive player in the league with linebacker Steven Johnson. I love watching him play! He has a comfortable lead as the top tackler in the XFL so far. He played several seasons in the NFL.
The Dragons’ three losses were by a margin between 7 and 12 points. And they won a game by 8 points. To me, a 13.5-point spread is too high, especially with Houston fading recently (despite keeping their winning ways). I am also banking on B.J. Daniels to keep the game close; the Dragons’ offense looked completely different with him under center last week.
I am going with Seattle to cover the 13.5-point spread in Houston!
PICK #3: Dallas Renegades -8 vs New York Guardians (rated 1 star)
I know, I know. Quarterback Landry Jones suffered what appeared to be a knee injury and he could miss significant time. He did complete 70% of his passes this year, but his 5 TDs-to-7 INTs ratio wasn’t great…
Backup QB Philip Nelson should take over under center. He was 33-for-42 for 218 yards with an interception early in the season. But that was against a tough St. Louis defense, and a 79% completion percentage is quite good!
I’m also leaning towards Dallas because they are 0-2 at home and will be motivated to get that first home win (after winning two on the road). Also notice how the Renegades’ two losses happened against what may possibly be the top two squads in the league, namely Houston and St. Louis.
Meanwhile, New York has done very poorly on the road this season, where they lost by 20- and 27-point margins. The Guardians also rank dead last both in terms of offensive yards, and yards allowed!
Quarterback Luis Perez did enough to get the victory against the Wildcats last week, but he wasn’t great. He looked more like a game manager, and he benefited from a good running game. Playing on the road will prove to be a tough test for him.
On top of that, New York’s receivers seemed to have butter fingers. We heard their head coach during the broadcast tell his top target, Mekale McKay, that they would need to rely on him in the fourth quarter because the other guys couldn’t step up their game. A few minutes later, McKay dropped a super easy catch.
I also disliked the offensive playcalling for the Guardians. Offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus kept throwing often in the second half with the lead, even though the passing game wasn’t clicking very well, while the ground game was doing the job! I loved watching running back Darius Victor. The commentators said he was 5’6’’ and 230 pounds. He looked like a bowling ball and he’s been their most consistent weapon this season.
I’m going with Dallas laying 8 points against the Guardians.
What about the St. Louis BattleHawks vs D.C. Defenders game?
The BattleHawks are tagged as 3.5-point favorites. The line opened at 2.5; I was leaning towards St. Louis at the time. As of now, I am staying away from this matchup.
I have a feeling the line will get bigger and bigger until kickoff. The BattleHawks were good in all facets of the game, and they are getting better (unlike Houston, which seems to be regressing). Quarterback Jordan Ta’Amu was almost perfect. His decision-making was off the charts and he reads defenses well.
He seems to have a good connection and good timing with his receivers. He completed several difficult throws.
Prior to last week’s game, St. Louis led the league in rushing. Now, with Ta’Amu improving very quickly as a passer, their offense will be difficult to stop. They also have one of the more experienced offensive line. Even their kicker looks good!
So why am I not betting St. Louis? After all, the Defenders looked awful in a 25-0 loss in Tampa, right?
Let’s remember D.C.’s first two games: they beat Seattle 31-to-19, before handling New York 27-0. Both games were at home. They are now back at home. St. Louis won’t benefit from the big crowd noise they got in their dome.
It’s not that easy to win by 4+ points on the road in football. Despite their recent struggles, the Defenders are still the third most likely team to win the championship, according to the odds. Their roster is above average, let’s not forget that.
My game plan is as follows: if the line moves to 6 points (or perhaps 5.5), I am going to pull the trigger on the Defenders. If you believe the line is unlikely to move 2-3 points, think again. Last week, the Vipers opened as small favorites and by kickoff they were 4.5-point underdogs!
Enjoy the XFL games and best of luck with your plays!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)