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 2020 XFL season continues, albeit under some unusual circumstances for one game. For now, Week 6 will feature a game between two teams needing a win in a crucial division matchup. The St. Louis BattleHawks (3-2) will travel to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Vipers (1-4) with plenty of East division implications on the line. The BattleHawks fell to the DC Defenders on the road last week, while the Vipers lost a nail biter in Los Angeles.
At the moment, this game is expected to be played as scheduled. The COVID-19 virus has caused games and events around the country to either be canceled, postponed, rescheduled, or played with no fans in attendance. The only change that the XFL has made thus far is barring fans from attending the Seattle Dragons' home game against the Los Angeles Wildcats on Sunday night.
St. Louis at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Saturday, Mar. 14 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Spread: BattleHawks -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Momentum in the East division is at stake
Heading into Week 5, the BattleHawks controlled the division. But then they went to our nation's capital and lost to the DC Defenders last Sunday. And thanks to that defeat, combined with New York's win at Dallas 24 hours prior, the BattleHawks, Defenders, and Guardians have all created a log jam at the top of the division with identical 3-2 records. DC currently claims first place thanks to head-to-head wins over the other two teams, but the BattleHawks currently possess the second tiebreaker (touchdown differential).
New York has the daunting task of playing the undefeated Houston Roughnecks to start this week's schedule, while DC hosts a Dallas Renegades team that has yet to lose a road game this season. If New York and DC both lose this week, a win by the BattleHawks would put them back into sole possession of first place. The last-place Vipers, however, shouldn't be counted out. They scored 34 points in a loss to LA last week (it was the first time they've reached the 30-point mark), and as they've improved on offense, they've also been building confidence. A win for the Vipers would not only continue to boost that confidence, but it will also shake up the East division once again.
2. Both teams like to run the ball
Tampa Bay (165.6 ypg) and St. Louis (155.8 ypg) are first and second, respectively, in the XFL in rushing. Their ground attacks are a big reason why both the Vipers (391.8 ypg) and BattleHawks (349.6 ypg) rank in the same order for total offense as well. Vipers running back De'Veon Smith leads the XFL in rushing (365 yards) and his teammate Jacques Patrick ranks third (254), while the BattleHawks' Matt Jones is right in between them (314). The BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta'amu leads all quarterbacks in rushing (217, 7th in the league), while Vipers signal-caller Taylor Cornelius leads the league in yards per carry (6.7) and ranks second in rushing touchdowns (3).
Tampa Bay does have an edge in run defense, though, and that could be the difference in this game. The Defenders ran for 229 yards against St. Louis last week, while Tampa Bay has surrendered 103 yards (with one touchdown) in their last two games combined. We could see an old school grinder of a game between these two teams on Saturday.
3. The Intangibles
The BattleHawks are just 1-2 away from home this season. In fact, they've been outscored 52-45 on the road, and they were held to their lowest point total of the season in DC last week (6). The Vipers' only win of the year came at Raymond James Stadium (Week 4 against DC). And they've actually outscored visiting teams by a 52-34 margin.
With their recent show of strength against the run, the Vipers lead the XFL in both total defense (258.8 ypg) and rush defense (75.8 ypg). The BattleHawks, on the other hand, rank second in total defense (264.2 ypg), while also leading the league in pass defense (143.8 ypg). And it's that edge in the passing game (Vipers only average 226.2 passing ypg), and the fact that Jordan Ta'amu (1,267 total yards, 6 total touchdowns) is a chore for any defense to handle, that will allow the BattleHawks to pull out a very close win.
Prediction: BattleHawks 20, Vipers 17
— 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.