The USFL's last two undefeated teams will face off on Saturday night when the Birmingham Stallions take on the New Orleans Breakers. Both teams are 2-0 so the winner will not only keep their record clean but also take control of the South Division.
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Birmingham used a strong second half to defeat the Houston Gamblers 33-28 last week while New Orleans manhandled Tampa Bay 34-3. The Stallions have pulled off two come-from-behind victories, rallying from down seven points in the fourth quarter to edge the New Jersey Generals 28-24 in the league's kickoff game in Week 1 and erasing a five-point halftime deficit to edge the Gamblers last Saturday.
Meanwhile, New Orleans held the Philadelphia Stars scoreless in the fourth quarter of their season opener to secure a hard-fought 23-17 victory before thoroughly dominating the Bandits in all phases of the game this past Sunday.
It's still early, but the Stallions and Breakers have been the most impressive teams thus far and Saturday night's matchup provides an opportunity to lay claim to being the league's best team.
Birmingham (2-0) at New Orleans (2-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Breakers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Both teams have been very offensive
Although it's only two weeks into the season, Birmingham (61 points) and New Orleans (57) are the top two teams in scoring. They also are No. 1 and No. 2 in total offense. This is due in part to both teams getting strong quarterback play.
The Stallions' J'Mar Smith leads the USFL in passer rating (139.7), is third in passing yards (385), second in touchdown passes (3), fourth in completion percentage (60.8), and second in yards per attempt (7.5). He's also run for 44 yards and a touchdown and has been sacked just once.
His counterpart, Kyle Sloter, has been just as impressive for the Breakers. He's second in passing yards (416) and completions (42) and a spot ahead of Smith in completion rate (63.6 percent). He's tossed a pair of touchdown passes, has compiled a passer rating of 123.6 (fourth in the league), and has yet to be sacked. Sloter is the reigning Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns in the rout of Tampa Bay.
But neither signal-caller has had to carry the offensive load by themselves. Birmingham running back C.J. Marable is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (2), he's sixth in rushing yards (98), and is averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry (seventh). Wide receiver Osirus Mitchell is second in receiving yards with 144 and tied for the lead with two touchdown catches. Fellow wideout Victor Bolden Jr. is No. 1 in receptions with 12.
New Orleans owns the league's No. 2 rushing offense (139.5 ypg), an effort that's led by running back Jordan Ellis. He has been the top workhorse in the early going, as his league-high 39 carries have resulted in 153 yards on the ground (second). Breakers wide receiver Jonathan Adams is averaging 17 yards per catch.
Put it all together and this matchup features the top two offenses in the league, which means both defenses will have their work cut out for them.
2. These teams can also play some defense
As productive as both offenses have been for the Stallions and Breakers, it's not as if their defenses haven't done their part. Birmingham has allowed 52 points through two weeks, which is the most of any team, but they are second in sacks (5), turnovers (4), and are fourth against the pass (167.0 ypg). The Stallions have already picked off three passes, tying them with New Orleans for the lead in that category. Birmingham linebacker Lorenzo Burns has two picks (No. 1 in the league) while DeMarquis Gates is tied for second with two sacks.
But the Breakers have been downright Grinch-like on defense, leading the USFL in points allowed per game (10.0) while ranking second in both total (220.0) and passing (118.5) yards per game and fourth against the run (101.5 ypg). They have generated five takeaways, tying them with two other steams for the top spot in that category. Defensive end Davin Bellamy is the USFL's top sack man (4.0) and was named Defensive Player of the Week in Week 1. Last week that honor went to linebacker Vontae Diggs following his 10-tackle (seven of them solo) effort in the win over Tampa Bay. Diggs also returned an interception for a touchdown in Week 1.
So as good as the offenses have been for Birmingham and New Orleans their defenses have more than held their own. We'll see if either side can flex its muscles against the other on Saturday night.
3. Always room for improvement
Even though both teams are 2-0 that doesn't mean there aren't any areas that could be tightened up a little more. It's slightly nitpicking, but Sloter did toss an interception in Week 1, New Orleans has not been that efficient on third down (9-for 27), and the Breakers are the second-most penalized team (120 yards) in the early going. Birmingham has allowed the most points (52) thus far, has committed three turnovers (2 INTs), and is third in penalty yards (105). But both teams also made more than enough plays in all phases to win their first two games.
This will be an exciting game to watch so it's fitting that it takes place in prime time. However, New Orleans appears to be a little more balanced on both sides of the ball while Birmingham has been more vulnerable on defense. The Stallions will put up another strong fight, but the Breakers will be the USFL's lone undefeated team after the clock hits zero.
Prediction: Breakers 30, Stallions 27
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.