The halfway point has arrived! Teams like Houston and St. Louis are beginning to separate from the rest of the league. Will anyone be able to run them down? Here is a look at week five, along with staff picks.
Seattle Dragons (1-3) at Houston Roughnecks (4-0)
Seattle got a new lease on the season with the impressive debut of BJ Daniels. Daniels will need to give a superheroic performance on Saturday to keep pace with the high powered Houston offense. The Roughnecks average over 31 points per game, while the Dragons have yet to score 20 in a game this year.
Pick: Roughnecks 27, Dragons 19
New York Guardians (2-2) at Dallas Renegades (2-2)
New York hasn’t won an away game, and Dallas hasn’t won a home game. Something’s got to give. Home teams are 11-4 on the season so far, but there are mitigating factors in this one. Dallas lost starting quarterback Landry Jones for this game, as Jones injured his knee in last week’s loss to Houston. New York will go with Luis Perez at the helm once more. Perez led the Guardians to a 17-14 victory last weekend. Perez seemed to be able to get the New York offense moving the previous weekend. That continuity gives New York a slight edge.
Prediction: Guardians 19, Renegades 15
St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) at DC Defenders (2-2)
DC gets to return home this weekend after two brutal road losses. The Defenders are a different team at home than on the road. DC averages 29 points per game at home and only 4.5 points per game on the road. Depending on which Defenders team shows up, this game could be quite compelling. St. Louis is quickly becoming a complete team. The BattleHawks do everything well but are especially adept at special teams and defense. With St. Louis only allowing 15.5 points per game, week five will be tough for DC.
Prediction: BattleHawks 22, Defenders 17
Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3) at LA Wildcats (1-3)
Teams that travel cross-country are 0-4 so far this season. Tampa has a chance to buck that trend today due to the running game the Vipers have established. Tampa had two 100 yard rushers in last week’s win. Los Angeles will need to force Tampa to become a passing team to slow down the rushing attack. Stopping the run is a tall order for LA, as the Wildcats are last in the XFL in rushing defense. Los Angeles gives up 131.5 yards per game on the ground.
Week four is here, highlighted by the Texas Throwdown! Dallas and Houston meet for the first time this season in what is sure to be a barn burner! St. Louis gets to be in the dome again this week, looking to put out the Dragons’ flames, while DC travels to Tampa, trying to avoid getting snakebit. New York gets to return home after two brutal beatings, only to face a rejuvenated Wildcats team. Here are a preview and some score predictions, followed by staff picks.
Guardians @ Wildcats Time: 2 pm TV: ABC
The Wildcats come into this game off of a dominant performance against DC. LA will be without top wide receiver Nelson Spruce, however, so temper expectations. Traveling across the country may also be a factor. Visiting teams are 4-8 on the season.
The Guardians will be without starting quarterback Matt McGloin this week, reducing the quarterback carousel to two in New York. The Guardians are a different team at home but have only scored nine points in the last two games. New York needs to find an offensive identity to be able to pull this one off. The Guardians have had some success with the run game this year as running back Tim Cook is averaging 4.3 yards per rush.
Prediction: Wildcats 23, Guardians 15
Dragons @ BattleHawks Time: 5 pm TV: FOX
Seattle’s defense will need to do something big today to change the outcome in this one. St. Louis is a ten-point favorite to win. The Dragons will have to commit to stopping the run and force St. Louis to pass to pull off a victory. The BattleHawks are averaging less than 200 yards passing per game.
For the BattleHawks to win, special teams will play a role. Former Baltimore Brigade star Joe Powell scored the first kick return last weekend. St. Louis also blocked a punt last week. Seattle has struggled with special teams at times, so expect a BattleHawk score on special teams this week.
The game of the weekend! The Texas Throwdown makes its season debut. Dallas and Houston are two of the hottest teams in the XFL right now, so expect this game to live up to the hype. Dallas has a balanced attack of both run and pass, and Houston is showcasing two league MVP candidates in PJ Walker and Cam Phillips. The deciding factor in this game will be Houston’s defense. The Roughnecks have given up an increasing amount of points each week. Pair that with the fact that the Renegades are starting to gel offensively. This game will likely be the highest-scoring game of the XFL season so far.
