Week 2 of the USFL season pairs the New Orleans Breakers against the Tampa Bay Bandits with both teams looking for an early edge in the South Division race. Both teams were impressive in their debuts last weekend. The Breakers (1-0) didn't let a weather delay slow them down in their 23-17 win over the Philadelphia Stars last Sunday. The Bandits (1-0) had to wait 24 hours longer than expected when their game against the Pittsburgh Maulers was postponed because of bad weather, but the defense showed up in force on Monday, leading the way to a 17-3 victory.
The weather will not be an issue when these two teams wrap up Week 2 on Sunday afternoon against each other with the winner gaining an early advantage in the divisional standings. Here's how this game breaks down.
New Orleans (1-0) at Tampa Bay (1-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, May 24 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Bandits -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
Both starting quarterbacks did what they needed to do to help their teams win their USFL debuts. Tampa Bay's Jordan Ta'amu, who most recently impressed in the short-lived XFL, completed 20 of 32 pass attempts for 185 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed two interceptions. So for him, he'll need to cut down on the mistakes and try and connect more often with his receivers. He also averaged less than six yards per pass attempt, so hopefully the opportunity for some longer completions will be there on Sunday.
For New Orleans, Kyle Sloter fared a little better when it comes to completion percentage (17-for-27) compared to Ta'amu, but he finished with 150 yards through the air and didn't throw for a touchdown while getting picked off once. Sloter made more of an impact with his legs, rushing for 30 yards on four carries vs. Ta'amu's seven yards (on one attempt), but that's another element both signal-callers bring to the table.
While there's certainly room for improvement when it comes to both quarterbacks the key for this game may be which one makes the fewer mistakes, or can come up with the big play.
2. Both teams can D it up
The main reason both quarterbacks need to play mistake-free football is because of the two defenses. Tampa Bay held Pittsburgh to a measly three points in the opener, limiting the Maulers to just three points per play. The Bandits were solid against both the run (2.8 ypc) and pass (129 total yards on 11-of-26) and recorded three sacks. They were credited with a total of 12 tackles for a loss as well, meaning they made plenty of stops behind the line of scrimmage.
New Orleans may have given up more points and yards to Philadelphia, but the Breakers were just as stingy vs. the run (3.5 ypc) and racked up six sacks of Stars quarterback Bryan Scott, three by Davin Bellamy. He was awarded Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts but teammate Vontae Diggs also made his case by recording 11 tackles (seven solo) and a first-quarter interception, which he took back 37 yards for a touchdown for the first score of the game. Ta'amu will definitely want to be aware of Bellamy and Diggs when either is on the field.
3. Room for improvement
While it's already been pointed out that the quarterbacks need to make better decisions and maybe push the ball down the field more, neither should be expected to win games by themselves. Tampa Bay needs to give Ta'amu more support on the ground. The Bandits ran the ball 30 times against Pittsburgh but averaged a meager 2.1 yards per carry. B.J. Emmons did score a touchdown but otherwise he produced 40 yards on his 19 attempts, his longest run going for 11.
New Orleans was more productive on the ground, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and scoring twice, but the Breakers had trouble keeping their offense on the field. They ran a total of 66 plays, which was a few more than Philadelphia (63) but actually lost the time of possession battle (28:24 to 31:36) in large part because New Orleans was just 1-for-11 on third down (9.1 percent). As well as the Breakers' defense played, the offense did do its part to make sure that unit doesn't get worn down from playing too many snaps.
Both teams are quite evenly matched heading into this game. But Tampa's defense had a stronger Week 1 showing and Ta'amu is the more proven quarterback. The Bandits win a close, but entertaining game.
Prediction: Bandits 20, Breakers 17
— 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.