Something has to give on Saturday night at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. The Orlando Guardians (0-4) and the Vegas Vipers (0-4) will meet in Sin City in a battle of two winless teams looking to finally break through and get that elusive first win of the 2023 XFL season.
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Orlando fell behind 20-0 last Saturday against Houston and never recovered, losing 44-16 to the Roughnecks. Paxton Lynch completed 18 of 30 passes for 267 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in what was arguably his best performance of the season. The defense was on the field for just 50 plays but didn’t have any answers for a Houston offense that averaged 7.6 yards per play and scored six times.
Vegas got off to an ominous start on Sunday night as quarterback Brett Hundley fumbled the snap on the opening drive, which led to a touchdown for the D.C. offense. The Vipers settled in a little bit after that but didn’t have enough to stop the Defenders, losing 32-18 on the road. Luis Perez completed 23 of 32 passes for 283 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception to inject some much-needed life into the offense. Vegas totaled 394 yards, which was quite the outburst after this unit averaged 261 through the first three games.
Orlando (0-4) at Vegas (0-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, March 18 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Cashman Field (Las Vegas)
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Vipers -5
Tickets: As low as $10 on SITickets.com*
Three Things to Watch
1. Guardians building momentum?
Despite the 28-point loss to Houston, there were some encouraging signs for Orlando. The offense finished with a season-high 349 yards, which is nearly 100 yards more than the team's season average (253.3) through the first three games. Paxton Lynch seems to be settling in after a rough start. He had two touchdown passes last week after totaling two through the first three games. He's also done a good job of minimizing mistakes with just one interception so far. The offensive line must do its part, as Houston sacked Lynch four times, and the ground game needs to increase its production (85.0 ypg, just one TD). Another area the Guardians need to be cognizant of is penalties. They had 13 called on them last week. Self-inflicted mistakes are exacerbated when it comes to teams that don't have much margin for error in the first place.
2. Vipers' QB situation
Both Brett Hundley and Luis Perez have taken their fair share at snaps under center for Vegas this season. Hundley seemed to have taken over as the starter, but he suffered a hamstring injury last week and was replaced by Perez, who put up decent numbers albeit in a losing effort. It will be interesting to see which signal-caller gets the nod for this game, assuming Hundley's hamstring is still not an issue.
For the season, Perez has put up better numbers as a passer (533 yds., 5 TDs, 3 INTs) whereas Hundley has been more effective as a runner, ranking second on the team with 90 rushing yards. He's also tossed two touchdown passes without an interception. Hundley has lost two fumbles, so the turnovers are just about even. Both quarterbacks have had their moments, so if both are deemed healthy to play on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how head coach Rod Woodson handles the rotation, or if there is one. Whoever gets the snaps should be able to find some success against an Orlando defense that is dead last in the league in points allowed per game at 29.2
3. Vegas' defense still looking for its bite
The main issue for the Vipers through the first four games is their defense. They rank either last or second to last in all four major defensive categories, giving up 25.5 points and 366.8 yards per game. Some of this can be attributed to playing undefeated D.C. twice already, but the Defenders like to punish teams on the ground and Vegas has had plenty of issues slowing down passing attacks (209.8 ypg) too. The Vipers will try and pressure Lynch to disrupt his rhythm and force him into some poor throws, but they have generated seven sacks and only two interceptions through four games. Vegas is second in the league in tackles for a loss, so this defense is capable of coming up with some negative plays that could force Orlando's offense to have to work harder to put together drives that produce points.
You can expect to see the best effort possible from both teams because they must realize this is their best chance to win this season, especially for Orlando. Look for the Guardians to keep the game competitive for a while in the first half, as they will cause some issues for Vegas on offense. However, the Vipers will make some quality adjustments and get into a rhythm as the game unfolds in the second half. In the end, Vegas puts an end to its winless start by making fewer mistakes to secure a much-needed victory.
Prediction: Vipers 26, Guardians 22
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.
*Price as of publication.