Tampa Bay is in a must-win game Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive as they take on the Houston Gamblers.
The last time these two teams played in week three, it was Tampa Bay who was able to come from behind and hit a game-winning 46-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to win 27-26. Both offenses combined for 766 yards of total offense and produced three touchdowns of over 50 yards. The key stat was Tampa Bay winning the time of possession and holding on to the football longest in the fourth quarter to make sure Houston didn’t have enough time to come from behind
There is a chance New Orleans can clinch a playoff spot on Saturday against Birmingham, but it will be a tall task for the Breakers to defeat an unbeaten team. That leaves the door open for Tampa Bay to win and only be one game behind them. Should New Orleans lose and Tampa Bay wins, that sets up a critical week nine showdown between the two teams with a potential playoff spot on the line.
Tampa Bay is currently riding a two-game losing streak that includes seven-point losses to east division opponents Philadelphia and New Jersey. Jordan Ta’amu’s performances throughout the season have been up and down. Their running game has been among one of the worst in the league. The Bandits’ defense has allowed 55 points in the last two games.
As for Houston, they were the first team in the USFL this season to be eliminated from the playoffs after blowing an 11-point lead and allowing 22 fourth quarter points in their 35-24 loss to the Philadelphia Stars last week. Their starting quarterback Clayton Thorson was knocked out of the game as well as their starting running back Mark Thompson was knocked out with injuries as well.
This week, the team is turning to Kenji Bahar to helm the quarterback position for the first start of his professional football career. Dalyn Dawkins and Devwah Whaley will be the featured backs for Houston. The offense appears to be banged up and going with a younger lineup for Sunday’s contest. Their defense still seems to be intact but might try some different looks being that this unit has allowed the most average points per game in the USFL this season with 24.
Betting Odds Per FoxBet
Spread: TAM -5, HOU +5
Money Line: TAM -227, HOU +175
Total Points: O/U 44.5 Points, TAM -105, HOU -118
Injury Status/Inactive List
Tampa Bay Bandits
The good news for the Bandits is they are getting some help on the offensive line with Fred Lauina returning to the active list. While he is listed as questionable, Tampa Bay will be out one lineman with Matt Burrell being listed out with a head injury. More relieving news on offense is receiver Derrick Dillion being a full go after working through a wrist injury. Dillion is second on the team in receiving yards (268) and receiving touchdowns (two).
Tampa Bay is losing starting linebacker Christian Sam who made an impact on stopping the run. Sam leads the team in tackles (52), interceptions (one), forced fumbles (one) and is second on the team in pass deflections (four). With a defense that has struggled in the last two weeks, he is needed in a must-win game. The good news for them is Houston might not have their top back in the game.
The offense for Houston appears to be taking the biggest hits this week on the reports released. Clayton Thorson’s announcement of being on the inactive list has been known for a couple of days now as Bahar is in line to start in his place. One major loss for the team is Mark Thompson being put on the inactive list and listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. Thompson is one of the league’s leading rushers and the top offensive player on the team. Without him, the rushing attack has not done much which could spell out trouble for Houston.
Another interesting piece of news is wide receiver Isaiah Zuber being placed on the inactive list despite being a full go with an illness. It appears Houston might be without their top receiver who leads the team in yards (293) and touchdowns (four). They will have to rely on Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Teo Redding, and JoJo Ward to step up in his potential absence.
Key Players to Watch
John Franklin III, Tampa Bay Bandits
Tampa Bay has one of the most versatile players in the league with John Franklin III. Franklin has been electric when he has the ball in his hands being a reliable slot receiver for them. He can do so many things for the Bandits including catching, running receiver reverses, and even throwing the football being a former college quarterback.
Franklin has moved around multiple positions in his young football career but has found his calling at receiver and has been getting into a rhythm. He has proven to Ta’amu to be one of his favorite targets this season. This should be a good game for him, especially facing off against one of the weaker secondaries in the USFL.
Donald Payne, Houston Gamblers
Try finding a defender who does more for their team against the run and pass than Houston linebacker Donald Payne. How impactful is he? Payne leads the league in tackles (85) and is among the top two on the team in multiple categories including sacks (two), pass deflections (five), fumble recoveries (one), and interceptions (two). Safe to say there isn’t a harder working player on the field than Payne.
Payne and company will have to be ready for Tampa Bay’s offense especially with Ta’amu being a threat in the running game. Most likely, Payne’s assignment will be to follow Ta’amu around the whole game so he doesn’t break contain on him. Houston fans know though that Payne will be up for the task.