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My Picks for the Most Likely 2020 XFL Championship Matchups

By Jennifer Hassan in XFL
| February 6, 2020 5:00 am PDT
x Most Likely Matchups for the 2020 XFL Championship Game

The XFL is a brand-new league, but the hype has been building for two years. Vince McMahon, owner of the XFL, wasn’t going to take any chances with his baby—not this year.

Therefore, although it’s early days, we do have some information on each team, on roster players, and on what we are likely to see in terms of team strengths.

That’s enough for a look at the 3 most likely matchups for the 2020 XFL Championship game.

Currently, the XFL has eight teams from Seattle to DC. If the league thrives, expansion team/city bids will be given serious consideration.

For now, the relatively confined pool of teams and players is going to make championship matchups dependent on a couple of exceptional games or possibly even one or two critical plays.

Here is how, at this point in time, I think the 2020 XFL Championship Game is likely to play out and why.

How Level Is the XFL Playing Field?

Given the control exerted over the teams by the XFL, the salary caps, the staff limits, and the lack of a general manager for the teams (head coaches are doing double-duty), you’d think that each team is coming into the season with equal chances of making it to the postseason.

However, life—and football—is composed of an infinite multitude of variables, and we are already seeing teams exhibiting certain strengths, even this early in the season.

Let’s take a look at the factors to consider and how they may play out by April.

No Franchises

Given that the eight XFL teams are all owned by the league, and none of the teams will be franchised out, it would seem that they all have the same chance to appear at the playoffs.

However, even though each team pays players the same, and there are salary caps and strict contractual guidelines, it is a fact that some teams will quickly rise to the top. Such variables that affect this will include choice of head coach, camaraderie of the team, percentage of untried rookies, and availability of local talent.

Choosing From Local Talent

With the average base salary for an XFL player at $27,000, very few players are going to be willing to relocate to play in the league. Even with game win bonuses that could bring the salary up to $55,000, the eight XFL teams are primarily recruiting from local talent.

It’s true that one Seattle Dragons player had been living in a VW bus, so his relocation from Southern California straight up the I-5 was likely more than reasonable for him. But for others, not so much.

Thus, each team will largely reflect the size and quality of the local talent pool. In the mysterious way of the world, some cities foment a better selection and a rich surplus of top-notch football players. Whether it’s the local culture, the weather, the length of the playing season, or the presence of local “football families” that tend to generate more than their fair share of NFL players and other pro-ballers, it’s a given that a few XFL teams will benefit from a superior choice of local talent more than others.

Richest Local Talent Pools

Florida is a football hot spot. There are more than 400 high school and college teams in the state. Since the XFL, unlike the NFL, can recruit players straight out of high school, this means that the Tampa Bay Vipers have been spoiled for choice.

In comparison, Washington State has half that amount. Also, the cost of living in Seattle is sky-high. An apartment in Tampa Bay averages at $1,125 per month. In Seattle, a comparable apartment is $2,024. So, Seattle has half the local talent to choose from, and any player they do draft has to be willing to move to the big city and pay most of his salary on rent. It’s going to make a difference on the field.

Dragons’ players may have another issue to contend with, as well. According to the Seattle Times, the local winter “crushes” moods and attitudes. The nine hours of daylight that the Seattle Dragons will work with as the season opens may have some impact on their game. Reportedly, locals get tired more quickly and have trouble waking up.

Like I said, a wealth of variables.

How Each Team Is a Standout

We do have team rosters we can look over when trying to project how the new XFL teams will play this season. Some are NFL veterans. Some were college standouts. Below, I’ve covered a bit about what each of these teams can bring to the table.

St. Louis BattleHawks

The St. Louis BattleHawks have Jordan Ta’amu as their starting quarterback. Ta’amu showed his chops at Ole Miss and can reportedly play as well in the pocket as out of the pocket.

This is the versatility that has made Kansas City Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes a champion with a Super Bowl ring. Let’s see what it does for St. Louis.

