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Houston Gamblers vs. New Jersey Generals Prediction and Preview (USFL Football)

Houston Gamblers vs. New Jersey Generals Prediction and Preview (USFL Football)

Generals look to stay red-hot against the slumping Gamblers to wrap up Week 6 in the USFL

The cross-divisional portion of the USFL schedule continues this week for the Houston Gamblers and the New Jersey Generals. Both teams are looking to pick up a critical win to hit the ground running in the second half of the season as time is becoming short in the quest for the playoffs.

Related: Week 6 Picks for Every USFL Game

Houston (1-4) continued its slide last week with a 21-20 loss to the previously winless Pittsburgh Maulers. The Gamblers got off to a great start, jumping out to a 17-6 lead but couldn’t finish as a pair of turnovers by Clayton Thorson fueled Pittsburgh's comeback, which resulted in the team's first win of the season. Defensively, Houston limited the Maulers to 261 yards and did a good job slowing them down in the red zone. Cornerback Will Likely led the way with eight tackles, an interception, two passes defended, and he also was credited with half a sack.

New Jersey (4-1) won its fourth straight by defeating New Orleans 27-17 in a potential playoff preview. The Generals, who are in first place in the North Division, put forth a balanced offensive effort, throwing for 213 yards and running for 188. Quarterback De'Andre Johnson was efficient as a passer, completing 14-of-21 passes for 213 yards, although he did toss an interception. He continued to be a threat with his legs too, picking up two rushing touchdowns. Darius Victor led the ground attack with 95 yards while KaVontae Turpin went for 106 receiving on just five catches. The defense picked off Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter twice as he completed just 42 percent (15 of 36) of his pass attempts even though he wasn't sacked once.

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Houston (1-4) at New Jersey (4-1)

Kickoff: Sunday, May 22 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Generals -7

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Generals' offense seize command of the game early?
A heavy favorite entering this game, New Jersey must hit the ground running and send a message to a physical Houston defense on its opening possession. Expect Darius Victor, who is fourth in the USFL in rushing with 308 yards and tops in rushing touchdowns with five, to get plenty of touches early to try and take it straight to the Gamblers' defensive front. That will set up De'Andre Johnson to try and attack Houston with play-action passes while also giving him an opportunity to gash the defense with his own legs. Sustained drives can wear down Houston's defense while also keeping the Generals' unit fresh. Ball security will be important too against a Gamblers defense that is first in the league in takeaways with 12, seven of those being interceptions.

2. Can the Gamblers' offense hang in for four quarters?
Despite leading the USFL in both takeaways and turnover margin (+5), Houston is just 1-4 at the halfway point of the regular season. The biggest culprits? An offense that has scored the second-fewest points in the league (87 total) and a passing attack that ranks second to last in yards per game with 150 and has accounted for nearly as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (seven). Mark Thompson leads the USFL with 400 rushing yards but he has just one touchdown on the ground so far. The game plan should involve a heavy dose of him, which should make things easier for Clayton Thorson when he drops back to pass. He's completing 52.5 percent of his attempts with that near 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio even though he's only been sacked twice. Houston does not want to turn the ball over and give New Jersey extra possessions. It's too risky to count on the Gamblers' defense to be able to bail them out by creating more turnovers.

3. Will the New Jersey defense keep rolling?
Even though Thorson has only been taken down twice and the Generals have the second-fewest sacks (five) thus far, pressure is still going to be a key factor. Accuracy and bad decisions have been two issues for the Houston quarterback and continuing to stress him and get him on the move or uncomfortable in the pocket will only increase the likelihood of more poorly thrown or ill-advised passes. New Jersey's defense has already shown it's up to the task, ranking second in both points (16.0) and yards (249.0) allowed per game, and is No. 1 against the run (76.6 ypg), so the Gamblers will need Thorson to have his best game yet in a matchup that seemingly plays to the Generals' strengths.

Final Analysis

New Jersey has the USFL's most productive offense (366.8 ypg) and one of the stingiest defenses. This speaks to the Generals' consistency on both sides of the ball. Houston's defense has been a turnover-creating machine, but the offense hasn't done its part. The Gamblers may be able to hang around for a while but the turnover bug that's been an issue for the offense will rear its ugly head once again. New Jersey stays hot and strengthens its grip on the North Division with a comfortable double-digit victory.

Prediction: Generals 24, Gamblers 13

– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.