As we wind down the 2022 USFL season, the playoff picture is coming more into focus. The final day of Week 8 begins with a key North Division matchup, as the Philadelphia Stars lock horns with the Michigan Panthers. The Stars (4-3) got closer to the postseason after defeating Houston last week. And although Michigan (1-6) walked out of Protective Stadium with its fourth straight loss, the Panthers nearly upset New Orleans, forcing the Breakers to overtime. The Stars can punch their postseason ticket with a win on Sunday while the Panthers will try for another upset.
Related: Week 8 Picks for Every USFL Game
Michigan (1-6) at Philadelphia (4-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, June 5 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Legion Field (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Stars -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How the Stars got here
Since a 1-2 start, the Stars have gone 3-1. They've outscored their opponents 113-107 during this four-game stretch. The Stars have scored more than 30 points in each of their last two games and gained over 250 yards of total offense in all four games as their up-tempo offense has been difficult for some teams to keep up with. Quarterback Case Cookus continues to fill in admirably for the injured Bryan Scott.
During these last four games, Cookus has completed 73 of 116 passes for 641 yards and five touchdowns (three interceptions). He's guided Bart Andrus' up-tempo offense with efficiency, effectiveness and, most importantly, success. He's also completed passes to nine different receivers. Running back Matt Colburn has also played a major role, as he's accounted for 276 yards from scrimmage with five rushing touchdowns during this span.
Now while the Stars defense has been in the USFL's bottom two in total defense (345.1 ypg, seventh), pass defense (182.4 ypg, seventh), run defense (162.7 ypg, eighth), and scoring defense (25.3 ppg, eighth), they have made some strides during their last four games. They've done that by posting 15 sacks, 24 tackles for loss, and six interceptions. Now they just need to keep this effort up for three more games and put themselves in position to succeed in the playoffs.
2. The Josh Love show?
The Panthers claimed him off waivers just days before kickoff against the Breakers, as Shea Patterson is injured and Paxton Lynch hasn't seen the field since the Week 3 win over Pittsburgh. Love was on the Panthers roster that week. And after being supplanted for Vad Lee, Love earned another chance to start after his performance against New Orleans last week.
He completed 18 of 37 pass attempts for 176 yards. Now while he didn't throw any touchdown passes, and even though he only averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, Love helped engineer five scoring drives (four field goals, one touchdown). He's a major reason why the Panthers nearly pulled up the upset last week. Another solid game from Love will give the Panthers administration something to think about for 2023.
3. What's next for both teams
It's simple: a win for the Stars and they are in the playoffs, which takes some of the pressure off of their remaining games. The Panthers just want a win, period, with the goal being to get out of the cellar of the North Division.
The Stars defeated the Panthers in Week 4 in a very close, one-point game. A win for the Stars will clinch a playoff spot. Believe it or not, they still have a very slim chance to take first place in their division. Philadelphia only trails New Jersey by two games. So if the Stars win their next two games, and the Generals somehow lose their next two games, their season finale against one another for Week 10 would then decide who gets the division and the top seed.
As far as this week goes, the Panthers are in free fall, and I don't see that changing this week. The Stars pick up another win to punch their playoff ticket.
Prediction: Stars 24, Panthers 20
— 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.