For evidence of how challenged oddsmakers are by upstart pro football leagues with team rosters full of previously unremarkable players, look no further than the USFL’s 2022 New Jersey Generals.
Or for that matter, look at the only team they’ve lost to, the Birmingham Stallions.
Before the new iteration of the USFL kicked off in April, under an odd format in which the regular season for all eight teams takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, the Generals and Stallions held futures odds at the bottom of the pack. Caesars Sportsbook and many others made the Generals +900 to win the league title, the worst odds in the league.
Then the Generals were nipped by the Stallions 28-24 in the opener on April 16. Since then, New Jersey hasn’t lost a game. Birmingham, meanwhile, hasn’t lost a game all year, with two more to be played in the regular season.
Thusly, in the online sportsbooks’ version of that old “they who were last shall later be first” parable, New Jersey now ranks just behind Birmingham in odds to win the USFL title.
Generals aligned with the Stars
New Jersey clinched its spot in the league’s four-team playoff two games ago, and with nothing resembling NFL home field advantage in this league, there’s not necessarily a great deal of import to attach to its two remaining games.
Still, the Generals are consensus -7.5 favorites this Saturday afternoon against the Michigan Panthers, who were preseason favorites to win the league but now stand 1-7.
New Jersey is atop the North Division at 7-1, trailed by the 5-3 Philadelphia Stars, who have also clinched a playoff spot. In another league scheduling quirk, those two teams finish the regular season against one another in Alabama on June 18, and it’s already known that they will meet again on June 25 in the first round of the playoffs — only that time at Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The league championship game will be played in Canton the following week.
Can’t spell victory without Victor
New Jersey has achieved its success thus far by use of a balanced attack on offense and the league’s stoutest defense.
Darius Victor, a 5-foot-7 West African refugee who played at Towson State from 2013-16 and never panned out as an undrafted free agent in the NFL, has stood out among running backs in the USFL. In last Friday’s 29-18 win over the Pittsburgh Maulers, he ran for 87 yards and 3 touchdowns, putting him at 524 rushing yards and 9 TDs on the season.
Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson have capably shared quarterback duties, meanwhile, after the Generals’ first-round draft pick, Ben Holmes, was injured and released before the season started.
New Jersey’s defense leads the league by allowing just 354.1 yards per game. Since the opening loss to the Stallions, the defense has allowed a team to score 20 points just once.
Photo: Vasha Hunt/USA TODAY