Prediction: Renegades 39, Roughnecks 36
Defenders @ Vipers Time 7 pm (Sunday) TV: ESPN 2
Tampa Bay looked much improved last weekend, despite losing to Houston. The Vipers put up 27 points, by far the highest output total of the season. DC, on the other hand, was stifled last weekend. Quarterback Cardale Jones will need to return to form this week. Jones threw four interceptions against LA. Look for last week’s debacle to be a wake-up call for the Defenders. DC gets back on track with a win in Tampa.
Week three! There are some intriguing matchups this weekend. Four 1-1 teams look to keep pace with the top of the conferences, and two 0-2 teams look to topple the last remaining unbeatens.
Score predictions for this week:
Seattle 20, Dallas 18 (Overtime)
The Dragons are very banged up, but the home crowd will be what propels Seattle to victory this week. This could also be the first overtime game of the season, as the teams are evenly matched statistically. Hopefully, Seattle can embrace a ‘next man up’ mentality and keep the game close.
DC 30, LA 14
This is shaping up to be an exciting game. There is a high potential for the revenge factor for Defenders Rashad Ross and Anthony Johnson. Both players began the season as Wildcats and were traded to DC. Not to be overlooked, though is former Defender DB Bradley Slyve. Slyve had the deciding pick-6 in a week one win over the Dragons and was promptly traded to LA.
Houston 27, Tampa Bay 14
The Vipers finally get to have a home game and showcase their green uniforms this week. This will likely be the only bright spot for the Vipers, as Houston is just too complete at the moment. Settling on a quarterback and scoring an offensive touchdown would be a success. Quarterback Aaron Murray is out for this game, so Taylor Cornelius or Quinton Flowers will be leading Tampa this weekend.
St. Louis 20, New York 12
St. Louis comes home for the first time this season to a sellout crowd. The St. Louis area has embraced the BattleHawks and should make for a raucous audience. New York is in a bit of a mess, having some quarterback controversy last weekend as Matt McGloin was benched. St. Louis wins this one with superior quarterback play from Jordan Ta’amu.
Here are the staff picks. Be sure to follow us at our Twitter handles below and follow @XFLFanZone as well!
I updated my XFL elo model following week one action and unsurprisingly there was quite a bit of movement! The rating difference of two teams below is equivalent to the point spread between those two teams. Home teams will get an additional 2.6 points for home field advantage. New York gained more than a point in my ratings with their 23-3 win over Tampa Bay, which vaulted them from fourth to the top spot. Dallas, the top team in my preseason rankings, fell from a 1.40 rating to 0.31 when they were upset by St. Louis in a close game.
It was big week for Houston as they were the only team in the Western Conference to win during the first weekend. Despite only checking in at fourth, they boast the best championship odds at 22.7%. This more than doubled the 10.2% that I started them at to begin the season. Aiding their one game lead in the west was the official word that Houston will be hosting the XFL Championship Game in April. When I applied this to my model, Houston’s chances of winning the title jumped by about 4%.
In week two, I’m leaning towards the home team in each game, but it is important to be aware that my rankings do not take injuries into account. This is particularly notable when it comes to quarterbacks. Dallas played last week without their starting QB Landry Jones. Jones was the first XFL player to sign a contract and likely had a lot to do with Dallas entering the season as the top team according to oddsmakers. Perhaps Dallas would not have lost on Sunday and suffered a ratings drop if Landry had played, but we can’t be sure. I for one, would be more inclined to believe that Dallas is better than their mediocre rating indicates and will be a favorite over LA this weekend. Incidentally, LA also was missing their starting QB on Saturday, so who knows?
The PJ Walker Hype Train
The breakout star of the first week of XFL football was Houston quarterback PJ Walker, who was assigned as Houston’s QB before the XFL draft. Walker is two and half years removed from Temple where he became the all-time leader in passing yards. After that, he was an on-and-off member of the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. On Saturday, Walker threw for 272 yards and four touchdowns against LA en route to a 37-17 victory. On the surface, Walker appeared to have a solid day, but some advanced metrics have me a little skeptical.
