With the XFL season nearing its midway point, it’s now or never for the (1-3) Tampa Bay Vipers and (1-3) Los Angeles Wildcats, as both teams look to avoid picking up their fourth loss when they meet in LA today in the XFL’s first primetime game of the season (9 PM ET Sunday on ESPN).
At least when it comes to a live crowd, the XFL revival is holding fans’ attention. Live attendance has been fantastic with Seattle and St. Louis drawing crowds over 20,000 regularly and many of the league’s other teams topping the 17-18K mark with consistency. It’s the television ratings however that continue to bottom out after the strong initial ratings bump from the opening weekend. It’s not really surprising as the expectation was people would tune in in large numbers at the beginning out of curiosity for the revamped league and its exciting gameplay innovations.
XFL ratings are hovering in between one and two million viewers per game on average, which isn’t awful but that mark will certainly need to improve if the league hopes to survive. There’s no guarantee it will, given the season is about to enter a period of great competition from all sides: the NBA, the Masters, March Madness, the MLS and the MLB.
There are no shortage of high profile sporting events that will be vying for the XFL’s viewership. In week five, the XFL is running unopposed and faces a big test as it hits primetime in the usual spot of the NFL’s Sunday Night Football, which at any given time will have over 20 million households tuned in to the product.
Now, the XFL doesn’t need to hit 20 million nor will they, especially with this contest. If this was the NFL, the league would have flexed this game out of primetime and perhaps replaced it with the 3 PM St. Louis Battlehawks vs DC Defenders contest or one of the Saturday games with a higher level or interest and quality of play. This isn’t the NFL, it’s the XFL, and flex scheduling doesn’t seem to be of concern to the league and it’s falling ratings. So today, it will be the Vipers vs the Wildcats where one team will stay alive with a 2-3 record and the other will find their playoff chances nearly impossible at 1-4. So now this preview will get on with working out our Tampa Bay Vipers vs Los Angeles Wildcats predictions.
Are the Vipers Turning Things Around?
One of the things that is going to help determine the long-term viability of the XFL is quarterback play and so far this season, that has been a mixed bag. There have been times where it has been spectacular with the Houston Roughnecks’ PJ Walker throwing bombs with incredible accuracy and St. Louis’ Jordan Ta’amu a huge surprise with how well he has played. LA’s Josh Johnson has also been a revelation, which we will get to shortly. For every team that boasts a decent to good quarterback, there are teams that have not found the same success. The Vipers are one of them.
Winless until last week when they stunned the Defenders in a huge 25-0 upset, the Vipers have been victim to some of the worst QB play in the league thus far. Tampa Bay has primarily used two signal callers, Taylor Cornelius and Aaron Murray. Murray enjoyed a great college career at the University of Georgia but saw it ended with an ACL injury, one that, now seven years removed from playing the sport competitively, may still be hampering him.
Murray played on NFL practice squads until 2018, at which point he joined the Atlanta Legends of the AAF. The backup to Matt Simms, Murray stepped in to lead his team to their first win of the season in week four, throwing for 254 yards and rushing for 54.
Headed to the XFL, it was expected Murray would pick right back up where he had left off when the AAF folded in April 2019. Unfortunately for the Vipers, that wasn’t the case. In week one, Murray threw two interceptions and no touchdowns before suffering an injury that meant he missed the last three weeks. His backup, Taylor Cornelius has struggled as well, with just two touchdowns and four interceptions in his XFL career.
No matter which Vipers QB takes the field on Sunday, it is safe to say that is one of Tampa Bay’s biggest weaknesses. Fortunately for the Vipers, who looked really crisp in their week four victory, no XFL team has had a better ground game than Tampa Bay. Vipers’ DeVeon Smith leads the league with 296 total yards. His teammate, Jacques Patrick, is fifth with 231 total yards. So if the Vipers are in fact turning a corner, it will be credit to their ground and pound offense doing its job. Both Patrick and Smith were over 100 yards in last week’s victory, something that no XFL team had accomplished until the Vipers did it in week four.
If you are looking for another area where the Vipers can excel, it’s on defense. The formula last week involved making Cardale Jones, who had been one of the league’s top QBs, uncomfortable every time he dropped back to pass. This led to the Defenders getting just six first downs the entire game.
Tampa Bay is getting better, having totaled 52 points and rushed for 395 yards in the last two weeks. If their run game can continue to set the tone, it takes a lot of pressure off Cornelius and Murray. That is what the Vipers will need to do in order to keep winning.
Josh Johnson and the Wildcats
One of the league’s best quarterbacks is LA’s Josh Johnson, who has been dazzling lately with his ability to make plays. Johnson has seven touchdowns to just one interception and the league’s second best passer rating at 106.6. He has thrown for 788 yards and has been the best Wildcats’ player, offense or defense. Today, Johnson will be without his best weapon, top-five XFL receiver, Nelson Spruce. That puts a lot of pressure on his other guys to step up as well as for the Wildcats to try to turn more to their running and short yardage passing game.
The Wildcats will need more than Johnson if they hope to save their season. Their running game has been less than reliable this season and their defense is hit or miss. On paper, this was supposed to be one of the league’s best units but that’s not how this season has played out.
Our Preview’s Tampa Bay Vipers vs LA Wildcats Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
After some betting lines movement, the Wildcats find themselves three-point favorites at home with the best U.S. online sportsbooks. Looking at the odds and spreads, these are the Tampa Bay Vipers vs Los Angeles Wildcats predictions for this preview:
- We like the Vipers in this one though as entering this game, Tampa Bay seems poised to repeat its performance from last week. Take the Vipers +3pts on the spread @ -110 with 5Dimes, Bovada, Bookmaker, Intertops or BetOnline.
- For the total points picks, the best option is to go over 41.5pts @ -112 with Bookmaker.
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.