Each team has taken a lap around the league and faced each other once through the first seven weeks of the USFL's season. In the final three games, teams get a second crack at divisional opponents. There aren't many surprises at this point in the season. We have a good indication of who these teams are, how they want to play, and what type of opponent they can succeed against.
Teams averaged 24 points last weekend as overs continued to be a profitable play. Overs are now 13-2-1 (84%) since Week 4, with three of the four games hitting in Week 7. Last week's best bet went over the total by 20.5 points as Philadelphia beat Houston 35-24.
The market always catches up, and with totals between 42.5-47.5 in Week 8, the adjustments have significantly reduced the edges we were able to capitalize on in the past few weeks. One of the keys to being a successful sports bettor is recognizing when a run is over and hopping off the train at just the right time. That time is now, as many of the sides stuck out on the board at first glance. Nevertheless, I could still find a strong edge in the market that I am confident will extend our winning streak to five straight. Here is this week's best bet.
Michigan Panthers (+5.5) over Philadelphia Stars
Philadelphia has won two straight games, scoring 35 points in each. The Stars' defense ranks in the bottom two in most statistical categories, but its improved pass rush racked up 10 sacks over the past two weeks. So how do you neutralize a good pass rush? You run right at it. And I am sure that's what Jeff Fisher plans to do after the Panthers rushed for 250 yards the first time these two teams played. Panthers RB Reggie Corbin gained 152 yards on only 12 attempts for 12.7 yards a pop. Michigan's strength exploits the Stars' most significant weakness. When looking at a live underdog, it needs to have a path to score points. Michigan has that, and we are getting great value at +5.5.
I have these two teams rated much closer than the odds indicate. Currently, you can bet Michigan at +195 on the money line, which translates to a 33.9% probability of winning. That gap is too wide for two teams that played very competitively earlier in the season. So here's why I see value on the underdog at +5.5.
Philadelphia and Michigan faced each other in Week 4 and closed as a pick'em. The betting market told us these teams were even, and the game was as close as possible. The Stars won 26-25 when Michigan missed a 21-yard chip shot as time expired. However, the Panthers have since replaced their kicker and turned a previous weakness into a strength. Newly signed Cole Murphy hit a 60-yard field goal before halftime last weekend. The Week 4 loss to Philly was a missed opportunity for Michigan. The narrow margin of victory supported the market's position and justified the game closing as a pick'em. When digging into the box score, there is an argument that Michigan was the better team. Here is a quick summary of some critical stats when these two teams played head-to-head.
Yards per play: PHI 5.5; MICH 5.5
Total yards: MICH 301; PHI 293
First downs: PHI 16; MICH 16
Third-down conversion rate: MICH 67%; PHI 27%
Red-zone conversion rate: MICH 50%; PHI 0%
Turnover margin: PHI +2
The Michigan Panthers ran for over 250 yards, were minus-2 in turnover margin, and still put themselves in a position to win with what should have been an automatic 21-yard field goal. Instead, the Stars got the miracle miss and ended up victorious, but it's hard to leave that game with a strong feeling that Philadelphia is significantly better. So now, three weeks later, the market tells you they are 5.5 points better? I am not buying it.
To be fair, Michigan is 1-6 on the season and 0-3 since that loss. But in the last two weeks, the Panthers have shown no signs of giving up. They played the 7-0 Birmingham Stallions tough until the 4th quarter and pushed the 5-2 New Orleans Breakers to overtime last weekend. They have played well against the league's best teams, and this week is their last chance to save their season. A Michigan loss will eliminate it from playoff contention.
Give me the motivated underdog. The Panthers' offense looked better than ever, with QB Josh Love making his first start against a tough New Orleans defense. He is nursing a thumb injury, so that's something to monitor. Still, I am confident they can stay within the number behind a strong rushing attack, regardless of the QB. Five or fewer points have decided 32% of games this season, so getting 5.5 with Michigan is a great bet. These teams looked even all season, so I am happy to take the points and run to the window.
Stats provided by football database and foxsports.com.