During this past NFL season, I learned about Expected Points Added (EPA) as a way to evaluate the success of a team. Put simply, EPA is the difference between the number of points a typical team would expect to score before a play and the number a points a typical team would expect to score after a play. EPA is great at capturing context. To use an obvious example, it can tell you that a five yard gain on 3rd & 4 in the red zone is far more valuable than a nine yard gain on 4th & 10 from your own 40 yard line. You can read more about EPA and what goes into it here.
As soon as I found play-by-play data on XFL.com, I was anxious to see how each team would stack up through the lens of EPA. Using the nflscrapR package in R, I applied the EPA model used for NFL games to each of the four XFL games. To be fair, the XFL has some different rules that will be difficult to adjust for in the immediate term. In my opinion, EPA is best used in this setting as a relative value, rather than as a literal interpretation as the number of expected points added. With that in mind, I created the following graph that shows the EPA per play of each XFL QB on QB runs, passes, and sacks:
It is important to reiterate that this should not be interpreted as saying Phillip Walker hurt his team more than helped due to his negative EPA. I do think it would be fair to say that plays made by New York Guardians QB Matt McGloin (third from the left), were more valuable on average. I was surprised that Walker came out as the fourth best QB of week one, so I looked a little deeper into the data.
The biggest hit to Walker’s EPA was his performance on 3rd and 4th downs. On late downs, Walker was 2/8 for 47 yards with a sack and a red-zone interception. The interception came with under five minutes remaining in a three score game, but still came in a high-leverage situation where the Roughnecks were well on track to pad their lead. His EPA on these plays overall was -1.08 EPA per play. The best way to describe this might be to say that if an NFL QB had made the same plays as Walker at the same times and positions on the field, he would have cost his team about 10 points on late downs. His early down numbers were far more promising (21 of 31 for 225yds and 4TD with 3 rushes/18yds), but came at times where his team was already likely to score. We’ll have to wait to see how this shakes out as nine plays is a very small sample.
Another factor that cost Walker some EPA was his team’s field position. Houston’s average starting field position against the Wildcats was on their own 45 yard line, the best of any team this week. Houston also had seven drives that began in LA territory. This obviously isn’t Walker’s fault, but it would be a fair expectation for the Roughnecks to score a lot of points based on where their drives began.
EPA can tell us how much production a player or team has generated, but in small samples like this one, it can leave out important details about how much credit the player deserves for that production. Enter Pro Football Focus (PFF), a website that evaluates players and teams on a grading scale from 0 to 100 based on their performance on each play. XFL.com posted a breakdown of some week one PFF grades that seem to back up what I’m seeing with EPA. Walker was ranked 5th of the eight qualifying QBs in PFF’s passing grades from week one with a grade of 64.7.
A final non-quantitative point is that LA fired their defensive coordinator following Saturday’s game. I’m inclined to believe that if he had been coaching the defense well prior to their week one loss, he would not have been fired after a single poor performance.
I’ll close by saying that I don’t know if PJ Walker is overrated. We’ve seen him play only once in this league and, to be fair, he played as well as he needed to. I’m just not convinced that he has been better than Cardale Jones or Jordan Ta’amu, who are both deserving of more praise at this point. Houston will host the BattleHawks to close out week two on Sunday and we’ll see how Walker fares against PFF’s second ranked defense.
The wait is over! XFL 2020 is here and the XFLFanZone has the weekend previewed. The weekend kicks off in Washington, DC with the Defenders and Dragons. Houston and Los Angeles follow later Saturday evening. Sunday sees the Vipers square off against the Guardians in the matinee, with Dallas and St. Louis finishing off the slate of games. Here is a look at the individual game matchups and a look at the staff picks for week one.
Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders
Time: 2 pm
Line: Defenders -7.5
The inaugural game for this new version of the XFL features former NCAA champion Cardale Jones leading an explosive Defenders lineup against a stingy Seattle defense. DC is nearly an eight-point favorite, but with the new conversion rules for the XFL, an eight point lead is not nearly enough. Look for offensive coordinator Mike Riley (Seattle) to get the three-headed monster of Farrow, Williams, and Gardner involved early in the contest to mitigate the speedy scores of the Defenders.
