The 2022 USFL playoffs kick off this Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The New Jersey Generals (9-1), winners of nine straight, will face off for the third time this season with the Philadelphia Stars (6-4), with a berth to the USFL Championship game at stake.
USFL 2022 Playoffs: New Jersey Generals Vs. Philadelphia Stars
Date: Saturday, June. 25 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
Location: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (Canton, Ohio)
Odds: Generals -4.5 (-115), O/U 47.5
This Northern Final playoff matchup seems like it was written in the stars for New Jersey and Philadelphia for a long time. Both teams were the class of their division all season long.
Despite the Generals having won their two meetings this year with the Stars, back in Week 3, 24-16, and in the regular-season finale, 26-23. New Jersey won’t be able to lay claim as Northern champs if they don’t defeat Philly this Saturday.
Because of unresolved legal issues, The current iteration of the United States Football League hasn’t embraced or acknowledged its past. The 2022 version of the USFL labels its current season and playoffs as an inaugural affair. But a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, the Generals and Stars were dueling in the USFL playoffs.
The Generals and Stars have a shared playoff history dating back to the original USFL.
After going 6-12 in the other USFL’s inaugural season in 1983, the New Jersey Generals made the playoffs in back-to-back years. In 1984, New Jersey was 14-4 but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the eventual USFL champion Philadelphia Stars. Philly (16-2) had lost only two games that season, both times to New Jersey, but the third time wasn’t a charm for the Generals.
One season later, New Jersey won 11 games in the regular season. But once again, their arch-nemesis, the now Baltimore Stars, vanquished them from the playoffs. That was the New Jersey Generals’ final game until the league’s present-day resurrection.
Could history repeat itself in this current universe? Will the Stars dash the Generals’ championship dreams again?
New Jersey Generals Vs. Philadelphia Stars Playoff Game Preview
The modern-day New Jersey Generals and Philadelphia Stars are two vastly different teams.
The 2022 Generals, run by USFL Coach of The Year Mike Riley, are a smashmouth football team. Fittingly enough, New Jersey is as retro as their coach, team name, and history.
The Generals have an offense that led the league in total yards per game (349.4). However, a large part of their success offensively has come on the ground, where they have rushed for a league-leading 160 yards per game.
The combination of Trey Williams (second-most rushing yards in the USFL) and Offensive Player Of The Year Darius Victor (most rushing touchdowns in the USFL) has cleared the battlefield of opposing defenders. The veteran duo rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in ten games. Ground and pound at its finest, as New Jersey rushed for 100 first downs in ten games.
New Jersey’s old-school style of ball control offense has a new-age flair with two sub-4.4 players in quarterback DeAndre Johnson, who has been largely quiet since returning from injury, and league MVP WR KaVontae Turpin, who factors in as deep threat, decoy, and sometimes runner in New Jersey’s RPO sets. The Generals’ offensive line makes the hybrid scheme work, and offensive coordinator Steve Smith’s unit has two players up front in Terry Poole and Garrett McGhin, who were voted to the All-USFL offensive team.
Veteran quarterback Luis Perez has been a five-star General for New Jersey’s attack. Perez has been arguably the league’s most efficient signal-caller. He completed 71 percent of his passes this season with nine touchdowns and only one interception.
The Generals defense led by former NFL All-Pro CB Cris Dishman has benefitted from New Jersey’s offensive style. They’ve had fresh legs late because of NJ’s offense controlling the clock for 36 minutes per game. As a perfect complement, The Generals’ rush defense, led by All-USFL DT Toby Johnson, and others were tops in the league against the run, allowing only 73 yards per game.
New Jersey has won nine straight games because of their formula of running the ball exceedingly well and shutting down the opposing team’s rushing attacks. Offenses can’t score against you if they are not on the field. And they cannot sustain drives if you shut down their run game.
On special teams, New Jersey has a great return/cover game and a superb punter in Brock Miller. But the one area that could haunt them in the playoffs is their kicking situation. It’s been a constant struggle for NJ all season long, and the Generals lost their first game because of it and are now down to their third kicker with Caden Novikoff. The former Houston Cougar missed two of four extra points last week.
The Philadelphia Stars have been the polar opposite stylistically of New Jersey. They have a talented backfield with players like Matthew Colburn, Paul Terry, and Darnell Holland. But the Stars’ offense, led by Bart Andrus, shoots for the sky frequently with their passing game.
Philadelphia comes into the postseason with the highest-scoring offense in the league (26.2 points per game) and with perhaps the best passing quarterback of the bunch in Case Cookus, who took over as the Stars’ pilot early in the season for an injured Bryan Scott. In seven starts, Cookus went 5-2 and finished the year with 1,334 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, and just five interceptions while completing 62.5% of his passes.
The Stars have a spread-the-wealth passing attack with jumbo-sized targets TE Bug Howard (6’5) and Jordan Suell (6’5) as their top two options. But Philly also makes good use of their running backs in the passing game. (46 combined receptions on the season).
Philly has also won games because they have the league’s top turnover ratio (+8).
The Achilles heel for the Stars has been their defense. While they have been opportunistic, forcing a league-leading 22 turnovers, thanks to standouts like All-USFL CB Channing Stribling. Philly’s defense has done a lot of bending in 2022. The Stars have allowed the most yards per game to opposing offenses (345.8). But most importantly, as it pertains to their playoff matchup with New Jersey. The Stars D sports the league’s worst rush defense, allowing 151 yards per contest on the ground.
Philadelphia defensive coordinator Brad Miller will need to show some new wrinkles in his third matchup against New Jersey’s offense. The Generals have rushed for 367 yards against Miller’s defense in their first two meetings of the season. If that trend continues in the playoffs. The Stars season is fading to black on Saturday.
The Stars’ special teams have been solid all season long. Especially with Maurice Alexander as one of the league’s best returners and the efficient kicking of mid-season replacement Luis Aguilar, who has connected on all of his extra points and has made 80 percent of his field goals. Kicking is an area where Philly has a distinct advantage over New Jersey.
USFL 2022 Northern Final Playoff Prediction
Beating a team three times in one season is always a challenging task. Mike Riley’s Generals might see different stars in their playoff sky when they face Philly on Saturday.
Bart Andrus is going to have some tricks up his sleeve for this game. The Stars have hung tough with the Generals this season. But New Jersey’s style has proven to be the kryptonite for Philadelphia’s wide-open attack.
Philly will need to get out in front early and dictate the pace of the game, in order to earn a spot in the USFL championship game. The Stars have to get the Generals out of their comfort zone and force them to play from behind.
I am tempted to call for the upset in this playoff matchup. The Generals are getting saluted from every single direction, they have been lauded for their individual and team success. While the Stars have been largely overlooked. And something tells me that the Generals’ shaky kicking game could cost them when it matters most.
Overall, I think New Jersey has a more complete team than Philly does. However, The best regular-season teams don’t always make it to a championship game.
But on this occasion, I think the Generals will find a way late to set the stage for a potential rematch with the Stallions, the team they lost to in the league’s opener. The USFL 2022 season might end, the way it started, with the Generals and Stallions battling it out again, only this time for the league’s championship.