Seventy percent of the USFL 2023 Regular Season is in the books, and only three weeks remain before the USFL playoffs commence. And by the looks of things, the two teams who competed for a league title last July are positioned to get back to the mountaintop.
All eight USFL teams are still alive in the playoff chase. But the league’s hierarchy at the top looks awfully familiar.
Let’s look at how the USFL teams stack up after seven weeks heading into Week 8.
USFL 2023 Post Week 7 Power Rankings
#1: Birmingham Stallions (5-2)
The Birmingham Stallions took care of business in Week 7, exacting revenge with a 24-20 victory over a New Orleans Breakers team who beat them a month earlier.
As a result, the Stallions have positioned themselves to reclaim their Southern crown with three weeks left to play in the regular season. USFL MVP front-runner quarterback Alex McGough continued his excellent run of play, outdueling McLeod Bethel-Thompson on Saturday.
It was another highly proficient performance by McGough; however, it was Birmingham’s defense, which forced three Breakers turnovers, that helped sway the Stallions to a four-point victory.
Birmingham still has unfinished business in Weeks 9 and 10 with the Houston Gamblers and Memphis Showboats if they want to win the South division. But first things first, the Stallions, in Week 8, will be facing a suddenly red-hot Philadelphia Stars team in a rematch from last year’s championship game.
The way things appear now, Week 8’s showdown with the Stars could be a preview of this year’s championship game on July 1st.
#2: Memphis Showboats (4-3)
The hottest team in the USFL is Memphis. The Showboats won their fourth straight game on Sunday, topping the team who had won four consecutive games leading into Week 7, the Houston Gamblers.
Todd Haley’s team is clicking on all cylinders after opening the 2023 season with three losses. The Showboats have showed out with two crucial victories during their winning streak. One against New Orleans, and now a 23-20 triumph over the Gamblers. Those wins against South contenders has Memphis in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs.
Thanks to an impressive turn by young quarterback Cole Kelley, and a balanced team defensively and on special teams. The Showboats control their own course down the stretch. Memphis will play New Jersey in Week 8, before they clash with the Breakers and Stallions to wrap up the regular season.
#3: Philadelphia Stars (4-3)
The Stars are starting to align for last year’s runner-up in the USFL championship game. The perennial preseason favorite, a team I picked to win the whole thing, is back on course after notching their third straight victory. This time, a 37-31 triumph over the Pittsburgh Maulers.
The latest win by Philly had the feel of their 2022 squad after two straight wins where the Stars won games without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Bart Andrus’s offense and league standout quarterback Case Cookus finally returned to the form they showed a year ago.
Against a stout Maulers defense, which had roughed up Philadelphia a month earlier, the Stars’ offensive attack had their best game of the 2023 season against Pittsburgh. A well-balanced attack that saw Philly amass 347 yards, and the key is that their offensive line allowed only one sack.
The Stars have been getting big plays from their defense and special teams in their turnaround. But now that the offense is joining the party. The sky is the limit for Philadelphia.
In Week 8, the Stars will square off with the team that stopped them short of a championship in 2022, the Birmingham Stallions. Things have changed greatly for the two championship contenders in the last few weeks. A month ago, it looked like maybe a new leaf would turn in the USFL season, with both teams potentially on the outside of the postseason. It doesn’t look that way anymore.
#4: Houston Gamblers (4-3)
Houston’s four-game win streak was snapped in Week 7 by a surging Showboats team. The Gamblers 23-20 defeat puts Curtis Johnson’s team in a precarious position moving forward. They are locked in a three-way tie at 4-3, with Memphis and New Orleans.
The tight race in the South has no left no room for error, as four teams battle for only two playoff spots.
In Week 7, Houston fell behind 16-6, and rallied late, scoring 14 fourth quarter points but fell short. The Gamblers offense has stumbled the last two games. Stud running back Mark Thompson was neautralized by Memphis (13-42). And quarterback Kenji Bahar struggled mightily, completing only 18 of 39 passes for 216 scoreless yards, while throwing two interceptions.