Prediction: Dragons 39, Defenders 32
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks
Time: 5 pm
Line: Roughnecks -5.5
The Wildcats and Roughnecks have had some interesting last minute changes at the quarterback position. Connor Cook, the expected starter for Houston, was beaten out for the job by PJ Walker. Walker, a dual threat quarterback from Temple, gives the Roughnecks more options offensively. The ability to both run and pass should factor heavily in the XFL this season. For Los Angeles, projected starter Josh Johson is dealing with a hip injury that will keep him out of the opener. Backup Jalan McClendon gets the nod for the Wildcats. This unanticipated injury for the Wildcats tips the scales in the Roughnecks favor.
Prediction: Houston 33, LA 26
Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians
Time: 2 pm (Sunday, February 9)
Line: Vipers -2
Former University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Muray leads a talented Vipers squad into New York to battle the Guardians. Murray was last seen with the AAF’s Atlanta Legends. It will be interesting to see how Murray can flourish in the Marc Trestman-led offense. For New York, wide receiver Mekale McKay should be very fun to watch. The 6-foot-5 wide receiver was a standout performer with the San Antonio Commanders for the AAF. This will likely be the closest game of the weekend.
Prediction: Vipers 39, Guardians 36
St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades
Time: 5 pm EST (Sunday,February 9)
Line: Renegades -10
In the most lopsided line of the weekend, the Dallas Renegades are a ten-point favorite at home against the BattleHawks. This is due largely to the coaching staff of the Renegades, led by Bob Stoops. Stoops won a national title with Oklahoma and is looking to capitalize on that success in the professional game. The only potential setback for the Renegades is the status of starting quarterback Landry Jones. Jones was listed as questionable on the injury report. For the BattleHawks, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and running back Christine Michael will have to have huge games for St. Louis.
The XFL season will begin this Saturday and will end a period of speculation about which of the eight newborn franchises will emerge as the team to beat in the XFL’s inaugural season. This is always a tricky phase for folks like myself who gravitate more toward empirical evidence and data. While there is very little reliable information available, the absence of information presents an opportunity to test one’s understanding of uncertainty.
Months before the season, our base assumption should be that each team will win 5 of their 10 games on average and have a 12.5% chance (1 out of 8) of winning the 2020 XFL championship. As rosters start to take shape we can begin to adjust these assumptions. The challenging part is figuring out how much to adjust. I see betting markets as an ideal breeding ground for zeroing in on just how much uncertainty exists in a situation. As far as finding a favorite for the upcoming XFL season, there isn’t much uncertainty at all. Every sportsbook I looked at had Dallas as the favorite to take home the title in April.
I used the information above to back into Elo ratings. Those ratings will be serving as a starting point for my XFL model, which I will be updating each week. Ultimately, I found that the difference between having a 20% chance to win the XFL title at the start of the season and a 7.5% chance doesn’t really translate to as big a gap as one might think. My initial ratings would give Dallas less than a three point edge against Seattle on a neutral field if they played in Week 1. Despite that modest spread, Seattle would need to win by about 18 points (I won’t bore you with the math) to earn a higher Elo rating than Dallas entering Week 2.
My final conclusion is that while there is a meaningful consensus about who the best and worst teams are as we enter the season, we shouldn’t be surprised if this hierarchy is completely toppled come March.
On this podcast The Swamp Dane and Mr. Landry discuss the issues of the XFL as a spring league and the general talent and make-up of the league.
NFL and NCAA scout, Chris Landry, joins the podcast and offers a unique perspective regarding the XFL. Chris has had an extensive career in NFL scouting offices and as a coach-analyst for several programs. He currently runs LandryFootball.com giving hungry fans all the breakdowns and scouting knowledge they can muster.
The difference between two team’s ratings is equal to the point spread between those two teams. The home team will also get a 2.6 point home-field advantage. An average team will have a rating of zero.This page will be updated as games are played.
Based on the elo rankings, below are the forecasts for this week’s XFL games! The length of the bars below reflect win probability and point spread can be found in the parenthesis.
