The last time the Houston Gamblers and Memphis Showboats faced off, neither had won a game as both were off to disappointing 0-2 starts to their 2023 seasons. Houston pulled out a close win, and since then, neither team has lost.
The Gamblers (4-2) have now won four in a row, and the Showboats (3-3) have bounced back nicely from an 0-3 start with three straight wins. Both teams are squarely in playoff contention with four weeks remaining in a strong South Division. Only two teams from the division will make the playoffs, and Sunday's loser will distance itself from the winner of Saturday's game between the 4-2 New Orleans Breakers and 4-2 Birmingham Stallions.
That Week 3 battle between these two teams was one of the USFL's best games so far this season — Memphis trailed 23-10 in the fourth quarter, but rallied to take the lead on two Cole Kelley touchdown passes, the latter with less than two minutes left. Houston answered with a 66-yard touchdown drive, and Kenji Bahar threw the game-winning touchdown to Justin Hall with 13 seconds left.
Houston won a game without Bahar, who was sidelined by an ankle injury, and then got him back last week in a 16-10 win over the New Jersey Generals. That win was sparked by the Gamblers defense, which took a shutout into the fourth quarter — Houston's leading tackler is linebacker Khalan Tolson, an Illinois grad who has 45 tackles through six games, and Reggie Walker and Ronheen Bingham share the team lead with four sacks each.
Where Memphis has its biggest advantage Sunday is in turnover margin — the Showboats are at a USFL-best plus-4 for the season, while Houston is second-worst in the league at minus-3. Memphis safety Troy Warner — the younger brother of 49ers linebacker Fred Warner — has 48 tackles, almost twice as many as his closest teammate, and the turnovers have come from all over, with the Showboats' 11 takeaways coming from 10 different players.
Memphis' leading receiver is Vinny Papale, whose father Vince played for the Eagles in the 1970s and was the main character in the Mark Wahlberg movie "Invincible." Papale has 21 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown. The Showboats won last week, however, with defense, shutting out the Maulers 22-0 and getting a 109-yard touchdown from Derrick Dillon on a missed field goal. Memphis has pulled off a 3-3 record despite enough injuries to their running backs that no Showboats player has rushed for 100 yards over the entire season.
Houston doesn't have that problem — running back Mark Thompson leads the USFL with nine rushing touchdowns and ranks third in the league with 374 rushing yards. The Gamblers have good offensive balance, with Hall leading the league with four touchdown receptions on the season, one ahead of teammate Anthony Ratliff-Williams.
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.