We're down to the final three weeks of the 2022 USFL season, and Week 8 begins with a playoff contender looking to solidify themselves. That will be the mission of the New Jersey Generals (6-1) when they take on the Pittsburgh Maulers (1-6) at historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. The Generals clinched a playoff spot with last week's victory over Tampa Bay while the Maulers came up short yet again, this time falling to undefeated Birmingham.
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These teams are headed in very different directions, as the Maulers endured yet another change at quarterback and the Generals proved why they are championship contenders. New Jersey can sew up the division title with a victory and a loss by Philadelphia (vs. Michigan on Sunday), but Pittsburgh still has a chance to play spoiler.
Pittsburgh (1-6) at New Jersey (6-1)
Kickoff: Friday, June 3 at 8 p.m ET
Where: Legion Field (Birmingham, Ala.)
TV: USA Network
Spread: Generals -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. On to the playoffs
New Jersey has already punched its postseason ticket but has bigger goals in mind. One reason why the Generals are on the cusp of a North Division title is their balanced offense. Their two-quarterback system of Luis Perez and De'Andre Johnson has worked very well, as the two have combined for 1,350 passing yards and six touchdown passes, while Johnson leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards (273). Wide receiver KaVontae Turpin leads the USFL in receiving yards (361) and is tied for second in touchdown catches (3).
The Generals also own the league's best rushing attack (165.7 ypg), led by running back Darius Victor. He's tops in the USFL with six rushing touchdowns, fourth in rushing yards (437), and third in carries (96), all on 4.6 yards per attempt. Backfield mate Trey Williams also ranks in the top 10 in both yards (337) and carries (84).
New Jersey has been just as strong on the other side, ranking No. 1 in total defense (253.6 ypg), rushing defense (74.0 ypg), and scoring defense (16.9 ppg). The Generals have generated eight takeaways and eight sacks this season and appear to have a significant edge against a Pittsburgh offense that's had offensive issues all season.
2. Who starts at QB for Pittsburgh?
This the probably the biggest issue that the Maulers have at the moment. After initially looking like they were turning a corner of sorts with Vad Lee under center, the Maulers made another change under center. Late in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to the Stallions, Lee and head coach Kirby Wilson had a disagreement that the TV cameras caught. This came after Lee guided the Maulers on a scoring drive that culminated in a 58-yard field goal by Ramiz Ahmed to make it a seven-point game with 6:49 remaining.
But on the next possession, Lee was pulled for backup Roland Rivers, who was signed midweek after New Jersey claimed Kyle Lauletta off waivers. Rivers ran the offense for the team's last two drives, completing 3 of 9 passes for 25 yards, with one ending on downs and the other resulting in a missed 52-yard field goal. Rivers did not look comfortable and appeared rattled by the pressure as many of his throws were erratic. This is to be expected, however, considering he didn't have much practice time with the team.
So now the question becomes which quarterback starts? Will Lee get the call again or will Wilson give the nod to Rivers, who has now had a full week to get acclimated? It must be noted that before Lee was pulled, he completed just 6 of 14 passes for 58 yards. He did help engineer four scoring drives, thanks in large part to a running game that was powered by Madre London (99 yds., TD).
3. What's at stake for both teams
Although the Generals own the USFL's second-best record, they can't afford to take their foot off the gas pedal. Philadelphia is within striking distance, so New Jersey needs to take advantage of this matchup and put itself in a position to potentially secure the North Division title. The Generals also are riding a six-game winning streak that's surpassed only by undefeated Birmingham's run. Pittsburgh is simply looking for positive momentum with just a few games remaining.
New Jersey won the first meeting with Pittsburgh 21-13 back in Week 4. Despite the one-score outcome, there's plenty that separates these two teams on paper. Unless the Maulers have a miraculous turnaround, the Generals should win their seventh in a row and take another step towards winning the North Division title.
Prediction: Generals 21, Maulers 14
— 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.