The XFL is football reimagined. New game innovations and new teams have created quite a stir among football fans everywhere. For fans, the XFL is a chance to extend the joy of football season for three more months. For players, the XFL is a new chance to keep their dreams of playing professional football alive. Many of the players on the XFL teams are players that slipped through the cracks of NFL combines and other professional leagues. With the release of the 52-man rosters on January 27, the stage is set for these athletes to shine once again. Which of the lesser known players will be making a big splash during the inaugural season? Take a look at one potential X-factor for each team.
DC Defenders- Rashad “Rocket” Ross, Wide Receiver
Rashad Ross played collegiately at Arizona State. During the draft combine of 2013, Ross posted a 4.42 40-yard dash time. Ross spent time in the NFL with The Redskins, Bears and was most recently in training camp with the Carolina Panthers. The most successful season statistically for Ross was not in the NFL. In the spring of 2019 Ross was a WR for the Alliance of American Football’s Arizona Hotshots. Ross recorded 36 receptions for 583 yards and 7 touchdowns. He averaged over 16 yards per catch. It will be exciting to see how well the 6-foot, 180 pound wide receiver pairs with Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones. Expect to see a lot of big plays this season from the DC Defenders and Rocket Ross.
Dallas Renegades- Jeff Badet, WR
Jeff Badet, a 5 foot 11 speedster from the University of Oklahoma is looking to make a huge impact for the Dallas Renegades this year. Badet comes into the league with a huge advantage having his former university head coach Bob Stoops as his head coach for the Renegades. Look for Stoops to feature Badet in all of his offense of schemes, as the explosive wide receiver looks to dominate the XFL west for the Renegades
Tampa Bay Vipers- Nick Truesdell, TE
Nick Truesdell, a 6 foot-5 tight end from Grand Rapids junior college, spent some time in 2019 with the Alliance of American Football’s Salt Lake City Stallions. Truesdell caught 24 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns with the stallions. Look for Truesdell to be a huge factor in Red zone situations for the Tampa Bay Vipers due to the fact that conversions will be a huge influence on the game. with the option of going for a 12 or three point conversions after a touchdown Tight Ends will play a huge role in the offensive production for XFL teams.
Los Angeles Wildcats- Shawn Oakman, DE
Shawn Oakman, the monster defensive end and most famously known for the meme generated by him on social media was a stand out performer at Baylor. Oakman was with the Wildcats at the beginning of training camp, was released, and was recently added back to the team just before the 52 man roster came out. Expect Oakman to impact his team by giving a dominant pass rush, disrupting the offenses around the league by using his 6-foot-9, 280 pound frame. Oakman never had the chance to make an impact in the NFL, as a legal matter was unresolved prior to the 2016 draft, prompting NFL teams to pass on him.
St. Louis Battlehawks- Matt Jones, RB
Matt Jones is a 6-foot-2, 240 pound running back from the University of Florida, spent time with the Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Jones leads a very talented backfield in St. Louis. Having been out of football since 2018, Jones is eager to get back into action and make a statement in St. Louis.
New York Guardians- MeKale McKay, WR
Wide receiver MeKale McKay is a 6 foot 5 wide receiver out of Connecticut and is looking to make a huge impact for the New York Guardians the season. McKay most recently spent time with the AAF San Antonio commanders where he was a deep play threat and the team’s leading receiver. Because of his huge stature, MeKale McKay will be a big target in the red zone this season. Also, look for him to make an impact in the conversion side of the game.
Seattle Dragons- Ja’Quan Gardner, RB
Ja’Quan Gardner, a 5-foot-7, 205 pound running back from Humboldt State is looking to make an impact on the Seattle dragons this season. THe strong, powerful back was the leading rusher for the Alliance of American Football’s San Diego Fleet. Check out this video clip to see his burst of speed as he heads towards the end zone. Gardener will be a nice change of pace back for the Seattle dragons in what is beginning to look like a three headed monster in the running game. Kenneth Farrow (San Antonio Commanders) and Trey Williams (San Antonio Commanders) join Gardner in what is currently an all former-AAF backfield.
The XFL officially kicks off Saturday, February 8, at 2pm on ABC.