The XFL is officially back. We got our first look at Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia's version of spring football, and while it's way too early to tell if the third time will be a charm, it's good that there was more online buzz than in previous years.
Of course, having ESPN as a broadcasting partner doesn't hurt, nor does having a few familiar NFL faces featured as coaches. The play on the field was typical of spring football, but the games were close, competitive and exciting for the most part. Three of the four games were decided by 4 points or less, which provided a rollercoaster of emotions and big-time sweats for bettors.
As everyone expected, the opening weekend had its share of highlights and low points. So what did we learn as bettors after the first four games? Here are a few of my key takeaways.
Blind betting is never a good idea
This should go without saying, but whenever these secondary-football leagues launch, some bettors try and play an early angle on the totals since they are too unfamiliar with the rosters to play a side. If you blind-bet the under in all four games, your bankroll took a hit with overs hitting in all but one game. After opening the USFL totals in the upper 40s/lower 50s last spring, the books were ready this year, with all four games closing between 34-38.5. Remarkably, from a trends perspective, the results were split down the middle. If you blindly bet anything, you likely ended up in the red.
Home teams: 2-2 ATS
Favorites: 2-2 ATS
Home favorites: 1-1 ATS
Away favorites: 1-1 ATS
Don't expect totals or scoring to increase anytime soon
Some great plays, epic comebacks and 3-point conversions stood out over the first weekend, but the scoring was in line with the previous version of the XFL in 2020. The league wants fast gameplay, and they will get it, but it will continue to come at the cost of scoring. The 35-second play clock doesn't lead to extra plays, mainly because the clock runs on incompletions and out-of-bounds plays outside of the last two minutes of each half. Here's how the Week 1 team averages stacked up compared to the 2020 XFL season.
XFL 2023 Wk 1: 61.5 plays, 20 points, 278 yards, 4.5 yards per play
XFL 2020 Wk 1: 61.8 plays, 19.3 points, 309 yards, 5.0 yards per play
XFL 2020 Wks 1-5: 61.3 plays, 20.5 points, 313 yards, 5.1 yards per play
Two things should jump out to bettors: the consistency of the above numbers and that XFL 2023 featured less offensive production than in 2020. First, it's important to note that the 20-points-per-game average from this weekend included three defensive touchdowns. Also, in 2020, scoring jumped to 24 points per game in the fifth and final week. We will see improvement as the season progresses, but I wouldn't expect it in the next few weeks.
No lead is safe in the XFL
A.J. McCarron leading St. Louis' epic comeback was all you needed to see to realize a game is never over in the XFL until the clock reads 0:00. After trailing 15-3 in the final two minutes, a McCarron touchdown pass followed by a 3-point conversion cut the deficit to 15-12. Then, after converting the fourth-and-15 (the XFL's version of an onside kick), McCarron marched down the field for the game-winning touchdown while Brahmas coach Hines Wards watched helplessly. Oh, and St. Louis also covered as a 2.5-point favorite. Exciting finishes are a thing in the XFL, as second-half comebacks decided three of the four games.
St. Louis trailed 15-3 with under two minutes to play, won 18-15.
DC trailed 18-8 in the third quarter, won 22-18.
Arlington trailed 14-3 at halftime, won 22-20.
Keep an eye on the extra points
One of the best rules of the XFL is giving coaches the option of a 1-point, 2-point or 3-point conversion play after touchdowns. It adds a strategic element. Also, understanding each coach's tendencies and aggression level will be incredibly valuable for bettors. For example, wagering on a team that wants to turn every touchdown into 9 points is a little different than one that consistently ends up with 6 points for every touchdown. Seattle, led by offensive coordinator June Jones, went for 3 points after both of Seattle's touchdowns, accounting for half of the league's attempts. The other two (Orlando and St. Louis) were out of the necessity of playing from behind. The 1-point attempt was only successful in 1 of 7 tries, so it will be telling to see which coaches crank up the aggression in Week 2.
Ex-NFL players struggled in their head-coaching debuts
The XFL is all about opportunity, and half the league's head coaches are former NFL players without professional head coaching experience. Anthony Becht (St. Louis), Rod Woodson (Vegas), Hines Ward (San Antonio) and Terrell Buckley (Orlando) all made their debuts this weekend. They went 1-3 combined, with Becht's BattleHawks being the lone winner in a game where Ward's conservative approach led to an 18-15 loss for San Antonio. Buckley's Guardians got taken to the woodshed by Wade Phillips' Roughnecks in a 33-12 blowout loss. Coaching is a big part of handicapping the XFL. While I am not auto-fading any of these coaches yet, I will be interested to see the adjustments they make.
Stats provided by xfl.com.