The BattleHawks plan to favor an Air Raid Offense, whereby passing is key and the QB can play fast and loose with audibles. Let’s see how flexible Ta’amu can be when he needs to think on his feet and change things up in an instant as he assesses the opposing team’s formation at the line of scrimmage.

The BattleHawks’ head coach has remarked that the team is able to come together and finish plays successfully in spite of in-play mishaps. This bodes well for the team playing, winning, and progressing as a thinking, cohesive unit.

As noted above, “plays well with others” can make or break a team’s playoff chances.

New York Guardians

The New York Guardians have hired the very experienced Kevin Gilbride to be head coach. Gilbride comes to the Guardians after a stint the New York Giants, where he spent several years as offensive coordinator. Before the Giants, Gilbride worked with the Steelers, the Chargers, the Jaguars, and other teams, generally on the offensive line.

Thus, the Guardians are likely going to be an offense-strong roster. One example is 25-year-old wide receiver Justice Liggins. Liggins, while playing at SFA University, made eight touchdowns, caught 102 passes for 1,166 yards, and played in 36 games. Let’s see what he can accomplish under Gilbride.

Gilbride is apparently setting up to execute run-pass options with the Guardians, a play he never favored in any of his other coaching gigs. This coach, whose nickname is “Grandpa,” is going to get up to some new tricks.

New York’s team should provide some good football. Young players and a veteran coach can create a solid win momentum. Let’s see how much of their mammoth MetLife Stadium (80,000 capacity) they can fill as the season progresses.

Tampa Bay Vipers

The Tampa Bay Vipers have had their pick of Florida’s finest, as we discussed above. Their roster includes defensive lineman Cece Jefferson, a 6’1”, 252 lb. player out of the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Before joining the Vipers, Jefferson executed 124 tackles, about a dozen sacks, and several pass breakups. He’s also displayed impressive agility for a defensive lineman and was invited to play in the Army All-American Bowl. A player to keep an eye on.

Seantavius Jones, a wide receiver out of Valdosta State who has also played for the New Orleans Saints, will bring the benefit of big-league experience. He could prove to be a leader on the field. “Been there, done that” can be a source of confidence to wide-eyed rookies.

Also, the team’s running backs coach has the last name Poindexter. As anyone who watched cartoons in the 1970s knows, that name means he’s, like, a really smart person. He could be the dark horse that takes this team all…the…way. The only flaw in this theory is that it’s not based on any facts.

Dallas Renegades

The Dallas Renegades will play in the most football-crazy state in the Union, which could mean a home field advantage if they get a sufficient turnout at 50,000-seat Globe Life Park.

The Renegades’ QB already has a knee injury and will be out for about a month. Backup QB Philip Nelson is going to have to come up to speed, fast. However, the team is reported to have a speedy defense, which is often the determining factor when a team makes it to playoffs.

There’s already been a trade, with the Renegades obtaining tight end Julian Allen from the Houston Roughnecks. Allen spent time on the roster of the Cleveland Browns.

If his Twitter feed is anything to go by, he is on fire with excitement to play with the Renegades. Let’s see if this 25-year-old, who’s already had some NFL attention, will shine in warmer climates.

The pre-season trade indicates that Renegades head coach Bob Stoops is not afraid to shake things up, even when it’s down to the wire. Will this flexibility translate to a penchant for trick plays and perhaps building a new playbook from scratch? Time will tell.

Seattle Dragons

The Seattle Dragons will have a leg up in the league because of their cool logo. I mean, it would definitely drive me to play better if I had a dragon on my helmet. As a writer, the coolest thing I can hope for is that the ink stains on my fingers resemble a tattoo. Of course, who tattoos their fingers? Prisoners, that’s who.

The Dragons have elected as their team captains a linebacker and a running back, rather than the more often-chosen quarterback. This implies that leadership will be spread throughout the field, which could result in a tight, deadly squad. Kudos to the head coach for drafting a well-rounded roster, which can only help keep frustration at bay when games come down to the wire or the team is trailing by more than one TD.

