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Philadelphia Stars vs. Michigan Panthers Prediction and Preview (USFL Football)

Philadelphia Stars vs. Michigan Panthers Prediction and Preview (USFL Football)

Stars, Panthers kick the USFL's Week 4 off in prime time on Friday

The North Division of the USFL will kick off Week 4 on Friday night with a crucial matchup between the Philadelphia Stars and the Michigan Panthers. Both teams are 1-2, looking to keep pace with the first-place New Jersey Generals, and are essentially battling for one spot as the trio has created some separation from the winless Pittsburgh Maulers.

Related: Week 4 Picks for Every USFL Game

Philadelphia dropped a 24-16 contest against New Jersey last Sunday night in a game that was closer than what the stat sheet would indicate. The Stars allowed 453 total yards to the Generals, including 264 on the ground. Bryan Scott threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard in the first quarter to give them a 7-0 lead. However, the rest of the way was an uphill battle as the Stars ended up running 44 offensive plays while the defense couldn’t get off the field (72 plays run by New Jersey). Philadelphia also didn't have an answer for Generals quarterback De'Andre Johnson, who put up 224 all-purpose yards.

On the other side, Michigan got into the win column last Sunday with a convincing 24-0 victory over Pittsburgh. The win was the first for head coach Jeff Fisher in five years back, dating back to when he was coaching the Rams in the NFL. Fisher and his staff deserve a lot of credit for adjusting the offense by emphasizing running the football and playing defense. Reggie Corbin had 133 rushing yards, accounting for more than half of the Panthers' total ground output (245). Defensively, the Panthers held the Maulers to 227 total yards and just two trips into the red zone. That's a great recipe for success at any level of football.

Philadelphia (1-2) at Michigan (1-2)

Kickoff: Friday, May 6 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium (Birmingham, Ala.)
TV: FS1
Spread: N/A

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Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Philadelphia offense get back on track?
Patience is going to be key this week for the Stars' offense going up against a Michigan defense that wants to slow the game down to a crawl. Philadelphia will not be able to get away with running the football just 10 times, which was the result a week ago. The offensive line must win the battle at the line of scrimmage to allow for a healthy dose of handoffs, pitches, sweeps, and keepers. The offense also will have a new driver at the controls. Starting quarterback Bryan Scott, who is tied for the league lead with five touchdown passes and is third in both passing yards (558) and passer rating (140.4), is out indefinitely after suffering a knee injury last week. The team moved him to the inactive list earlier this week, and Scott addressed his situation on Twitter.

Case Cookus, who starred at FCS Northern Arizona from 2015-19, will replace Scott under center. Last week he went 13-for-20 for 146 yards and a touchdown after Scott went down. More production from the running game will only help Cookus find his own comfort level as the offense is now his to direct.

2. Will the Panthers' offense continue to prowl?
Last week, Michigan quarterbacks Shea Patterson and Paxton Lynch struggled with their accuracy, combining to go 11-for-25 (44 percent) for just 71 yards in the 24-0 win. This will have to improve if the Panthers are going to stay in the mix for the playoffs. They can't count on running for 200-plus yards every game. The good news is that Philadelphia's defense has been the most generous against the run thus far, giving up 186 yards per game on the ground. Michigan's best path to success is to lean on its deep stable of backs, but the signal-callers need to do their part as well.

3. Opportunity for the Stars' defense to shine bright
Philadelphia knows full well what to expect from Michigan, so this is a golden opportunity for this defense to do something it hasn't been able to thus far — slow down the run. If the Stars' defensive line can set the tone on Friday night and stuff the run early, then that will make it easier for the pass rush to go after Patterson and Lynch, who have been sacked a total of six times through three games. Pressure also could produce some turnovers, although the Panthers' quarterbacks have just one interception thus far. On the flip side, Philadelphia has collected five sacks, led by Adam Rodriguez's two, and three takeaways (all interceptions).

Final Analysis

Scott's injury is a tough break for Philadelphia, but Cookus got plenty of game action last week, so the switch under center shouldn't be too much of an issue. And unless Cookus or one of the Michigan quarterbacks break out and take over, this game will probably hang in the balance heading into the fourth quarter. In the end, this contest will be decided by the team that handles its business up front and runs the ball effectively. The Panthers have the momentum and the advantage on paper in this department and that will allow them to grind out another victory.

Prediction: Panthers 17, Stars 14

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