By Michael Lavery (@MichaelLavery98)
Football is BACK!
That’s a sentence you’re not used to hearing in February, right?
This time of year is usually the beginning of a seven month drought which sees us clutching on to any form of relevant and somewhat interesting football news. Hypothetical trades, mock drafts, and record predictions for teams in the new season, which we all know doesn’t always go to plan (I’m talking to you, Adam Rank).
But finally, after a lot of build-up, exciting rules announcements and the occasional familiar name being thrown into the mix… It’s time for the XFL.
The following is a preview of each of the opening four games followed by my own personal predictions for the games which at this point are complete stabs in the dark but worth a go anyway.
Seattle Dragons @ D.C Defenders
The opening game of the second installment of XFL football comes from Audi Field in Washington D.C where the Dragons take on the Defenders. Both of these teams are the second professional football team in their respective cities, something which could be worth looking into regarding attendance and fan support.
The Defenders are being led by Cardale Jones at quarterback, someone who is already being touted as the potential league MVP before it even kicks off. Jones spent a short time in the pro’s, mostly as a backup or a third stringer. He was drafted 139th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2016 but has never played more than a half of professional football.
His career stat line: 6/11 98yds, 0TD, 1INT 46.0QBR
D.C Head Coach Pep Hamilton is more than qualified to lead this team to multiple victories this year. He has years of experience working as a positional coach in the NFL for several teams and was the Colts Offensive Coordinator for two years from 2013-15. The significance of this is that during that time he worked closely with Andrew Luck, someone who he also coached during his time at Stamford.
Why exactly is this important? Well for the success Luck had in his short NFL career, I don’t think it would be a bad idea for Cardale Jones to pick the brain of his new HC. Luck and Jones also have extremely similar measurables, something Hamilton might hope to take advantage of and craft Jones into a Luck style player.
|Comparison: Luck v Jones|
|Height||Weight||40 Yard Dash||Hand Size|
|Andrew Luck||6’ 4”||234lbs||4.67||10”|
|Cardale Jones||6’ 5”||250lbs||4.81||9 ¾”|
The Seattle Dragons signal caller goes by the name of Brandon Silver. Silver has no NFL in game experience despite trying out at the New Orleans Saints rookie minicamp and spending a month as a member of the New York Jets. He did however play for the Memphis Express in the short while that the AAF existed. He sat behind Johnny Manziel as a backup before taking over the starting job after a Manziel injury.
His AAF Stat line: 80/125 799yds, 4TD, 2INT, 86.1QBR
Despite not being the most decorated player at his position, he is at least being coached by someone who knows how to lead a franchise. Former Seattle Seahawks lefty QB; Jim Zorn.
Zorn was the Seahawks quarterback for the first eight years of the franchise’s existence. He made it a weekly habit of finding NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent in the end zone and now they are both members of the Seattle ring of honour.
In his professional coaching career he has been an assistant and also spent one year has the Head Coach of the Washington Redskins (08-09). Jim Zorn Washington revenge game, anybody?
What is key is that Zorn will know exactly what the city of Seattle will want to see from their Dragons. He knows the city, he knows the fans, he knows the seriousness and with that I think he will have the Dragons performing at a high level all year.
This should be a great game to kick off the season, the fireworks and hoopla of the rebirthed XFL will no doubt add to the festival like occasion and hopefully there will be fireworks on the field too. Explosive plays, new kick offs and extra point rules all to be seen this weekend.
Prediction: My week one stab in the dark prediction is for Seattle to win a crowd silencer on the road in D.C with a final score of 34-17.
Los Angeles Wildcats @ Houston Roughnecks
The late slot on Saturday takes us to TDECU stadium in Houston where the Roughnecks will host the Los Angeles Wildcats. The 40,000 seater arena is the battleground for the first primetime matchup of the season.
Houston Quarterback P.J Walker, who played is college ball at Temple, is, by his own admission an undersized quarterback. At 5’ 11” and only 214lbs he draws the pro sized comparison to Russell Wilson and a quick look at his tape shows his footballing ability is similar too. Walker has excellent escape ability when he feels pressure and can get the job done either by rushing or make accurate throws on the move. Despite having this ability to avoid pressure, he doesn’t force early departures from the pocket and when complimented by good protection has the time needed to step into throws and successfully complete the long ball. Something ex-Texans receiver Sammie Coates will be happy about as he makes his return to pro football in Houston. But, when Walker does take off running he has the talent to make defenders look stupid.
The Roughnecks will be running a “Run N’ Shoot” style offence. A pass heavy scheme, it is hoped that Walker can find his receivers deep down field often and force teams to meet their high scoring targets if they have any hopes of winning.
Fronted by Head Coach June Jones, a former NFL QB and HC for the Atlanta Falcons, Houston will be hoping to deliver key blows early in this game and take advantage of playing at home. Jones won the CNN/Sports Illustrated National Coach of the year award back in 1999 before going on to take on several roles as an assistant in both college and pro teams.
Something to watch in the future: Jones stepped in as interim Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers after the now New York Guardians HC Kevin Gilbride was fired. Perhaps something to keep an eye on in the week 6 fixture between Houston and New York.
