The Birmingham Stallions finally lost their first game of the 2024 season, leaving them 8-1 before the season’s final week. Having clinched a playoff berth weeks ago, the Stallions head into week ten at home with not much to gain if they were to win this game. Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Stallions will meet the Panthers in back-to-back weeks, but only one game is to defend their title as the USFL Champion.

The Stallions could approach this game as if it was a late-season tune-up game and sit starters before an all-important playoff matchup against the Panthers the following week. J’mar Smith piqued curiosity with a tweet that made it appear he may see the field in this game.

Injuries Will Play a Part in Decisions

Michigan is banged up across the roster right now with fourteen players listed on the injury report this week. only five have been ruled out for the game, but this list includes Matthew Colburn, Marcus Simms, Corrion Ballard, Noah Dawkins, and Kenny Willekes.

Matthew Colburn is their leading rusher currently with 105 touches for 476 yards and 4 touchdowns. Wes Hills has outscored him, but he leads the team in the other two categories. He managed this in just 8 games as well. With Wes Hills also not active for this game it is up to Nate McCrary and Toa Taua.

Marcus Simms is the leading receiver for Michigan by a wide margin. He has been very explosive when he gets the ball this season, on just 30 total touches Simms has 627 yards and 3 touchdowns a very impressive 18.5 per reception. The deep threat seems to like Michigan and he fits the role of “field-stretcher” for the Panthers this season.

The three defensive players ruled out combined for 90 tackles, 8 for a loss, 4 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and 2 fumble recoveries. If this was a playoff game, these decisions might have gone the other way, but at this point in the season, you may as well air on the side of caution with your key contributors.

Meanwhile, the Stallions have just three players listed on the injury list, with just one DeMarquist Gates ruled out. This is somewhat sad because according to Pat Rifino, DeMarquis Gates had just topped 200 tackles for his career. It would be nice to see him continue to add to that mark in week 10, but again with little to gain from a win here, why risk further injury to a key player?

Keys to Victory for the Stallions

Since the relaunch of the USFL in 2022, the Michigan Panthers have not won a single game against the Stallions with 3 previous match-ups all ending in defeat. On paper, it sure looks like this could end up as their fourth loss to the Stallions if Birmingham doesn’t decide to bench their starters at some point in this game. However, this isn’t the same Panthers team that the Stallions played earlier in the season. Bryce Perkins was signed three weeks after the Panthers and Stallions last played each other.

Since then, Perkins quickly looked like the best quarterback on the roster and has since made this offense look respectable. To this point, in three appearances he has completed 30 of 37 passes for 343 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. The main thing that has helped this offense is Perkins’ mobility. He already has 17 carries for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns in 3 games.

He has not yet been given the keys to the offense by being allowed to play an entire game, instead splitting time with Danny Etling and Brian Lewerke. I am intrigued to see how the Panthers choose to approach their quarterback situation, and if Perkins will get to play a full game in week 10 or the the first round of the playoffs.

The Stallions must focus on containing Perkins, despite not playing full-time as of yet, he has managed 162 total yards per game. When he comes in it’s like adding nitrous oxide to your Honda Civic, suddenly this offense is a different beast.

Keeping Perkins in the pocket may sound counterproductive given his 81% completion rate, but the damage he has done on the ground might be even worse. Averaging 8.5 yards per carry he has been burning defenses for not planning to contain him. The Stallions however have a very talented, and versatile defense that should take solace in the fact that they have seen players like Perkins in the past.

Stop the Run, Specifically in the Redzone

With the third and fourth-string running backs asked to carry the load in this game, this should be in theory easier than it would have been if asked to face the 1-2 punch of Matthew Colburn and Wes Hills. During this season the Panthers have constructed their offensive philosophy around the run game. While it hasn’t dominated the stat sheet in terms of attempts, or yards it has managed to score the majority of the touchdowns on the team.

The Michigan Panthers have scored 25 touchdowns in 9 games, averaging just under 3 touchdowns a game. Of those 25, 18 have come from the run game whether it was a quarterback or running back. This accounts for 72% of the touchdown output of the Panthers in 2024 so far. They have also produced the second-most rushing yards in the league behind Birmingham. This has made up 41% of their offensive output.

Looking back the Panthers have only scored over 30 points twice, and in those games, the Panthers ran the ball 36 times, managed 124 yards or more, and scored 8 touchdowns. This included a 5 touchdown game and a 3 touchdown game. However, both of these games featured Colburn and Hills. If McNary and Toua can find momentum on Saturday it could spell disaster for the 8-1 Stallions in this game.

Slowdown this Pass Rush

No matter who starts at quarterback for the Stallions, they need to be prepared to face one of the most talented defensive lines in the league led by Breeland Speaks who recently said he plays football so he can hit people as hard as he wants without going to jail….Did I mention he is 285 pounds and can run up to 17 mph? That’s like getting hit by a small motorcycle, and it doesn’t look fun.

Breeland Speaks is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the UFL right now and leads the league in sacks with 8.5 heading into the final week of the season. Opposite of Speaks are two players who have combined to match his sack total as well with Garrett Marino and Walter Palmore at tackle. Starters may not play much in this game depending on how Michigan decides to approach it. The Panther’s defense is 3rd in total sacks with 25 heading into this game. If the Stallions allow this defense to get penetration, it’s going to be a long day for anyone in the backfield.

How to Watch

This game will be on ESPN at 1 pm Central Time, and simulcast on ESPN Xtra on Sirius XM for those that prefer a radio broadcast. Ironically the last time these two teams played it was also on ESPN per Mike Mitchell of SI the game averaged just over 900,000 viewers.

Betting Odds and Prediction

Heading into this game the Stallions are 8-point favorites, but I am not sure that takes into account the context of this game. Michigan could come out the victor very easily depending on how the Stallions decide to approach the game as I have mentioned several times in this article.

The over/under is 43.5 points, with the money line +310 for Michigan and -395 for Birmingham. If I were to bet on this game, I would take the Panthers and the points, while betting on the under. I see this being a low-scoring affair with many lineup changes throughout the game. I believe the Panthers may want this game more than the Stallions at this point in the season, and they could pull out a win in this game.

Panthers win this one dramatically 21-17 with a late touchdown. Stallions drop their second straight game but go into the playoffs healthy.

author avatar
Sam Just

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