The playoffs start now.
Week 10 of the USFL in the North Division is essentially the postseason given how wide-open the division is. The winners of each of the two North matchups will earn their right to play more football. The losers will see their seasons end. It’s as simple as that.
The Philadelphia Stars, with a 4-5 record, hold a narrow lead over the rest of the North as they play visitor to the Michigan Panthers (3-6) in Detroit (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). It’s a primetime win-or-go-home elimination game with no shortage of drama.
The Stars need their offense more than ever
Both teams are coming off losses, but the Stars got an excellent showing out of their quarterback last week in a 37-33 defeat against the New Jersey Generals. Case Cookus went 25-of-39 for 322 yards with three touchdowns. The Stars also have some offensive firepower in their arsenal to complement Cookus, as well. Wide receiver Corey Coleman leads the league in receiving yards with 614. Offense-adjacent kicker Luis Aguilar has the most points of all USFL kickers with 84. Last week’s affair against New Jersey was yet another high-scoring game, and the Stars have scored 34 or more points in two of their last three contests.
They’ll be going against one of the league’s best defenses, but if they can manage to score, they’ll retain their lead in the North into the postseason.
"We are in control of our own destiny," Cookus said after last week’s game. "We can look back on this, and we’re going to learn from it, but we have an opportunity to still make the playoffs. We’ve still got an opportunity."
Michigan will need to return to their early-season defensive form
The Michigan Panthers may be uniquely qualified to stop Philly’s potent offense, though. They held the Stars to a season-low 10 points in the last meeting. Linebacker Frank Ginda not only leads the USFL in tackles with 96, but the do-it-all defender is also tied for the league lead with three interceptions. Former NFL first-round pick Breeland Speaks also leads the league in sacks with 9.0.
The Panthers found success against the Stars last go-around with their defense. In addition to holding Philadelphia to 10 points, they also took the ball away four times. But the Panthers also scored 24 points in that game. In last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Maulers, Michigan put up just seven on the scoreboard. They scored over 20 points in the prior two games, though. So it can be done.
Michigan will want to make the season series against Philadelphia a sweep and get their first win at home in front of their fans this year. They have three wins on the season but all of them have come elsewhere. It’d be almost poetic for their first one at home to be the game that qualifies them for a postseason return.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.