The visiting Los Angeles Wildcats have a veteran NFL journeyman at the helm. Josh Johnson has been a member of 13 teams since being drafted by the Bucs in the 5th round of the 2008 draft. A cousin of Marshawn Lynch, he played college football at San Diego. Perhaps an indication of his pedigree at his position, the Detroit Lions attempted to resign Johnson in November 2019 but the XFL denied this request.
Wildcats Head Coach Winston Moss was a professional linebacker for the Bucs, LA Raiders and Seahawks. He worked up 20.5 sacks and 3 interceptions during his career. A defensive minded coach, he will undoubtedly have his hands full this weekend but will be hoping to lean on the talents of his players to execute his game plan and slow down the Roughnecks attack.
Prediction: I think this will be one of the closer games of the weekend but I see the home team coming out on top. Houston wins it: 26-21.
Tampa Bay Vipers @ New York Guardians
Moving into the early slot on Sunday and we will get to see the first instalment of the Tampa Bay Vipers and the New York Guardians. Being played at MetLife this game is sure to have all the feelings of a regular football Sunday.
Guardians Head Coach Kevin Gilbride will be hoping to get his team off to a fast start in the league. Overseeing operations in New York as a play caller he will be hoping his team leave their mark as a smash mouth, run you over style football team, something which is always associated with teams playing in the meadowlands.
He will no doubt be confident that his team can pile up the wins, the Guardians start the season with seasoned pro, Matt McGloin under centre. A former raider who knows all about playing tough.
His Career Stat line: 13 Games Played 7 Started 161/277 1868yds, 11TD, 11INT 75.3QBR
I’m not entirely confident in McGloin’s ability to shine as the star of this league, but I do believe he will be more than capable of managing in-game situations at an effective and professional level and guiding this team to victory. That said, if he doesn’t perform, the New York fans will have no problem in letting him hear it.
Making the trip up the east coast is the green and yellow of the Tampa Bay Vipers. Spearheaded by Head Coach Marc Trestman and Quarterback Aaron Murray, the team travels to New York in the hope of returning to Florida with a season opening win.
Murray, a former Georgia Bulldog was a 5th round pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. After bouncing between teams for a number of years, he took up a role as the QB for the Atlanta Legends of the AAF before coming to Tampa in the hope of being the cities best quarterback (30INT Jameis Winston shouldn’t be too hard to beat).
His Head Coach, Trestman, has an impressive history of coaching. Over 39 years he’s been with 10 NFL teams as either an assistant or a coordinator and has had his fair share of coffees elsewhere too coaching in both college and the CFL.
This should be a gritty game, with both teams trying to make some noise in the early Sunday window and gain some attention before week 2. A tough one to call so I’ll give the benefit to the team with a QB who has NFL experience and are playing at home.
Prediction: Guardians 27-20 Vipers.
St Louis Battlehawks @ Dallas Renegades
Potentially the best game of the weekend slot, aptly left to the primetime Sunday evening slot. A city left in the lurch without pro football since 2015, St. Louis fans were beyond hurt when the rams left them and have been crying out for football since. The Battlehawks fans will have to wait until week 3 to see their team play at home but I don’t think that will stop them from travelling to Dallas show support to their team.
Dallas is a footballing hub, the Cowboys have been calling themselves America’s team for what feels like forever and the entire city of Dallas lives for the sport. The Renegades will count as the State of Texas’ 4th pro football team, but they will have no intentions of being known as such. They want to be number one and behind quarterback Landry Jones they are in great shape to do so.
Jones is the forefront of this offense and he will hope to lay down a marker for the standard at which other teams aspire to be at. He was the first player to be selected for the XFL at the start of the team’s allocation process.
Jones’ professional career saw him drafted by the Steelers with the 115th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. A competent backup, he even saw some playing time in the playoffs, relieving an injured Ben Roethlisberger in the 2015 wild-card game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Roethlisberger would eventually return to the game but it is a credit to Jones and his work as a backup that he was ready to go when called upon. I think we can expect to see a great player coach chemistry with the Renegades. Jones and HC Bob Stoops worked together during his time in college. They will need to bring their “A” game in order to stop a resurgent St. Louis side who will be wanting to prove the point that pro football belongs in their city.
The Battlehawks are entering this game with quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and Head Coach Jonathan Hayes. Wanting to implement their status as winners from the start they will have to lean heavily on the knowledge of their HC and the veterans in the team with pro experience such as ex-Seahawks running back Christine Michael. In his career, he amassed over 1,000 rushing yards off 254 carries over a period of 4 years.
First special teams mention of the day, Marquette King, ex-Raiders punter makes his return to football for the Battlehawks in the hopes of re-igniting his career.
A primetime showdown to round out week one of the new XFL season, a game I think will come down to wire. Fourth quarter plays will be crucial and coaches aggression strategies on their PAT attempts will be important in determining a winner. I’ll side with the home team in this one but wouldn’t be surprised to see the visitors get a win.
Prediction: Renegades 28-26 Battlehawks.
So there you have it, the week 1 preview is at a close. Let us know your thoughts on the XFL by tweeting us @full10Yards on Twitter. Whether you love it, hate it or aren’t even going to watch it, we want to know!