Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia’s inaugural season of the XFL’s relaunch reaches the finish line this Saturday night. The league’s championship game will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, where the DC Defenders will battle the Arlington Renegades in the league’s championship game.
The road to the championship couldn’t be more different for the opposing teams. The Defenders (10-1) started the season with six straight wins, asserting themselves as the team to beat early on and holding down the league’s best record for the entire season. After primarily establishing an identity as the league’s most feared rushing attack, the Defenders opened up their passing attack in the second half of year and finished as the league’s highest-scoring offense.
The Renegades, the league’s lowest-scoring team, faced much more adversity. After struggling to find consistent production with Drew Plitt and Kyle Sloter at quarterback, the Renegades traded for QB Luis Perez in Week 6. Perez brought the leadership and stability to the position that the Arlington offense previously lacked. The incremental improvement over the backend of the season snowballed into a three-touchdown performance in the playoffs where Perez completed 70% of his passes. The Renegades might be a 5-6 team on paper, but they are dangerous heading into the biggest game of the year playing their best football.
The DC Defenders are currently -6.5 point favorites over the Arlington Renegades at BetMGM. Should we bank on the big favorite or put our money behind the high ceiling of the underdog?
DC Defenders (-6.5) vs. Arlington Renegades (O/U 46.5)
Handicapping these types of games can be tricky. Players and coaches may have played in championship games in other leagues, but this is a brand-new experience for everyone involved. On paper, the Defenders have been the much better team all season. Arlington’s upset over Houston in the playoffs was the first time it defeated a winning team all season. All four of Arlington’s regular season wins were against teams with a 3-7 record or worse. I think most people expect the Defenders to be the XFL champions. The real question is, can the Defenders cover as 6.5-point favorites?
There hasn’t been a better bet in the XFL than the DC Defenders. They are 8-3 ATS, but the majority of their success against the number occurred during their first six games (6-0 ATS). During that stretch, the Defenders averaged beating opponents by over nine points per game while winning three games by double digits. The final four weeks of the season were a completely different story. The offense exploded as QB Jordan Ta’amu gained chemistry with his dynamic WR pairing of Lucky Jackson and Chris Blair. However, the defense struggled as much as the offense thrived. The Defenders finished the season last in the XFL in yards allowed per game, and failed to beat a team by more than two points in the final four games.
That’s a big concern when you are a 6.5-point favorite. DC failed to cover its only two previous games as a favorite of this size, and teams only covered at a 40% clip league wide. That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for eating this much chalk. But, here’s why we shouldn’t let those numbers scare us away from betting the right side.
Bet the Defenders to put on its most dominating performance
Great teams respond when challenged. Even after a sloppy finish to the regular season, DC demonstrated the ability to crank up the intensity and revert to its dominant form in its lone playoff game versus Seattle. The Sea Dragons were widely recognized as the Defenders' biggest challenge and one of the premier offenses in the league. The Defenders won easily, 37-21, behind the support of an aggressive defense that frustrated QB Ben DiNucci all day, holding him to 6.1 yards per pass attempt and sacking him three times. The 16-point win over the second-best team in the league was enough to convince me DC’s late-season slip was more motivation-driven than a talent issue.
We are getting DC at a discount. These two teams played in Week 9, with the Defenders closing as 10-point favorites. The Renegades covered in a 28-26 loss, but the game wasn’t as competitive as the final score indicates. The Defenders did what they wanted to on both sides of the ball, building a 26-9 lead while keeping Arlington’s offense out of the endzone for the first three quarters. Things fell apart for DC late after they gave backup QB D’Eriq King some work in the final quarter. King’s red-zone interception sparked a 17-point Arlington comeback to force overtime. DC was forced to turn back to Ta’amu, the XFL's offensive player of the year, in overtime and he came on to seal the victory for DC. The close finish contributed to DC opening up as a smaller favorite, presenting the opportunity to bet them 3.5 points lower than the closing spread in Week 9.
The Defenders are rested, healthy, and prepared. Similar to the NFL, the XFL gives both teams a week off before the championship game. It’s a welcomed benefit for the Defenders' top stars on offense, QB Jordan Ta’amu and RB Abram Smith, who were battling nagging injuries down the stretch. There is certainly a level of projection when assessing which team the time off will benefit most, but I believe it gives the more talented team with the better coaching staff an edge — that’s DC. The Defenders moved the ball to the tune of 9.1 yards per pass, and scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives against the Arlington defense. Plus, it allows defensive coordinator Greg Williams more time to gameplan after seeing the Arlington offense with Luis Perez for the first time. Head coach Reggie Barlow has molded DC into one of most disciplined teams in the league, and it learned a valuable lesson in Week 9. The Defenders won’t let up until the final whistle. Bet the better coached, more proven team to cover. The Bet: DC Defenders -6.5 (-115)