For Houston, who has shown improvements defensively, they need Kenji Bahar to get back to the way he was playing earlier this season. In Week 8, the Gamblers will square off against the 2-5 Maulers, in what is a must win game.
#5: New Orleans Breakers (4-3)
The script has completely flipped on Coach Flip and his New Orleans squad. The breaks haven’t gone the Breakers way the last three weeks.
After taking the USFL by storm with a 4-0 start, the Breakers have hit rocky waters, losing three straight games. Their latest is a 24-20 loss to the Birmingham Stallions. A game they needed to help stem the tide that had turned on them.
What didn’t help matters for New Orleans in Week 7 was some questionable officiating. Including a highly controversial no-catch ruling by Mike Pereira. That wasn’t backed up by strong visual evidence. The non-Jay Adams catch ruling had an effect on the outcome.
As a result of losing their third consecutive game, the Breakers are in danger of watching their playoff and championship hopes drown. New Orleans has now not only fallen behind Birmingham but are locked in a dead heat in the South with Houston and Memphis.
The Breakers have played competitive football during their losing streak. But things have not been the same for New Orleans’s offense in recent weeks. Opposing teams have slowed down RB Wes Hills, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson is on a cold streak. As anyone who has closely followed MBT’s career in Canada knows, this has been a common occurrence for him throughout his career.
For the Breakers to get back on track in the final three weeks of the regular season. Bethel-Thompson needs to get hot again, or New Orleans’s hopes will be washed away.
In Week 8, New Orleans faces a must-win game against the Michigan Panthers before they finish the season against Memphis and Houston.
#6: Michigan Panthers (3-4)
As predicted in my Generals preview on Friday here at USFLNewshub. The Panthers snapped their four-game losing streak in Week 7, beating the New Jersey Generals 25-22.
Mike Nolan’s squad is back in the win column again, after going winless at home for a month. The Panthers offense took advantage of an injury depleted Generals defense, who was missing standouts Chris Orr, and Shalom Luani, and did enough, at times, defensively to slow down one of the league’s worst passing attacks.
The great news for Michigan is that with New Jersey falling apart, and the Maulers dropping another game. If the season ended today, the Panthers would be postseason bound.
In Week 8, Michigan can keep their one-game lead in second place by beating a slumping New Orleans team.
#7: Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)
Because of parity in the North, the Pittsburgh Maulers in Week 7, had an opportunity at 2-4, to throw their hard hats into the North division race. A sweep over the Stars would’ve put Ray Horton’s team in an advantageous position.
The Maulers were game against Philly on Saturday, but they fell 37-31 to the Stars.
Pittsburgh’s offense has been their weak link all season long. It’s their defense and special teams that has kept them in games. But on Saturday night, The Maulers defense had their worst outing of the season. Credit to Philadelphia’s offense for putting up their best performance of the season against a quality unit. But Jarren Horton’s defense let the team down when the game counted most.
The Maulers are only a game out of the second playoff spot in the North. But it feels like the odds of them snabbing a postseason spot is highly unlikely. In Week 8, Pittsburgh must find a way to beat the Gamblers, in order to keep their hopes alive.
#8: New Jersey Generals (2-5)
The Generals dropped their fourth straight game on Sunday evening to the Michigan Panthers. A frustrating 25-22 loss. Mike Riley’s battered bunch is seeing their season slip away from them.
Injuries on defense, and an inconsistent offensive attack have set the Generals on a course to miss the playoffs. On Sunday, the Generals started off in lackluster fashion but rallied late to make a game of things but came up small in another close game. New Jersey is now 0-4 in one-score games this season.
Unfortunately, quarterback DeAndre Johnson, who provided a spark off the bench after sitting out last week’s action, left the game after a serious helmet to helmet collision. The early word is that he’s fine considering the circumstances. But his availability the rest of the way could be in question.
The Generals are only a game out of the playoffs in the North. However, they have an extremely challenging schedule the next two weeks. They face a scorching hot Memphis Showboats team next Sunday in Canton, before facing off with their version of Kryptonite in Week 9, known as the Philadelphia Stars.
New Jersey could be the first USFL team eliminated from playoff contention. A far cry from the Generals team that dominated the North a year ago onto a 9-1 record.