DC Defenders

The DC Defenders will be playing under head coach Pep Hamilton. Pep is younger than some of the other XFL coaches, but he still brings a wealth of experience to the table, mostly on the offensive side. He’s coordinated/coached for the San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the New York Jets, among other luminary teams.

Despite his offensive know-how, Mr. Hamilton has assembled an impressive defensive line. One example is Tyree Kinnel, a former Michigan Wolverine who was scouted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s see what he does with the new XFL rules and his fellow Defenders.

Note: the DC Defenders’ home stadium, Audi Field, is the smallest in the league, at a capacity of 20,000 seats. This will lend itself to team confidence and home field advantage, since the stands will look more full, the players will feel more popular, and the small stadium can give the games a college-football feel, taking away some of the intimidation factor that MetLife Stadium is going to pose to the Guardians.

Empty stadiums cast doubts and affect performance. I remember when my sorority threw a party at a billiards hall—well, never mind.

Houston Roughnecks

The Houston Roughnecks have recruited a number of college stars. Will their talent work as well under the scrutiny of the big (well, medium-sized) league?

Head coach June Jones is looking forward to playing under the new XFL rules and the new opportunities for punt and kickoff returns that the new XFL rules provide. I, personally, am looking forward to seeing how teams interpret the “multiple forward passes per play” that are allowed in this league.

This team has two QBs that are good enough to be starters. This is a powerful benefit for any team, since whoever does become the starting quarterback will feel more comfortable coming out of the pocket to expose himself and, at least hypothetically, be less worried about the consequences any injury will have on the team.

Los Angeles Wildcats

The Los Angeles Wildcats will have the toughest time filling the stadium, given that LA tends to be less rabid about football than other US cities. Their boring logo won’t help.

However, punter Colton Schmidt has the look of a star and could bring the team just enough points to make the difference in close games, and hence in the season. He played with the Buffalo Bills for a few years and is eager to return to sunshine.

Quarterback PJ Walker admits that he learns from every loss. Watching tape shows that he’s a runner, a QB that can take the snap, make a quick decision, and then bullet down the center. He also admits that because he’s undersized, he brings a lot of swagger and attitude to the field, out of necessity.

My Top Picks for XFL Championship Matchups

It’s early days, but those on XFL preseason watch, including online sportsbook Bovada, have some key matchups in mind. Let’s take a look at the ones I think are most probably.

DC Defenders vs. Dallas Renegades

The DC Defenders vs. Dallas Renegades is a very real matchup possibility for the XFL Championship game on April 26th.

Why? Dallas head coach Bob Stoops has been a division champ ten times. He’s also employed Jim Jeffcoat of the Dallas Cowboys, the man who can train players to be sack-symbols. Furthermore, the offense and defense look equally strong.

As for the Defenders, head coach Pep Hamilton is reputed to find and develop excellent quarterbacks. Also, the team’s receivers have speed, and on the defensive side, there’s a wealth of NFL player experience. DC looks like it has all the components to be a winning team, if not league champion.

DC Defenders vs. New York Guardians

Another potential XFL Championship matchup could be the DC Defenders vs. New York Guardians. DC is a balanced team, as noted above, and New York has head coach Grandpa Gilbride, who just doesn’t have many holes in his coaching experience. He’s comfortable coaching kids, rookies, and NFL veterans. He’s seen every play in the NFL book, and now he’s got some new rules to play with.

Houston Roughnecks vs. Los Angeles Wildcats

It could be that we’ll see a Houston Roughnecks vs. Los Angeles Wildcats face-off at the end of April. Houston has those two solid quarterbacks and a roster of college standouts. Their young energy could make the difference in the season. As for LA, Norm Chow is guiding the offensive team, and he’s considered to have a sixth sense about what will gain yardage and make points (he coached Steve Young).

To Sum It Up

Only time will tell, of course, and football is always full of surprises. Now we’ve got a young league with new rules, so the way the season will pan out is anyone’s guess.

Each team has a few standout features, but I suspect superior coaching and on-field cohesive team attitude will carry the winning team through the season and to triumph in the championship game.

For more content on the XFL from our team of pros, check out the XFL section of our blog.  

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