Sunday's XFLopening weekend slate will feature a duel between a pair of expected contenders. The New York Guardians will host the Tampa Bay Vipers in game three of this weekend's four-game slate. The Guardians are the second XFL franchise to call the Big Apple home. The 2001 XFL featured the New York/New Jersey Hitmen, who played their games at the old Giants Stadium. The team finished with a 4-6 record and missed the postseason.
The Guardians are looking to fix that, especially in light of the Giants' and Jets' struggles in recent seasons. Meanwhile, the Vipers are the second Florida-based team for the XFL, following the Orlando Rage back in 2001. In XFL 1.0, the Rage posted the league's best record at 8-2 but came up short in the 2001 playoffs. So the Vipers have some history to live up to in 2020.
Before either team can think about long-term goals, they'll have to play one another to start the season. Let's get you ready for what should be an entertaining game.
Tampa Bay at New York
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Spread: Vipers -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Both head coaches have something to prove
The matchup between the head coaches could wind up being the most interesting part of this game. New York's Kevin Gilbride and Tampa's Marc Trestman both have something to prove this season. Gilbride wants to show that he can still lead a team after a six-year retirement. Gilbride had a memorable run as the Giants offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2004-13), where he won two Super Bowl rings (XLII, XLVI), and molded Eli Manning into a future Hall of Famer.
Trestman is out to prove that his recent NFL stint, which didn't go very well, was just a bump in the road and nothing more. Trestman coached the Bears in the two seasons following the Lovie Smith era (2013-14). Unfortunately, the Bears went just 13-19, there were numerous reports of locker room strife during that span, and Trestman was dismissed as soon as the 2014 campaign ended. From there, Trestman became the Ravens offensive coordinator where things didn't fare much better.
In 2015, the Ravens had a dismal 5-11 season in which they only went over the 20-point threshold in six games. Then-Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco only started 10 games that year before tearing both his ACL and MCL. Trestman was fired just five weeks into the 2016 season. Although the Ravens had a 3-2 record at the time of Trestman's firing, the Ravens were averaging just 19 points per game. Perhaps a fresh start in Tampa is what Trestman needs.
2. Choices at quarterback
Both teams have depth at quarterback, which could make for some interesting coaching decisions. Trestman says that Aaron Murray will start for the Vipers but that the other signal-callers on the roster — Taylor Cornelius, Quinton Flowers, and Chase Litton — could see snaps as well. Murray is best remembered for his four seasons at Georgia (2010-13) during which he threw for 13,166 yards and 121 touchdowns while winning two bowl games. After bouncing around a few NFL franchises from 2014 to '17, Murray seemed to find a home with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football (AAF).
Murray completed 64 percent of his passes for the Legends and threw for 1,048 yards and three touchdowns before the AAF folded. Cornelius threw for 3,978 yards and 32 touchdowns at Oklahoma State in 2018 and spent 2019 on the Packers' practice squad. Flowers, who is a Tampa legend based on his days at the University of South Florida (2014-17), is the American Athletic Conference's all-time leader in total offense (11,796 total yards, 112 combined touchdowns). Flowers spent time with both the Bengals and the Colts as a running back. Now with the Vipers, Trestman plans on giving Flowers reps at quarterback and using his speed in other packages as well.
As for Litton, he turned pro after just three seasons (2015-17) at Marshall. He was a practice squad player for both the Chiefs (2018) and Jaguars (2019) but was released from both teams after just a few weeks. Litton was originally chosen by Seattle in the XFL draft a few months ago but was traded to Tampa during training camp.
The Guardians also have some options under center. There's former Penn State standout Matt McGloin who played in 13 games for the Raiders (1,868 passing yards, 11 touchdowns) from 2013 and '16. There's also Luis Perez, who was originally assigned to the Los Angeles Wildcats but was traded to the Guardians just a few weeks ago. Perez made a name for himself with the AAF's Birmingham Iron in which he ranked third in passing yards (1,460), fifth in touchdown passes (5), and third in pass completions (135) at the time of the league's demise. New York also has former Tar Heel Marquise Williams, who's thrown 42 career passes in the NFL, CFL, and AAF.
These two coaches have gone against one another before. When Trestman was coaching the Bears in 2013, they took on the New York Giants who had Gilbride calling their plays. The Bears won that Week 6 meeting 27-21, so there is some brief history between these two men, albeit that was nearly seven years ago and in two entirely different leagues.
This will be a close game with plenty of points scored, but in the end, the Vipers have a little more firepower on their side.
Prediction: Vipers 30, Guardians 27
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of XFL.com)