USFL Week 6: What to know about each game
Maulers vs. Breakers is among the big matchups in Week 6 of the USFL. Here is everything you need to know.
We're halfway through the inaugural USFL season, and the Birmingham Stallions (5-0) have staked their claim as the team to beat.
But beyond that, there is still much left to be decided. Even the Pittsburgh Maulers, who have struggled so much this season, are fresh off a victory and appear to have finally found the quarterback they need in Vad Lee.
Check out RJ Young's latest USFL Power Rankings for a look at the big picture.
So what happens now? Can the Stallions remain unbeaten? Can the Maulers build on their first taste of success? And how will the other teams jockey for playoff position with just five weeks to go?
Here is a primer for Week 6:
Tampa Bay Bandits (3-2) vs. Philadelphia Stars (2-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on NBC
Last week: Todd Haley's Bandits have relied on gritty defense and the consistent playmaking ability of quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, who has started every game this season. He had one of his better games last week, completing 15 of 24 passes for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns — without committing a turnover — in a 27-20 win over Michigan.
Bandits QB Ta'amu goes deep on the flea flicker
The Stars, meanwhile, led the Stallions 17-14 at halftime last week before being shut out the rest of the way in a 30-17 defeat. Run defense appears to be an issue for Philly, which struggled to get Birmingham's offense off the field.
Players to watch: Tampa Bay receiver John Franklin only has 11 catches for 127 yards this season, but five of those catches and 81 of those yards came last week, including a beautiful 43-yard touchdown. If he continues to build chemistry with Ta'amu, watch out!
Josh Banderas was everywhere for the Stars last week. The 27-year-old linebacker out of Nebraska had 12 tackles (seven solo) and three tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks. Can he help the Stars lock things down against Tampa Bay?
Michigan Panthers (1-4) vs. Birmingham Stallions (5-0)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Last week: The Panthers have become known for their ground game, with Reggie Corbin leading the way. But that all got shut down in last week's loss to Tampa Bay. Corbin, who was coming off a Week 4 Offensive Player of the Week award, was held to 28 yards on 12 carries.
Shea Patterson throws for 304 yards vs. Bandits
The Stallions keep on rolling, and their win over Philadelphia last week might have been their most impressive yet. Quarterback J'Mar Smith completed 77% of his passes for 203 yards and a QBR of 120.1, and running back CJ Marable gained 114 yards on 23 carries to earn Offensive Player of the Week. Talk about efficient!
Players to watch: Last week, Michigan QB Shea Patterson finally looked like the star everyone expected him to be when he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, completing 23 of his 37 pass attempts for 304 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see if he can build on that success.
Birmingham linebacker DeMarquis Gates — now a two-time Defensive Player of the Week — makes a habit of being everywhere on the field. He also makes a habit of producing huge plays when his team needs them the most.
Pittsburgh Maulers (1-4) vs. New Orleans Breakers (3-2)
Sunday, 12 p.m. ET on FS1 and streaming in the FOX Sports app
Last week: Vad Lee, signed as a free agent less than a week prior, took over Pittsburgh's QB position and not only led the Maulers to their first victory but did it with a dramatic late-game touchdown drive. His pass to Bailey Gaither as time expired clinched a 21-20 triumph over Houston.
The Breakers, meanwhile, struggled in a 27-17 loss to New Jersey. Starting QB Kyle Sloter, who has been so solid all season long, struggled against New Jersey's defense, completing only 41.7% of his passes for 155 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Players to watch: For Pittsburgh, keep an eye on productive linebacker E.J. Ejiya. The 26-year-old North Texas product leads the Maulers in both total tackles (42) and solo tackles (25) and is frequently in the backfield of the opposing offense.
For New Orleans, perhaps it's not one player to watch, but several on the offensive side of the ball, as offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is set to return to the booth.
Mazzone missed last week's game to attend his daughter’s wedding. Will his return help Sloter, as well as running back Jordan Ellis and receiver Jonathan Adams, get back on track?
Houston Gamblers (1-4) vs. New Jersey Generals (4-1)
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET on FOX and streaming in the FOX Sports app
Last week: The Gamblers suffered their second consecutive last-minute defeat, this time at the hands of the Maulers. Houston averaged more yards per play (5.3-3.9) than Pittsburgh and outgained the Maulers 130-51 on the ground, but the Gamblers just couldn't get that crucial stop when they needed it.
The Generals, meanwhile, continued to roll, handling the Breakers with ease for their fourth straight victory. QB De'Andre Johnson passed for 213 yards and rushed for 39 more while playing the entire game for the first time. New Jersey's only loss this season was to unbeaten Birmingham in Week 1.
Players to watch: Darius Victor is a force in the running game for New Jersey at 5-8, 209 pounds. FOX Draft Analyst Rob Rang compared Victor's style to that of a Sherman tank, and his skill set to that of former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Hard not to keep your eyes glued to a player like that.
Speaking of bruising running backs, the Gamblers also have one in 6-2, 235-pounder Mark Thompson who leads the league in rushing with 400 yards through five games.