The USFL didn’t have to worry about tanking in the final week of the regular season, as the league took matters into its own hands to prevent teams from losing to improve their draft status. Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Maulers and Michigan Panthers presented a unique opportunity for the league to try something new, as the teams entered the matchup tied with the league’s worst record at 1-8.
Here’s a closer look at the league’s new wrinkle and the rest of our Week 10 takeaways as the regular season comes to a close.
Maulers lose game, and top pick
With the two playoff semifinals already set heading into final week of the regular season, the league had no games with any implications in Week 10 … that is, until it created one. The USFL announced this week the winner of the Maulers-Panthers matchup would earn the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 USFL Draft, instead of the loser clinching the worst record in the league and “earning” that pick.
The Panthers defeated the Maulers 33-21 to earn the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft — and the first pick in each round thereafter. Michigan, with a 2-8 record, will have the No. 1 pick in each round while the Maulers will have the No. 2 pick in each round — despite finishing with the worst record in the league at 1-9.
Paxton Lynch, a former NFL first-round pick, completed 22 of 30 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Panthers to victory. This will be the second consecutive season the Panthers had the No. 1 overall pick in the USFL draft, using the first pick in the inaugural draft to select quarterback Shea Patterson — who was released from the team in May and signed with the New Orleans Breakers days later.
The USFL does have plans for a second season in 2023, so there was some incentive in case the spring football league returns. Whether all the games will be played in a central location (as they did this season with Birmingham, Alabama) is yet to be determined. The league will host its playoffs in Canton, Ohio starting Saturday, with the first of two semifinals featuring the New Jersey Generals vs. the Philadelphia Stars at 3 p.m. ET, followed by the Birmingham Stallions vs. the New Orleans Breakers in the other at 8 p.m. ET. The two winners will play in the championship game the following Sunday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Generals beat Stars six days before facing them again in playoffs
The Philadelphia Stars and New Jersey Generals had clinched their playoff spots prior to Week 10, earning the two automatic berths in the North division. They’ll face each other in the playoffs in six days, and they also squared off in Week 10. It was a game that had no impact on the division standings (the Generals already clinched the North division), making the final regular season game a tune-up for the semifinal playoff matchup.
The Generals were able to outlast the Stars 26-23, ending the season on a nine-game winning streak. New Jersey’s lone loss was to the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL’s inaugural game, falling to them 28-24 back in April. The Generals swept the Stars as they finished 6-0 in the North Division, beating Philadelphia by one score in both games.
New Jersey’s largest margin of victory this season was just 11 points, but the Generals are finding ways to win the close contests. They’ll be a favorite to play in the championship game.
Stallions finish No. 1 in league
The Birmingham Stallions beat the Tampa Bay Bandits 21-18 to finish 9-1 on the year. If the USFL had a No. 1 seed for its playoffs, it would be the Stallions — who finished with the same record as the Generals but beat them in their lone matchup of the season.
Birmingham won’t have the home-field advantage they did throughout the regular season with the playoffs moving to Canton, but the Stallions are a threat to take home the league’s first championship trophy. They allow just 16.1 points per game and just 268.9 yards per game, both are top two in the league. The Stallions are also third in the USFL in yards per game (326.3) and second in rushing yards per game (136.5).
Running the football and strong defense are why the Stallions and Generals finished with the league’s best records. They appear set for a rematch in Canton.
Second-place teams scary for playoffs
The Stars and New Orleans Breakers were both swept by the first-place teams in their respective divisions heading into the playoffs, but don’t sleep on these second-place teams in Canton next weekend. New Orleans lost to Birmingham by nine points in the first meeting and only one point in the second — which was determined by a Brandon Aubrey field goal with under two minutes to play.
The Stars lost to the Generals by eight points in the first meeting and by three in the Week 10 matchup that had no implications. Philadelphia has allowed the most rush yards per game in the league (151.2), but have the second-most sacks in the league with 25. Stopping the run will be the key for Philadelphia if the Stars want to pull off the upset.
Unlucky Gamblers end on high note
The Houston Gamblers started the season 1-7 with six of those losses by five points or less and two coming on the last play of the game. Houston finally found some luck in the final two weeks, though, first handing the Birmingham Stallions their one-and-only regular season loss in Week 9, then thumping the playoff-bound New Orleans Breakers 20-3 in Week 10.