XFL Football Returns: Rules Explained, Betting, Predictions & Picks

Matt Elam: XFL ExplainedIf you thought last week’s Super Bowl marked the end of the football season, think again. This weekend (first game is today, 2pm ET Saturday on ABC), the revived XFL returns to television for the first time in over a decade.

Featuring new teams, new cities, new players and most prominently, new rules, the XFL revival will provide football fans with another three months of action. And who doesn’t want that?

But before we get into the action, there are some key things that need to be addressed before putting your money on the games. For starters, the rule differences between the XFL and its spiritual predecessor, the NFL. Let’s go through some of the most notable changes.

Looking to improve the fan experience of football, XFL owner and pro wrestling magnate, Vince McMahon, noted in a press conference that the rules would be in part determined by what people wanted to see. That led to 15 rule changes with five revolving around timing and pace of play, five considered to be “common sense” changes and five of what are being called, “gameplay innovations.”

Bye Bye Extra Points: A few years ago, the NFL decided a change needed to be made to the kicking distance of an extra point, which had begun to feel like an automatic. Moving the kick back 10 yards did cause the percentage of successful one-point attempts to go down, but it was negligible as the kick was still well within the range of any NFL kicker.

Enter the XFL. There are no extra-point kicks. None. Teams will have the option to attempt one of three conversions, all from different yardages, for either 1, 2 or 3 points. At the very least, this is sure to add a new strategic element to the game. It will also have an impact on betting so keep that in mind.

Defining a Catch: The NFL has been plagued by its unclear and ambiguous idea of what defines a catch, especially considering that everyone from players to referees, and of course fans, have a different interpretation of that very crucial rule.

The XFL seems to offer a pretty clear understanding of what constitutes a catch and it largely mirrors that of the college game. The XFL rulebook explains, a catch is made by: “1. Secures control of a live ball in flight before the ball touches the ground; 2. Touches the ground inbounds with any part of his body; 3. Maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game, i.e., long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.”

That pesky “football move” is still in there but it appears at least initially, that the XFL has an idea of what is considered such a move in their league. Naturally, we’ll see what happens when the first contested catch is called.

Kickoffs: There’s not much to the NFL kickoff rules that is designed to draw scrutiny. Touchbacks make sense, muffed kicks make sense, the fair catch rule makes sense.

An innovative football league needs some innovative rules and one of the XFL’s biggest areas of emphasis is on approaching the kickoff. Kickers start at the 30-yard line and the ball is required to be put in the air and land between the 20-yard line and goal line. Players cannot move until the ball is caught. If the kick does not reach the 20-yard line, the kicker kicks again, this time from 15 yards closer at the 45-yard line. Essentially, if you shank your kick, you get a chance to redo it.

The XFL’s version of the touchback is also different. Instead of the ball being placed on the 20-yard line, its placed on the 35, something that very much discourages kicking into the endzone. There is definitely a sweet spot for an XFL kicker and it’s one that seems to focus highly on that word that often gets dropped from in front of the kicker position, “place.” This rule will emphasize kick placement, which again, is an added strategic element somewhat missing from the NFL version of the game.

Another way the XFL is changing the game comes in the form of the onside kick. XFL rules dictate that onside kicks are allowed, but only if the referee and the opposing team is made aware in advance. If we had to guess, the success rate of onside kicks in the XFL won’t be high. Not to say it’s high in the NFL, but eliminating the surprise element does seem like it will drastically impact the use and successful execution of the onside kick.

The Teams & Sportsbooks Betting Lines

In its inaugural year, the XFL has eight teams, most of which have at least some NFL connection, be it in their coaching staff or among their rosters. There are also a lot of high-level former college players who are looking to impress.

Entering the year, the Dallas Renegades are favorite with the best offshore oddsmakers to win it all (+300), largely based on the presence of some former NFL talent including QB Landry Jones and RB Lance Dunbar. Their coach is the legendary Bob Stoops of Oklahoma fame.

Others at the head of the betting odds are the New York Guardians (+400), Los Angeles Wildcats (+500), Tampa Bay Vipers (+500) and Houston Roughnecks (+750).

Today’s Game: Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders Preview, Predictions & Picks

Not listed among these teams are the two who will take part in Saturday’s kickoff game (2pm ET), the Seattle Dragons of the XFL West and DC Defenders of the XFL East.

Standout names to watch for Seattle include head coach Jim Zorn and former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, who now lines up at wide receiver. Reynolds’ speed and size should bode well at his new position and he’s certainly someone who can make an impact right away.

Look for former Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam, to be a difference maker in DC. Alongside Cardale Jones, who helped Ohio State to the first College Football Playoff Championship in 2014, the Defenders have a nice-looking team both on offense and defense.

It should be no surprise then that the Defenders are pretty big favorites (-7.5pts) to win the first game of the relaunched league. While it is hard to get a real gauge on any of these teams just yet, DC’s roster is certainly intriguing in terms of talent and the Defenders should be considered a dark horse to win it all.

  • Take DC -7.5pts on the spread @ -110 with Bovada.