LAS VEGAS — While we’ve been getting more involved with basketball and hockey as the football season has been winding down, we don’t have to quit cold turkey as the XFL returns this weekend.
Those who were reading us last year at VSiN and in The Post may recall I hit seven straight Best Bets in the Alliance of American Football, and we were very disappointed when the league folded after eight weeks. However, we’re hoping the XFL will bring similar success, as we love pitting our handicapping skills against the oddsmakers. Let’s be frank: They’re looking at the same stories and practice reports the bettors are reading in trying to determine the relative strength of these teams before their first games.
The consensus seems to be that the Dallas Renegades are the best in the eight-team league. They’re 5/2 favorites at the Westgate SuperBook and Caesars properties, 3/1 favorites at PointsBet USA and William Hill, and 3/1 co-favorites with the Tampa Bay Vipers at MGM.
Opinion varies widely on the other teams. The New York Guardians are the 4/1 co-second choice at PointsBet but were the longest shots on the board at 10/1 at William Hill, until they jumped a few notches to 7/1 on Thursday. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Battlehawks are 10/1 long shots at the Westgate but only 6/1 at MGM and Caesars and 13/2 at William Hill, so this gives us hope that we can find some live underdogs once the games start.
But first we’ll take a look at some of the rule differences that should have the greatest impact on how we’ll be handicapping games:
- Most of the changes are meant to increase the number of plays, which leads to more scoring, such as a 25-second play clock after the ball is spotted and stopping the clock after every play inside the two-minute warning in each half until the ball is spotted. So don’t expect lower Over/Unders like we saw in the AAF.
- Offenses are also aided by receivers needing to get only one foot inbounds, like in college, and they’re planning to have coach-to-player communication in the helmets of skill-position players, not just quarterbacks. In addition, linemen are not illegally downfield until 3 yards past the line of scrimmage, allowing more freedom on run-pass option plays. And offenses are also allowed a double pass as long as the first forward pass is behind the line of scrimmage.
- Big returns on kickoffs and punts are encouraged — and likely to set up shorter fields for the offenses — by penalizing touchbacks and kicks out of bounds. The kicker kicks the ball from his own 30-yard line and the rest of his team lines up at the receiving team’s 35 but is unable to move until the ball is touched by a receiving team player. Punt-coverage teams can’t cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked, which the league also hopes will encourage more teams to go for it on fourth down since they’re less likely to pin teams deep.
- Conversion kicks will not exist. Teams will opt for a one-, two- or three-point conversion from the 2-, 5- or 10-yard line. So don’t think of 3 and 7 as key numbers anymore in betting. Big edge to teams that can convert such plays consistently. It’ll be interesting to see which teams go for the shorter one-point try and which roll the dice and go for three.
- Halftime is only 10 minutes, so make your halftime wagers quickly.
- Overtime is similar to hockey or soccer shootouts, in which teams will alternate running five two-point conversion plays from the 5-yard line until one team can’t catch up. If still tied after five rounds, they alternate until one team converts and the other doesn’t.
As you can see, the emphasis is on the offense. We also see that in the coaches chosen to lead these teams and what the league hopes are some recognizable names at quarterback. Longtime Steelers backup QB Landry Jones, who is nursing a knee injury, is expected to be one of the league’s stars and a big reason for Dallas being the preseason favorite with his former coach at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops. Even if Jones is unable to go in the season opener, Dallas has former Syracuse dual-threat QB Eric Dungey, though he has missed some training camp with a hamstring injury.
Former Ohio State QB Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to the national title in his freshman season, gets his chance with the DC Defenders under coach Pep Hamilton, who is probably most famous for being Andrew Luck’s offensive coordinator at Stanford and with the Colts. Former Georgia QB Aaron Murray is the man in Tampa Bay under former Bears coach Marc Trestman, and former Raiders QB Matt McGloin will run the offense in New York for ex-Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.