Late Thursday, the XFL announced it was canceling the rest of its regular season.
While the XFL didn't specifically cite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the decision, the NBA, MLB, NHL, the NCAA, and many other leagues have suspended operations and canceled games and championship tournaments in response to this global public health threat.
The second half of the 2020 XFL season will hit the ground running on Saturday afternoon when the best game of the week will kick things off. MetLife Stadium will play host to the undefeated Houston Roughnecks (5-0) and the surging New York Guardians (3-2). This will be a very crucial swing game for the Guardians as they look to maintain their loose grip on first place in the XFL East over St. Louis and DC.
Houston head coach June Jones had the best of both worlds last week in a 32-23 win over the Seattle Dragons, The Roughnecks had their issues turning the football over and had to pull off a comeback as they trailed 23-14 in the third quarter. Houston showed some championship-caliber mental toughness by completing the rally and avoiding the upset. The defense overall kept Seattle quarterback B.J. Daniels in check by not allowing him to have too many explosive plays in the quarterback run game.
New York went on the road and broke open a close game in the third quarter to beat the Dallas Renegades, 30-12. The offense was pretty balanced with Luis Perez completing 16-of-30 passes for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception. New York won in large part due to winning the battle of the line of scrimmage, as they rushed for 144 yards and limited the Renegades to just 56 yards on the ground. The Guardians also had a plus-two turnover differential, which played a huge factor. Ryan Mueller had a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown that extended the led to 26-6 in the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
Houston at New York
Kickoff: Saturday, March 14 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Spread: Roughnecks -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Houston offense vs. New York defensive front
P.J. Walker didn’t have his best day taking care of the football last week with two interceptions and a fumble. But despite being responsible for those turnovers, Walker ended up throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns, which ended up being the difference in the end. Cam Phillips got back on track last week with 10 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Sam Mobley and Nick Holley also caused plenty of problems for the Seattle secondary. The Guardians will need to build off last week's success in limiting explosive plays and force Walker to beat them by throwing the hall. It will be up to the defensive front to generate pressure consistently. The number of quarterback hits and sacks will be an interesting stat to watch this week. Cavon Walker had four quarterback hits along with a pair of sacks against the Renegades last week and controlled the middle of the defensive line last week for New York.
2. New York QB Luis Perez
Over the last two games, Perez has done a very good job of managing the offense and taking what the defense is giving him. But his completion percentage will need to go back up this week against an aggressive Houston defense in order to get another win. Colby Pearson has stepped up as Perez's primary pass-catching target during the last two games. Pearson has caught 10 passes for 129 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown last week at Dallas. In addition, keep an eye on the offensive line since they will need to keep a clean pocket for Perez this week while the Roughnecks come after him with their relentless pass rush. Establishing the running game early will set up Perez to go to work with play-action passes that could ease some of the pressure that he’ll face on Saturday.
3. Houston ground attack
Andre Williams led the way rushing the ball for Houston last week with 10 carries for 54 yards. The rest of the team wasn't nearly as effective, but the Roughnecks rushed for 101 yards on 29 carries for a 3.5-yard average. That was good enough to keep the chains moving as Houston converted an outstanding eight of 11 opportunities on third down against Seattle. Look for the offensive line to try to impose their will and get Williams some early touches running the ball. Houston doesn’t necessarily need to run for 150-200 yards but will need about 100-120 rushing yards this week in order to keep the chains moving and keep the pressure on the New York defense.
Houston has done a nice job on the road this year (2-0), but this week will be an interesting test with the windy nature of the Meadowlands. Thus, winning the coin toss to start the game will be an added bonus for either team since they can set themselves up nicely as far as what direction they’ll move on offense. The Roughnecks are a well-rounded team and are definitely the favorite to win the XFL championship. However, it's never easy to run the table and go undefeated at any level of football, and that is why the Guardians will find a way to pull off the upset and improve to 4-2 on the year.
Prediction: Guardians 25, Roughnecks 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.