The Houston Roughnecks were the class of the XFL in 2020, winning all five games before the league shut down. The Roughnecks' roster, coach and even the helmets have changed for Houston this time. Everything is different, but the results on the field remain the same. The new-look Roughnecks, coached by Wade Phillips, throttled Orlando 33-12 to open the season.
The win pushed Houston to the top of the futures board (+350) at BetMGM and plummeted Orando's odds to +1500, signaling a strong position that Orlando is the worst team in the league. Here is the puzzle bettors have to piece together for this upcoming week: Is Houston as good as it looked, or is Orlando significantly weaker than the field?
We will find out as Houston takes on the Arlington Renegades on Sunday. Arlington (1-0) has the second-shortest futures odds (+400) behind Houston, so it will be a big statement if it can come away with another win. Here is how I'm betting on this Texas throwdown between these two in-state rivals.
Arlington Renegades at Houston Roughnecks (-4.5)
Going back to fading Bob Stoops was an easy decision after watching the Renegades fail to cover last week against Vegas. I'm off-market on Arlington by a significant margin, and I didn't see anything last week to make me concerned I'm missing something. The Renegades couldn't generate enough offense to cover as 3.5-point home favorites despite benefiting from three turnovers, including two defensive touchdowns. They are the only team in the XFL that has yet to score an offensive touchdown, and that's not going to cut it against Houston, which is the XFL's highest-scoring team with 33 points.
Houston offensive coordinator A.J. Smith is a big reason I'm betting that the Roughnecks will be able to put points on the board against Arlington. The Roughnecks' offense was very efficient, with QB Brandon Silvers throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Smith, a June Jones disciple, did an excellent job of helping his quarterback by blending the running game into his version of the run-and-shoot offense. As a result, Houston's two-headed backfield, Max Borghi and Dejoun Lee, averaged 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. Houston can exploit Arlington's aggressive defense with short passes and screens to their shifty backs and allow them to make plays in space. The Renegades allowed three touchdowns last week to Vegas, and they are running into a much bigger challenge in Week 2.
If Stoops is panicking after one game, bettors should as well. Arlington has teased a move to backup quarterback Kyle Sloter, but without playmakers on the outside and with a running game that only gets 2.7 yards a pop, it will be tough for anyone to step in and succeed. Sloter was a turnover machine in the USFL last spring, so the potential move only makes me more comfortable with my bet. Once Houston starts finding the end zone early, Phillips' defense should be able to pin its ears back and make enough plays to help Houston cover this number.