The Super Bowl is over but I’m excited for some more football with the XFL’s season opener coming this Saturday. Game time is set for 2 PM EST and airing on ABC.
Overall, I think this is going to be an entertaining brand of football due to some of the exotic rules with the double forward pass and the extra point options. You are allowed to make two forward passes as long as both are behind the line of scrimmage. So expect to see wild passes thrown downfield by running backs and receivers. The XFL will also use the one foot in bounds rule for a legal catch just like college football.
As for extra points, after a team scores a touchdown they have the option of running a play from the 2, 5, or 10-yard line, worth 1, 2, or 3 points respectively. No kicked extra points. This will make it more interesting towards the end of games and a bit of a chess match. A one score game now becomes 9 points so this should result in more games going down to the wire and some wild finishes.
I also like the time-clock rules. Outside of the 2-minute warning, the play clock will be 25 seconds instead of 40 seconds used in the NFL. I like this rule as games should move along quicker and make ‘running out the clock’ to ensure a victory less likely.
It’s hard to handicap a new league from scratch especially when the XFL has tried very hard to evenly distribute the talent pool. Looking over the rosters, every team has some former NFL talent and some interesting developmental talent. I think this league will revolve heavily around the passing game, even moreso than the NFL. So when I starting handicapping this season, I focused in on quarterback and head coaching combinations. The problem here is that several teams still have quarterback question marks because the backup quarterback may be just as good as the season opening starter. In a 10 game season, many starting QBs will be on a short leash and forced to produce or get benched.
With this in mind, here are my season projections. I do expect some surprises and to miss the boat on a team or two:
- Tampa Bay Vipers 6-4
- DC Defenders 5-5
- New York Guardians 5-5
- St Louis Battlehawks 4-6
The Tampa Bay Vipers should be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference with QB Aaron Murray and QB/RB Quinton Flowers providing much of the offense. Murray still holds the SEC career passing yard record with 13,166 yards. As you will see above, I have the DC Defenders and New York Guardians tied in the standings with a 5–5 recordd. I gave the Defenders the nod here as I feel that their offense will be a bit better than the Guardians. Total points scored will be the XFL’s first playoff tiebreaker. The DC Defenders should have a formidable offensive attack with QB Cardale Jones. Jones won a National Championship in 2015 as the Ohio State Buckeyes starting quarterback.
Many analysts are skeptical about New York Guardians quarterback situation in the preseason forecasts. I wouldn’t be too concerned as a Guardians fan as they traded for QB Luis Perez to backup Matt McGloin. Perez went 5-3 in the Alliance of American Football league last year for the Birmingham Iron. Both QBs will benefit from the tutelage of Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride who mentored a young Eli Manning early in his career.
The St Louis Battlehawks will probably be the best supported team in the league but I’m not sold on their QB Jordan Ta’amu and the relative inexperience of their coaching staff. Ta’amu has the mobility and arm talent to be a good pro quarterback. But he went 5-7 as a starter his senior year at Ole Miss with a receiving corps that included A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Battlehawks Head coach Jonathan Hayes has never been a head coach anywhere, primarily coaching Tight Ends at Oklahoma and for the Cincinnati Bengals under Marvin Lewis. Hayes may turn out to be a great head coach given the opportunity and that is part of what this league is all about.
- Dallas Renegades 7-3
- Houston Roughnecks 6-4
- Los Angeles Wildcats 4-6
- Seattle Dragons 3-7
In the Western Conference, the two Texas teams should be two of the strongest in the league. Head coaches Bob Stoops for Dallas and June Jones for Houston are probably the two biggest name coaches in the XFL. Stoops is best known for his success as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, winning the National Championship in 2000. Many were surprised that he decided to come out of retirement to join the XFL. Jones is known for his wide-open, pass-heavy offenses at the college and pro level. The LA Wildcats are only team in the conference that might be able to surprise the two Texas teams. The Seattle Dragons are generally viewed as the weakest team in the XFL with projected win totals between 2 and 4 games.
XFL Defensive Player of the Year
Although I am not sure the XFL will have a Defensive Player of the Year award, if they do my preseason favorite would be Houston Roughnecks Defensive End Kony Ealy. The former Carolina Panthers second round pick was a standout in the SEC for the Missouri Tigers. In Super Bowl 50 for the Carolina Panthers, Ealy recorded three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble vs the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos. Ealy should wreak havoc in the XFL.
The Dallas Renegades QB Landry Jones would have been my preseason pick for league MVP but he injured his knee in early January and may miss the first few games of the season. So I will go with the Tampa Bay Vipers QB/RB Quinton Flowers. I think the XFL double forward pass rule will play to his strengths in Marc Trestman’s offense.
I think the Tampa Bay Vipers will face the Dallas Renegades in the championship game. As long as Landry Jones is healthy, it would be hard for me to bet against the Bob Stoops-Landry Jones combination. So I think the Dallas Renegades come away victorious as the XFL 2020 Champions with Landry Jones winning the championship game MVP award.
Let the games begin!