With only three weeks remaining in the USFL's regular season, the playoff picture is anything but clear. We'll attempt to sort things out below, but first, consider the roller-coaster ride we've seen thus far.
- The New Orleans Breakers started 4-0 and were the last team to lose a game -- and they've gone 0-3 since.
- The Memphis Showboats looked like the league's worst team after an 0-3 start -- and they've gone 4-0 since.
- The Philadelphia Stars didn't look anything like they did while reaching last year's championship game after a 1-3 start -- and they've gone 3-0 since.
It all adds up to one difficult league to try and figure out, but in Week 7 there was one team that staked its claim to being the one to beat. We also saw a big day by a former NFL first-round draft pick. We'll break down everything below, but before we dive in, a look at the scores.
Birmingham Stallions 24, New Orleans Breakers 20
Philadelphia Stars 37, Pittsburgh Maulers 31
Memphis Showboats 23, Houston Gamblers 20
Michigan Panthers 25, New Jersey Generals 22
Only 12 total regular-season games remain, yet the four playoff spots are. The one spot that may be in the firmest grasp belongs to the defending champion Birmingham Stallions. The Stallions, 5-2 after winning two straight, are the latest team to beat the formerly 4-0 Breakers -- who suddenly sit in a three-way tie for second place (or last, depending on how you look at it) in the South Division. New Orleans is 4-3, as are the Showboats and Gamblers. The Breakers play the Showboats (Week 9) and Gamblers (Week 10) to finish the season, and those games should go a long way in determining who gets the South Division's No. 2 seed, assuming Birmingham continues to play well.
In the North, the Stars sit in first place after their three-game win streak, but it's difficult to say that seat is secure -- given that they've allowed 28 more points than they've scored this season (143 scored, 171 allowed). The Stars are also the only North team that has to play Birmingham in one of their final three games. The good news for Philadelphia is that the North is by far the weaker of the two divisions. The Pittsburgh Maulers and New Jersey Generals aren't eliminated -- in fact, they're only two games out of first -- but at 2-5, they are tied with the USFL's worst record. The Michigan Panthers, who beat the Generals on Sunday, are a game behind the Stars at 3-4.
Whoever wins the North will be a big underdog in the USFL title game against the South champ, but as we saw in the XFL championship game, anything can happen.
Stallions retake title of the team to beat
The Stallions are the defending champs but they hadn't been alone atop the South Division all season -- until this week. Birmingham led the whole way Saturday, as quarterback Alex McGough had two TDs (one rushing and one passing), including a 20-yard scoring pass to Jace Sternberger at the end of the third quarter that put the Stallions up 24-9.
New Orleans made a run in the fourth, as a 55-yard field goal by Matthew Coughlin cut it to 24-20 with six minutes left. But the Breakers' Hail Mary attempt in the final ticks was intercepted.
Suddenly the Stallions are looking like champs again, and players are doing flips.
Stars rolling with Coleman in spotlight
Corey Coleman was as first-round NFL pick in 2016 (taken by the Browns at No. 15 overall) and lately he's been flashing that talent in the USFL. On Saturday, Coleman took this one from Case Cookus 56 yards for the touchdown.
Coleman had four catches for 75 yards. Cookus (18 of 30, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) also had a big day, but it was Philly's rushing attack that was most surprising. The Stars entered the day last in the league in rushing, but Matthew Colburn ran for 83 yards on 20 carries with 2 TDs. Colburn had only 169 rushing yards in the first six games combined.
Showboats suddenly sizzling behind defense
Not only did Memphis start the season 0-3, one of those losses was a 42-2 drubbing at the hands of the Stallions. But since that 0-3 start, something clicked for the Showboats, and on Sunday they won their fourth straight. Memphis has been winning with defense, getting two interceptions off the Houston Gamblers. Nose tackle John Atkins dominated, with two sacks and four tackles. In their previous three wins, the Showboats had 10 takeaways, the most in the league.
Showboats quarterback Cole Kelley and wide receiver Derrick Dillon teamed up for the game's biggest play on offense with this 64-yard score.
Things are going so well for Memphis that a player they signed on Thursday -- defensive tackle Jordan Ferguson -- was already making big plays, including a sack in the final minutes to stuff an attempted Houston comeback, despite not yet having a jersey with his name on the back.