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Relaunched USFL offers options for football-starved bettors

Updated April 14, 2022 - 9:32 am

If you post it, they will come.

While the phrase is a clumsy ripoff of the famous movie line about a magical field and mythical players, in this case it applies to professional football betting lines and those who enjoy wagering on the outcome.

Sportsbooks will put the theory to the test this weekend with the return of the United States Football League, a relaunching of a league longer on nostalgia than success.

The new version, which features eight teams and familiar faces among players and coaches, will play its regular season in Birmingham, Alabama, before shifting to Canton, Ohio, for the postseason.

Bettors have been slow to line up and put their money down, but that’s expected to change as kickoff approaches for Saturday’s opener between the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions.

“It’s still football, so we’ll definitely get some handle,” said Westgate SuperBook director John Murray, who said the recent spate of startup leagues tends to peak in terms of attracting casual bettors early in the process. “Generally speaking, the handle numbers go down as the season progresses.”

Markets are available for each of the four games on opening weekend and for which team will win the championship.

Prices vary in the market, but the Tampa Bay Bandits have emerged as a popular pick to win the trophy. The Bandits, coached by Todd Haley and featuring former Raiders preseason star running back B.J. Emmons, are as low as a 4-1 choice.

Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus wrote an extensive team-by-team betting breakdown and listed the Bandits as the best team.

“In a league full of unknowns, at least the Bandits offer a head coach with legit NFL pedigree, a quarterback (Jordan Ta’amu) that has played professional football at a high level and, theoretically, a willingness to embrace a pass-heavy offense,” he wrote. “I’m all in on the Bandits as the USFL’s best team.”

Hartitz also liked the Bandits (-2.5) over the Pittsburgh Maulers on Sunday as one of his weekly plays, though they are currently laying as many as 5 points in Las Vegas.

Don’t be surprised by line movements like that throughout the season. The market isn’t as firm for startup leagues as it would be in the NFL or college football, and those who consistently bet tend to be fairly educated.

“We have a fair amount of confidence in those markets (NFL, college) are pretty accurate,” Murray said. “I don’t think any of us feel that way about this (USFL).

“One thing we’ve always seen is sharp guys who think they have an advantage continuing to bet (these types of leagues), so we’ll move (lines) pretty aggressively.”

Not every pro is itching to get involved just because football games are back on the board.

Brad Evans, the host of “Live on the Line” on Stadium and “Fade The Noise” on SiriusXM, is rarely shy about gambling. He knows many bettors will play the games but said he will pass on the league for the most part.

“Spring, summer, winter or fall — it doesn’t matter when the pigskin is played. If there’s available action, bettors, especially over a lazy weekend, will find any convenient excuse to scratch the itch,” Evans said. “Personally, my wagering regimen is steeped in seasonality. For now, I’ll stick to catching Ls in baseball and the NBA playoffs. However, if values crop up and the product is exciting, I might dabble in the USFL.

“If only peak Jim Kelly was still rocketing passes for the Houston Gamblers.”

Hartitz thinks one of those opportunities is in Week 1, though the market has corrected. He recommended betting the under on all four games, which all opened at 46 to 48 points, largely based on what took place on the opening weekend of the Alliance of American Football league (38.25 points per game average) and XFL (38.5).

“I will happily pound each and every under, as these game totals all look roughly six points too high,” he wrote.

All four totals have dropped several points.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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