A couple of teams looking to atone for a rough weekend meet on Saturday in the final week of the regular season for the USFL. The Birmingham Stallions (8-1) and the Tampa Bay Bandits (4-5) are set for their second and final meeting of the season after Birmingham took the first meeting 16-10 in Week 4.
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The Stallions suffered a shocking 17-15 loss, as they had no answers for Houston last week. Despite the stat sheet indicating another dominating performance by the Stallions, they could not capitalize early and trailed 9-6 at halftime. A main culprit was their inability to finish drives; Birmingham came up empty in the red zone on all three trips. The good news was the defense did a nice job of taking away the run by holding the Gamblers to 29 rushing yards on 24 attempts. That type of run defense in the upcoming playoffs will give the Stallions a shot to win it all.
Tampa Bay moved the football well against New Orleans in a 17-6 loss last Sunday. The Bandits had 352 total yards and held the ball for over 33 minutes. However, the arch-nemesis of the offense came back to bite them again as they turned the football over four times. That is a recipe for a loss and illustrates once again how yardage alone can be a bit misleading. Defensively, Tampa Bay limited New Orleans to 215 total yards and an average of 3.8 yards per play. Unfortunately, they couldn't slow down the Breakers' running game, which gained 130 yards, and that was enough to push New Orleans over the finish line and into the playoffs.
Birmingham (8-1) at Tampa Bay (4-5)
Kickoff: Saturday, June 18 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Legion Field (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Stallions -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Birmingham's offense heading into the upcoming playoffs
Head coach Skip Holtz is probably going to have somewhat of a vanilla game plan on offense this week. The Stallions are locked into another matchup with New Orleans, so there is not a lot to gain this week by emptying the playbook. Thus, look for a bit of an increased emphasis on running the football to allow the offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage after a rough week running the ball against Houston. J'Mar Smith completed 28 of 41 passes for 260 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. Smith's 68.3 percent completion rate is encouraging heading into the playoffs.
2. Will the Tampa Bay offense finish the season strong?
The Bandits' offense has a great opportunity this week to end the season at .500 if they can simply handle their business and play clean football. In the first meeting against the Stallions, Tampa Bay struggled to generate much of anything on offense. The Bandits gained 158 total yards in a 16-10 loss. The key this week for Jordan Ta'amu and the offense is to play loose and have fun. In addition, head coach Todd Haley must find a way to spring Ta'amu loose on the edge with designed quarterback runs to slow down DeMarquis Gates and Co. As far as the offensive line is concerned, we will see what type of professional pride they have as they must respond with their best performance of the season on Saturday.
3. Can Birmingham's defense build more momentum for the playoffs?
There won't be a lack of confidence within this group because they did a tremendous job in the first meeting with Tampa Bay. The defensive front must set a strong physical tone against the Bandits' offensive line. Creating negative plays will also be important as the Stallions collected three sacks and six tackles for loss, which made up for not causing any turnovers. This week, it would be a huge boost for the offense if Scooby Wright III, Gates, and the rest of the defense could cause a couple of turnovers to help their offense out with great field position.
The motivation of playing in front of the local Birmingham community should give the Stallions a little extra juice heading into the regular-season finale. Both teams will go through a bit of a feeling-out process in the first couple of series before settling in by about the second quarter. Gates and the Birmingham defense are going to be the difference in this game, as they will keep Ta'amu and Tampa Bay in check on offense. Birmingham finishes the regular season at 9-1 with a solid win in all three phases over the Bandits.
Prediction: Stallions 19, Bandits 10
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.