There weren't any fourth-and-15 conversions to facilitate a miraculous comeback in the XFL's second week, but that didn't make me feel any more secure when my betting interest was holding the lead. Turnovers and sloppy penalties produced massive momentum swings as defenses continued to have the upper hand on the field. More coaches (4 of 8) gave their backup quarterbacks a look when offenses sputtered, sometimes by design and others by desperation.
I will talk more about scoring in a bit because it needs to be addressed in a big way, but the totals were on point and produced a nice sweat for bettors. The lone exception was the 18-6 weather game, where Defenders barrelled their way to a win in the middle of a Las Vegas downpour.
One of the things that stood out in the opening week was the low margin of victory, with only one game decided by more than four points. Week 2 started that way with St. Louis' 20-18 win on Thursday night, but the final three games were decided by nine points or more. Overall, it was an insightful week for both books and bettors as we continued to peel back the onion on each team to see how much of the early results were based on the quality of the opponent. Three unbeaten teams are remaining (Houston, St. Louis, and DC), and we'll have one less by this time next week as St. Louis travels to DC Sunday.
Bets were up and down, with losses on Seattle and Orlando (yuck!), and hitting on Houston and D.C. My early assessment of Arlington seems spot on, but with Orlando on the schedule next, bettors get to choose from betting on the league's biggest dumpster fire or laying double-digits with an offense that was held to 2.3 yards per play this weekend. Good luck.
So what else did we learn in Week 2 of the XFL?
Leave time on the clock for A.J. McCarron at your own peril
I never trust the prize NFL quarterback in these leagues, but this A.J. McCarron guy is growing on me. For the second consecutive week, McCarron battled back from a 12-point deficit to lead St. Louis to a victory. He didn't do it all in the final two minutes as he did in San Antonio, but he still led St. Louis back on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter. McCarron put St. Louis up late with a 44-yard strike to Hakeem Butler, only to see Seattle respond with a go-ahead touchdown with only 1:11 left on the clock. That was plenty of time for McCarron, who marched down the field using his arm and legs (23 yards rushing) to set up the game-winning field goal. Live bettors take notice: The BattleHawks' late-game heroics are more signal than noise.
Offensive production is down
Last week I touched on how the scoring was in line with the previous iteration of the league, but yards per play was down, signaling the number of points scored may have propped up by the bevy of defensive touchdowns. Team scoring dipped from 19.3 to 17.6 points per game, and yards plummeted from 278 yards per game to 227. That's not enough offense. Teams averaged only 4.1 yards per play, almost a full yard below 2020's average (5.0) through the first five weeks. It never helps when one of the four games is played in the pouring rain, but having three teams net less than 200 yards of offense isn't good for anybody but bettors on the under. Totals went 2-1-1 to the under after going 1-3 in the first week, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the totals get bet down to the mid-30s across the board this week.
Another factor in the low scoring is the inability to capitalize on the conversion after touchdowns. The XFL gives coaches the option of going for one, two or three points after a touchdown, but more coaches are settling for the one-point try, despite only converting on 35% of chances. As a result, the league is averaging less than one point (.70) after touchdowns.
Orlando is separating themselves in all the wrong ways
I know it's early, but Terrell Buckley is giving me Kirby Wilson vibes. Wilson, the former Pittsburgh Maulers coach (USFL) was best known for cutting a player for ordering pizza before the season, lost his team early and they never responded to his methods on the field. Orlando has allowed 63 points and turned the ball over five times in two games. Buckley was repeatedly heard on the sidelines exasperated, placing blame on the offense, and threatening his team about finding players that want to make plays. The Guardians had 13 penalties on the day, so I'm skeptical Buckley is reaching his players. Orlando is a 10-point underdog in Week 3, with its futures odds plunging to +2200.
There are a lot of turnovers, and it matters
This has been my biggest takeaway, and the one responsible for the most angst to bettors. Since there has been such little success on offense, turnovers have had a massive impact. There is no better example than the Seattle Sea Dragons. Seattle is the only team in the XFL that averages 300 yards per game, or 5 yards per play. Their +1.3 net yards per play is the highest in the league. However, they are -5 in turnover margin and are 0-2 S/U and ATS. Teams that win the turnover battle have been 6-2 this season, and the combined record of the three teams with a negative turnover differential is 1-5. At least one team has three turnovers in six of eight games. Turnover variance drives bettors crazy, but I will be valuing ball security more going forward.