For the second consecutive year, football bettors have a post-Super Bowl outlet for getting some action in. The newest iteration of the XFL rolls out its first four games this coming weekend. The league has done a reasonably good job of providing key information on depth charts and other developments around their eight teams that would be of importance to those considering a wager. The XFL also appears set to embrace sports betting on its games. There’s a solid number of states and sportsbooks making lines available right from the opening gun.
Naturally, handicapping a new league’s first set of games is an exercise in uncertainty to a large degree. However, XFL rosters do have plenty of former AAF and NFL names scattered through them. Many of the key skill-position players also had decorated college careers. Consequently, there’s a solid amount of history to go on with some of the more impactful pieces on each squad.
We’ll offer a betting take on each game throughout the league’s 10-week regular season and two-week postseason. We’ve also implemented assigned a confidence rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) to each pick as well as an additional tool.
Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders — Saturday, Feb. 8, 2 pm ET
The Defenders are believed to be one of the XFL’s better-equipped squads in terms of their talent balance on both sides of the ball and the amount of overall NFL experience on their roster. There are high hopes for Ohio State product Cardale Jones under center, especially since he has proven wideouts Rashad Ross and Eli Rogers to throw to. The ground attack appears to be in fine shape as well if Jhurell Pressley‘s body of work in the AAF and Donnel Pumphrey‘s in college are any indication. On defense, NFL vets Shamarko Thomas, Matt Elam and Scooby Wright spearhead a unit that could be one of the league’s best.
There are slightly more questions on Seattle’s side. Quarterback Brandon Silvers does have some pro experience after starting three games for the Memphis Express in the AAF last season. Ja’Quan Gardner and Kenneth Farrow make for a fine running back tandem. Both players enjoyed success in the Alliance last season as well. However, Kasen Williams, who brings some NFL regular-season experience from his days with the Browns, will miss the opener with a quadriceps injury. He was slated to serve as the No. 2 wideout to open the season.
Given DC’s strong all-around talent, their home-field advantage and the fact Seattle will be short-handed on offense, I’m leaning toward a Defenders cover.
The Pick: Defenders -7.5 (Confidence 8/10)
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks — Saturday, Feb. 8, 5 pm ET
The Wildcats have a big health-related question mark at the most important position. Quarterback Josh Johnson remains questionable with a thigh injury heading into Friday. Chad Kanoff, who spent time on the Lions’ and Buccaneers’ practice squads this past NFL season and put together an impressive final college campaign at Princeton in 2017 (3,474 and 29:9 TD:INT), is the backup. Given Johnson’s extensive experience, his absence would represent a significant setback for Los Angeles’ chances of offensive success. That could be exacerbated in this matchup, given the offensive philosophy the Roughnecks are expected to deploy.
Houston will roll with a Run and Shoot attack courtesy of head coach June Jones and offensive coordinator Chris Miller. Jones’ Atlanta Falcons offenses put up some big numbers during his tenure with the team as a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and head coach from 1991-96. Miller enjoyed one of the best seasons of his quarterbacking career while under Jones’ tutelage in the latter’s first year with Atlanta. The two will implement the pass-happy attack in Houston and will rely on the arm of the prolific P.J. Walker, who put together an impressive college career at Temple. The seasoned Sammie Coates leads a group of receivers that should see a ton of volume in this tight end-less attack.
With Houston likely to be aggressive all four quarters and the Wildcats potentially forced to start the inexperienced Kanoff at quarterback, I lean toward a Roughnecks cover of a modest spread.
The Pick: Roughnecks -5.5 (Confidence: 7.5/10)
Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians — Sunday, Feb. 9, 2 pm ET
The Vipers are somewhat surprising road favorites. New York has one of the stronger options at the quarterback position in the league in the form of Matt McGloin. They also boast a pair of serviceable running backs in Tim Cook and Justin Stockton. Both are AAF alums. Then, Mekale McKay heads up New York’s receiving corps. He’s yet another player who made a good impression last spring with the Alliance (22-375-4). The defense also features CB Jamar Summers, who was one of the AAF’s best cover men and tied with multiple players with the second-most interceptions (three).
The Vipers aren’t exactly devoid of talent, either. Aaron Murray is a solid option at quarterback. Starting RB De’Veon Smith impressed with the Orlando Apollos in the AAF last season. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and tallied six rushing scores. Antonio Callaway was set to serve as the No. 1 receiver until suffering a lower leg injury that landed him on IR. However, the likes of Jalen Tolliver, Reece Horn and Seantavius Jones are capable fill-ins that should still give Tampa Bay plenty of firepower. The Jerry Glanville-led defense should also be fun to watch and will play with an attacking mentality.
I see this as a closely contested battle. With New York in front of its home crowd, I lean toward them sliding under the number, at minimum.
The Pick: Guardians +2.5 (Confidence: 9/10)
St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades — Sunday, Feb. 9, 5 pm ET
The final Week 1 game also features the XFL’s biggest projected favorite of the week, at least at one sportsbook. Dallas’ projected 10-point advantage on FanDuel is notably larger than those at other sportsbooks. The Battlehawks are also initially projected as one of the league’s weaker squads. St. Louis will trot out Jordan Ta’amu at quarterback to open the season. The Ole Miss alum doesn’t yet possess any regular-season professional experience. He did put together an impressive final college season back in 2018 (3,918 passing yards, 19:8 TD:INT, six rushing TDs). The backfield is heavy on NFL experience, with Christine Michael and Matt Jones leading the way. They were second- and third-round NFL picks, respectively. Each enjoyed varying levels of success at that level. The receiving corps also presents well on paper — top four options L’Damian Washington, Alonzo Russell, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Keith Mumphrey boast varying levels of professional experience and shape up as a versatile group in terms of skill set.
There’s been plenty of expectations surrounding the Renegades. Dallas is expected to benefit from the experience of Landry Jones under center. However, the NFL veteran has been hampered by a knee injury and is questionable for Week 1. Phillip Nelson, who’s been getting plenty of reps in Jones’ ongoing absence over the last few weeks, is set to step in if necessary. Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar should form a big part of the ground attack. Each has plenty of NFL skins on the wall from their time with the Panthers (Artis-Payne) and Cowboys and Rams (Dunbar). A speedy receiver group is helmed by Jeff Badet and Freddie Martino. Physical freak Donald Parham (6-foot-8) should be an excellent target near the goal line out of the tight end position.
The spread on FanDuel is a lofty one for Dallas to cover. The other sportsbooks are taking a more measured approach. Nevertheless, I see St. Louis as having more talent than they’re getting credit for and doing enough to come in under the number.
The Pick: BattleHawks +10 (Confidence: 8.5/10)
Article written Thursday night, odds subject to change.