On Saturday afternoon, the 5-1 New Jersey Generals and the 3-3 Tampa Bay Bandits will kick off Week 7 of the USFL 2022 season. The North division-leading Generals will look to clinch a playoff berth by winning their sixth consecutive game.
Meanwhile, the up and down Tampa Bay Bandits will look to get back in the playoff race in the Southern division with a victory. They are currently one game behind the 4-2 New Orleans Breakers for the final playoff spot in the South.
The final week of cross-divisional games takes place this week. When the smoke settles on Week 7, the next time a team from the North will face a team from the South would be in the USFL Championship Game on Sunday, July 3rd.
USFL Week 7 Preview
New Jersey Generals (5-1) vs. Tampa Bay Bandits (3-3)
Saturday, May 22nd, 12 pm ET/11 am CT, USA Network, Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Alabama
Point Spread: NJ Generals -4, Over/Under: 42.5
Weather: Sunny, High 83F.
New Jersey Generals Key Injuries: OUT-QB, DeAndre Johnson (left ankle), OT, Terry Poole, (Hamstring)
Tampa Bay Bandits Key Injuries: OUT- OL, Fred Lauina (Knee), S, Obi Melifonwu (Shoulder), DT, Austrian Robinson (Foot)
Mike Riley’s New Jersey Generals are marching towards the playoffs playing an anti-2022 style of pro football. The team is as retro as its coach.
The New Jersey Generals dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Their defense is ranked #1 overall in yards allowed per game (246.22), tied for first in points allowed (99), and first against the run, allowing only 74 yards per contest.
A significant reason for the Generals’ success on defense is their offense. New Jersey leads the league in total yards gained per game (365.3), thanks to them being #1 in rushing (177.5) and in time of possession (37:01). Those last two stats tell the entire story of New Jersey’s season. Opposing defenses can’t get off the field, and as a result, opposing offenses are not on the field long enough to sustain drives or score points.
Although some bizarre circumstances were involved, the Generals possessed the football for the entire third quarter last week. The team’s successful ball control formula was even evident in their only loss of the season. Back in week one, against the currently undefeated 6-0 Stallions. New Jersey dominated the line of scrimmage, possessing the ball for 37 minutes and outgaining Birmingham 408 yards to 277.
Despite their opening loss in the final minute, the Generals have not strayed away from sticking to their formula. But last week, they had to deal with adversity and learn how to play from behind. New Jersey showed great character in Week 6; they fell behind early and lost their starting QB, De’Andre Johnson. The team, thanks to Luis Perez’s heroics and the continued emergence of league-leading receiver KaVontae Turpin (341), rallied late to win at the final gun.
The Generals expect to be without De’Andre Johnson for a while. But Perez proved last week that he could shoulder the load when called upon. Opposing teams may have an easier time defending New Jersey’s ground attack because of the unpredictability of their RPO-based attack with Johnson in the lineup. But New Jersey is starting to take baby steps in their passing game, and they might show more balance with Perez at the controls.
Todd Haley’s Tampa Bay Bandits have had a yo-yo type season. Win one week, lose the next. Rinse and repeat.
Tampa Bay has yet to beat a team this year with a .500 record or better. The Bandits have wins over three 1-5 teams, the Maulers, Gamblers, and Panthers. Those three teams have their lone victories because they played each other. Houston beat Michigan in week one. Pittsburgh notched their first victory against Houston two weeks ago. And the Panthers’ lone triumph came against the Maulers.
As Todd Haley’s mentor Bill Parcells used to famously say, “you are what your record says you are.” But in the Bandits’ case, even their .500 record is misleading. Statistically, the up and down nature of their season doesn’t reflect Tampa’s 3-3 record. Tampa is ranked near the bottom of the league in several offensive and defensive categories. But most importantly, they are fifth in the league in overall offense, 274 yards per game, and sixth in overall defense (309.8).
On the bright side, the one player who has appeared to break through from middling play of late is quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. He is coming off arguably his best game as a pro last week in a 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Stars. Ta’amu accounted for 397 yards (333) passing, completing 67 percent of his passes and four touchdowns last week.
For the Bandits to make a run towards the playoffs, Jordan Ta’amu will need to play on that level every week. And this Saturday afternoon, the former XFL standout signal-caller will be squaring off with another one on the opposing sideline, Luis Perez.
Early in the season, the Bandits’ strength on defense was their size upfront and their ability to win at the line of scrimmage. Tampa boasts one of the most enormous defensive fronts with the likes of league standout, the 340lb Daylon Mack. But the Bandits’ defense has worn down late in games and faltered, allowing 127 yards on the ground per contest. A week ago, Matthew Colburn and the normally pass-happy Stars shredded Tampa’s D to the tune of 197 yards rushing at six yards per run. This week, repeating the same performance against the Generals could be a recipe for disaster.
USFL Week 7: New Jersey Generals-Tampa Bay Bandits Prediction
On paper, this matchup favors New Jersey’s offense versus the Bandits’ slumping rush defense.
However, a week ago, the Generals got a victory by the skin of their teeth over the Gamblers. This is the first week where they will be without one of their best weapons in DeAndre Johnson for an entire game. The Bandits can overcommit towards the Generals runners, without having to account for the QB running, in this case, Luis Perez. New Jersey might have to rely on Luis Perez’s arm more than they have in his previous starts at QB.
For Tampa, The game will come down to Jordan Ta’amu’s play. The Bandits have some very good playmakers at receiver, and Tampa has excellent speed with LSU’s Derrick Dillon and John Franklin. And New Jersey also has to account for Jordan Ta’amu’s ability to run in the pocket. The Generals’ defense could be tested more than they have in recent weeks. After all, they have faced mostly pocket passers throughout the first six weeks. In week one, they faced a QB with a similar skillset to Ta’amu’s when Ja’Marr Smith came off the bench and led the Stallions to a come-from-behind victory.
I expect this game to be close. The Generals have won five straight and are coming off an emotional victory, and they have room for error in the standings. By comparison, the Bandits are desperate, and it’s now or never for them. Because they have losses on the ledger already to Birmingham, but more importantly to New Orleans in a 34-3 shellacking in Week 2. The likelihood of Tampa edging out the Breakers in any tie-breaker scenario is not promising because there are only four weeks left in the season.
The Generals are due to lose a game. Based on their pattern of one up, one down this season, Tampa is set up for a victory this Saturday. I’m calling for the upset.