It’s the battle for Texas as the undefeated Houston Roughnecks travel to XFL West rival Dallas Renegades for today’s showdown that has the makings of one of the early highlights of the young season (4 PM ET Sunday on FS1).
It’s officially time to turn the page of the calendar forward to March and with it, put the first month of the XFL’s revival in the books. February 8th marked the league’s return to the sporting world for the first time in nearly 20 years. Now, one month in, it seems the reviews are trending positive toward the league, its different style of play and its interesting rule changes and game format.
February saw the XFL truly deliver on its mantra, “for the love of football” as for parts of four weeks, the league’s eight new teams offered exciting and enjoyable games with a decent and sometimes downright great level of play. Former NFL players joined college all stars as well as a combination of arena, Canadian and AAF players to present weekend football at the point of the year where the NFL is in the midst of its break.
Now it’s on to March and time to see if the league can sustain its initial excitement and enthusiasm. Fortunately, the XFL schedule is favorable in that regard as March is kicking off with a great contest between two of the league’s best teams. Oh yeah, both of those teams just so happen to be from the same state, setting up the potential for perhaps the league’s first major rivalry.
When the first set of XFL championship odds were released earlier this winter, the Dallas Renegades opened as +300 favorites. The Houston Roughnecks were +750, the third worst odds in the league. Well, the best of the U.S. oddsmakers seem to have made some early errors based on their handicapping of the rosters as the St. Louis BattleHawks, now 3-1 (+1000) and Seattle Dragons, now 2-2 (+1100) ranked second to last and last respectively in terms of chances to win the title. Both those teams, as well as the Roughnecks, are currently positioned to be much better than that. The (0-3) Tampa Bay Vipers (+400) and (1-3) Los Angeles Wildcats (+500), had the second and fourth best odds to win it all.
Why bring this all up? Because today, the Renegades, who by the nature of their roster were deemed the XFL preseason favorites, will face the team that is currently considered the favorite by nature of how well they have played in this short season. Let’s take a look at the Roughnecks and why this team has over-exceeded early expectations.
Team Profile: Houston Roughnecks
Prior to the start of the XFL season, it is likely few really knew the name PJ Walker outside of those who watched him on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad and those who watched him play his college ball at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Now, it’s safe to say that Walker’s is a household name in Houston, where he has led the Roughnecks to a perfect record and has ascended to the early MVP favorite due to his absolutely dominant performance in the team’s first three games. Walker’s goal is to be an NFL quarterback and there is almost no doubt if he finishes the season as well as he has started it, that the Roughnecks will be raising a title and Walker will receive invites to several NFL camps this spring.
Walker’s road to the XFL actually began in part due to his connection with Indianapolis. Former teammate and recent retiree, Andrew Luck, made sure that Walker’s name was included in the talent pool, having recommended him to his father and league commissioner, Oliver Luck. Walker was drafted by Houston but then had to win the starting job from former Oakland Raiders QB Connor Cook. He did just that and everything he has done since has been nothing short of spectacular.
To put Walker’s performance into perspective, after four weeks, he is the third best QB in terms of passing yards despite playing one less game than the two guys ranked above him. He entered week three in the lead, by over 100 yards. Walker has 10 touchdowns and just one interception, which was four more than the next highest player, Brandon Silvers of the Seattle Dragons. His QB rating of 112 is the second best mark in the league behind LA’s Josh Johnson.
The Roughnecks’ success begins with Walker but it doesn’t end with him. James Butler has rushed for 130 yards on just 23 carries, good for a 5.7 yard per carry average, the third best in the league. Butler also is tied with Cameron Artis-Payne of the team we’re about to talk about, the Renegades, for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with two.
Then there’s Cam Phillips. The Virginia Tech product and one-time Buffalo Bill, Phillips and Walker have found tremendous chemistry in the early-going leading to Philips as by far the league’s best receiver. Philips has caught 20 passes for 324 yards. Seven of those receptions were for touchdowns. The next highest mark in the league is three, which is held by Seattle’s Austin Proehl and Dallas’ Donald Parham Jr., the best tight end in the XFL.
Team Profile: Dallas Renegades
It’s a fair question to ask. Would the Renegades be undefeated like the Roughnecks are, if Landry Jones had been able to play in the first game? On the young season, this is the only game the former Oklahoma Sooners standout has missed as well as the only game Dallas has lost. Since Jones’ return as QB in game two, the Renegades have looked like the offensive unit that the oddsmakers saw fit to name the best team in the league.
Looking at the stats, Jones did struggle a bit in Dallas’ week two victory as he has worked off the rust of not playing competitive football in some time. Three years removed from football at the time of the XFL relaunch, Jones needed to work off some rust and it seems he has done just that. He had his best game in week three as the reunion with former college head coach Bob Stoops looks to be starting to pay dividends for Dallas. In just two starts, Jones has the fourth highest total yards in the league with 579. He has four touchdowns and four interceptions, and a QB rating of 102.3, good enough for the third highest in the league. His 71.6 completion percentage is the second highest in the league as well.
As mentioned above, Jones has the best tight end in the league in Donald Parham Jr., who has the fourth most receiving yards overall. They also have the second best running back in Cameron Artis-Payne, whose 185 yards is the second most in the league. Much like Walker for Houston, Artis-Payne has played one less game than the league’s leading rusher in Matt Jones. He will need to rush for 60 yards today to take the lead in that category, something that is certainly doable with how Stoops has structured Dallas’ offense.
Our Preview’s Houston Roughnecks vs Dallas Renegades Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
While the Roughnecks are favored away from home, the bookies aren’t sleeping on the Renegades, putting the spread at just 3pts on the spread in favor of Houston. It is the smallest margin of the week. Here are our Dallas Renegades vs Houston Roughnecks predictions for this preview:
- Expect this to be a great contest between two teams who we will likely see battle again in the XFL playoffs. It’s a tough call but we are going with Dallas +3pts @ -110 with Bovada or 5Dimes.
- Expect the projected points total to be over 51.5pts @ -110 with Bovada, Intertops or BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.