Day two of the 2020 XFLseason's Week 5 slate begins with a game that could shake up the East division standings. The DC Defenders (2-2) will play their first home game since Week 2 when they welcome the first-place St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) to Audi Field.
The Defenders comes into this one on a two-game losing streak. They've been outscored 64-9 during this stretch, which saw both the Los Angeles Wildcats and the Tampa Bay Vipers pick up their first wins of the season against them. St. Louis, on the other hand, has won two in a row after defeating both the Seattle Dragons and the New York Guardians by a combined score of 52-25.
This will be the BattleHawks' first road game since Week 2, and they're looking to add to the Defenders' struggles. As for DC, they're hoping that home-field advantage will help them get back on track. St. Louis has a slim one-game lead over both DC and New York in the standings. And depending on how these games end, we could see a potential three-way tie in the East.
St. Louis at DC
Kickoff: Sunday, March 8 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Audi Field (Washington, D.C.)
Spread: BattleHawks -4
Three Things to Watch
1. The BattleHawks are red hot
The only blemish on St. Louis' record is its Week 2 loss to Houston, although the team actually outscored the Roughnecks 18-7 in the second half. Beyond that, the BattleHawks are arguably the most well-rounded team in the XFL, as they've been effective on both sides of the ball. Jonathan Hayes' team ranks second in total offense (357.2 ypg) and scoring offense (22.8 ppg). The BattleHawk defense leads the XFL in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) and ranks second in both total defense (266.2 ypg) and rushing defense (93.2 ypg). Quarterback Jordan Ta'amu (1,062 total yards, 6 total touchdowns) and linebacker Terence Garvin (20 tackles, sack) lead this team.
2. The Defenders have a golden opportunity in front of them
The chance to have at least a share of first place should be enough motivation for the Defenders to get back on track. But in order to do that, everything starts with quarterback Cardale Jones. He's thrown for a total of 175 yards with five interceptions during this two-game slide, and if he can rediscover his efficiency, then the Defenders can start to right the ship. They also need an assist from their defense, which hasn't recorded a sack or takeaway since their last victory in Week 2 over New York.
One area that has worked for DC during this skid is their rushing attack. The Defenders have posted 247 rushing yards and average close to four yards per carry (with a touchdown) during this stretch. If head coach/play-caller Pep Hamilton leans more on his run game and gets a boost from his defense, it will take pressure off of Jones and give them a chance to slow down the BattleHawks.
3. Home Sweet Home
Both teams are perfect at their respective home fields (2-0). The Defenders have outscored visitors to Audi Field 58-19, and they average a little over 17,000 fans per game. Not bad for a venue that seats 20,000. These last two losses, however, were both on the road. Perhaps playing in a friendlier environment will help the Defenders turn things around.
The BattleHawks are coming off of back-to-back home games at The Dome at America's Center. And as they defeated both New York and Seattle, they sold over 25,000 tickets for both games. They are the only team to have that many fans for consecutive home games so far. On the road, the BattleHawks are just 1-1, and they needed a 68-yard, fourth-quarter drive that drained 5:16 off the clock to defeat Dallas. They did also come up four points short in a loss at Houston. Can the BattleHawks continue their strong play away from home, or will the Defenders go back to their winning ways on home soil?
While I do expect the Defenders to play a much-improved game with the home crowd behind them, the BattleHawks are too much to handle at the moment. Jordan Ta'amu is a one-man wrecking crew, and unless the DC defense can find a way to slow him down, the BattleHawks will win again and keep their lead in the division.
Prediction: BattleHawks 24, Defenders 20
— Gabe Salgado 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.