Week 7 of the USFL will come to a close on Sunday night when the Philadelphia Stars and the Houston Gamblers will battle each other in a game between two teams that have had eventful seasons so far.
Related: Week 7 Picks for Every USFL Game
Philadelphia (3-3) picked up an important win in its quest to make the playoffs, knocking off Tampa Bay 35-28 last week. The win solidified the Stars' position as the second-place team in the North Division and, more importantly, gave them a two-game cushion with four games to play over Michigan and Pittsburgh. The defense was opportunistic, forcing the Bandits to commit three turnovers. Philadelphia was outgained (263 total yards vs. 411) by plenty and lost the time of possession battle (25:40 to 34:20) but still put up 35 points on the scoreboard and got the W.
Houston (1-5) did some good things against New Jersey but fell short yet again in a 26-25 loss to the Generals. The Gamblers have now lost five in a row. In the losing effort, Clayton Thorson had one of his best performances throwing the football, completing 15-of-19 passes for 171 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Tomasi Laulile also had a 59-yard fumble return for a touchdown that gave Houston a 25-20 lead with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter. But New Jersey got the ball on its own 20 with 5:42 left and ran 15 plays with quarterback Luis Perez sneaking it in on fourth-and-goal from just outside the end zone on the last play of the game to escape with a victory.
Philadelphia (3-3) at Houston (1-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, May 29 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Stars -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Stars' offense needs to shine bright on Sunday
Even though Philadelphia won last week, the victory did not come easy. The Stars' defense was on the field for more than half of the game against Tampa Bay, so a good place to start would be for Philadelphia to try and flip the script this week. That starts with quarterback Case Cookus. Starting in place of an injured Bryan Scott, Cookus went just 11-for-20 for 73 yards last week vs. the Bandits. He tossed two touchdown passes and has just one interception thus far but he needs to be more accurate with the football and come up with the big completion to help keep the chains moving. Matt Colburn II certainly did his part last week, exploding for 140 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries. If he can keep this up then Cookus may not need to throw that many passes.
2. Gamblers' defense needs to do a better job of playing hold 'em
Houston has won just once this season and a big reason why is the defense has given up too many yards and too many points, especially late in games. The Gamblers are last in the USFL in both total (375.8 ypg) and scoring (22.7 ppg) defense. When you combine that with an offense that ranks on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to yards per game (255.2), you start to see the problem. Despite this, all of Houston's losses have come by seven points or fewer and three of them have been decided by a single point. That doesn't mean it's been all bad on defense though. Chris Odom leads the league with eight sacks and Donald Payne is the leading tackler (76). The Gamblers also are No. 1 in takeaways with 14 and are tied for the league lead with a plus-five turnover margin. However, some of this statistical production is due to the fact that the defense has been on the field for so long, including more than 40 minutes last week against New Jersey. This is something that needs to change if Houston wants to snap this extended losing skid.
3. Philadelphia's D also needs to step up
Statistically speaking, the Stars are just ahead of Houston when it comes to both yards (373.8) and points (22.2) allowed per game. They also are right there in sacks (15 vs. Gamblers' 16), so getting pressure on Thorson will be a great place to start. Adam Rodriguez leads the defense with four sacks while Freedom Akinmoladun and Jordan Moore have two each. Thorson has thrown a league-high seven interceptions (tied with New Orleans' Kyle Sloter) even though he's been sacked just twice, so it doesn't take pressure to force him into a mistake. Philadelphia has generated 12 takeaways through six games, including eight picks, the most in the USFL.
Philadelphia is at .500 and still very much alive for a playoff spot while Houston has lost five in a row, most of these in heart-breaking fashion. Both of these defenses have had their issues, which showed last week, but the Stars have been much more consistent when they've had the ball. The Gamblers will do what they've done all season – hang around, keep things close only to not come up with the key play or stop when it matters most. This game may be sloppy at times thanks to two opportunistic defenses but in the end, look for Philadephia to earn the victory to improve to 4-3 on the season.
Prediction: Stars 26, Gamblers 23
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.