To get to an XFL championship game, The 9-1 Defenders will have to beat the 7-3 Dragons for a third time this season in a setting where they have never lost a game. Audi Field.
XFL North Championship Game, Sunday, April 30th, 3 PM ET, Audi Field, On ESPN
All odds courtesy of BetMGM
- Point Spread: Defenders -3
- Moneyline: Sea Dragons +145, Defenders -175
- Over/Under: 48.5
- Weather Forecast: Rain. Thunderstorms are possible…mainly in the afternoon. High 68F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%.
Defenders vs. Dragons Final Practice/Injury Report
All things considered, especially after playing ten straight weeks of games. The Defenders and Dragons are relatively healthy coming into Sunday. A week ago, D.C. sat three starting defensive backs, Michael Joseph, DeJuan Neal, and Kentrell Brice, in anticipation of having them healthy for this pivotal matchup against arguably the league’s best-receiving corps.
D.C. Defenders North Championship Game Preview
With all due respect to Saturday night’s South Championship game participants. A strong argument can be made that Sunday’s North Division Championship features the two best teams in the XFL. The winner of the Defenders-Dragons game will be heavy favorites to win the XFL Championship on Saturday, May 13th, in San Antonio.
Each of the Defenders’ two meetings with the Dragons this season were decided in the closing seconds, with plays nearing the endzone. D.C. took chapter one, forcing a Ben DiNucci fumble near the goal line to preserve a 22-18 victory.
In Week 8, the Defenders and Sea Dragons combined for a wild 30-point fourth quarter, which saw D.C. edge out Seattle 34-33. The Dragons had an opportunity to surge ahead for the victory, but a Santos Ramirez sack thwarted their two-point attempt with 31 seconds left. Seattle would attempt to convert a 4th and 15 try to retain possession, but the Defenders held firm again. It was arguably the most exciting game of the XFL season.
There’s a lot of pressure on the 9-1 Defenders to win this Sunday at home, notwithstanding the fact that it’s always challenging to beat a team for a third time. The finality of the playoffs can be cruel. With all the good vibes attached to Reggie Barlow’s squad, a nine-win season can be washed away with a singular loss. Losing the most important game of your existence in a place where you have never lost. (8-0 at Audi Field), would be a demoralizing way for D.C. to end their season.
How the Defenders handle their matchup with Jim Haslett’s Sea Dragons is a significant part of the battle. However, how D.C. handles the heightened playoff pressure attached to Sunday’s game will determine whether they head to San Antonio.
Keys To A D.C. Defenders North Championship Victory
It’s no secret that opposing XFL teams have tried all season desperately to stop the D.C. Defenders’ top-ranked by-a-hundred-miles rushing attack.
After Abram Smith broke out and rushed for nearly 400 yards in a two-week stretch against St. Louis and Orlando, teams have slowed down the league’s leading rusher in the season’s final three weeks.
Back in Week 8, the Sea Dragons held Abram Smith, who rushed for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns in ten games, to 66 yards on 17 carries.
However, what the all-out nature of halting Smith has done all season, and particularly of late, is create easy passing windows for Jordan Ta’amu and his talented receivers.
Ron Zook’s Dragons defense saw that first-hand in Seattle three weeks ago. As Jordan Ta’amu played a highly efficient game against them, throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns.
Also, in their last meeting, Seattle tried to stop Lucky Jackson’s good fortune, but Chris Blair burned their single coverage with five receptions for 148 yards and a score. Jordan Ta’amu’s play fakes and mastery of Fred Kaiss’ offense must continue on Sunday for the Defenders to get to the promised land.
For all the hype attached to their offense. And rightfully so. Seattle is in the playoffs on the 5th tie-breaker over St. Louis because they boasted the best-scoring defense in the XFL. Allowing 177 points.
There are a few different ways you accomplish that points against feat. Your offense has to avoid putting the defense in a bad position field-wise. But when it comes to Seattle’s success in limiting opponents’ scoring, the unit that has heavily aided them is Ty Knott’s special teams.
The Defenders got a boost in Week 10 with Pooka Williams returning kicks. He had a 79-yard return against San Antonio. But against Seattle, those types of plays will be challenging to execute.
The Dragons have won the field position battle all year, producing big plays in the return and block games. Seattle has four kicks blocked and could have had at least seven this season.
What D.C. needs to avoid in the NDC are special teams’ mishaps. The Defenders have gotten away with TE Trae Berry as their long snapper. The operation hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s worked. Against the Dragons, any loose slip-ups could sink D.C.’s ship.
Speaking of sinking, Gregg Williams’s ultra-aggressive defense has had its fair share of struggles defending the pass in recent weeks. In their last five games, the Defenders have allowed each opponent to throw for over 300 yards. In the previous two weeks, Luis Perez (335 yards) and Jack Coan (312 yards) found plenty of openings in D.C.’s secondary. The boom or bust aspect of the Defenders’ defense sometimes busts.
Ben DiNucci, when he last faced the Defenders, threw for 301 yards and three scores. Seattle not only finished the season with the league’s top passing attack, with DiNucci setting an all-time XFL passing yardage total with 2,671 yards. But the Dragons boasted four of the top eleven leaders in receiving yards. Jahcour Pearson, Josh Gordon, Juwann Green, and Blake Jackson combined for 2,070 yards and 16 touchdowns.
To deal with Seattle’s lethal passing attack. The Defenders’ pass rush needs to get home against a Dragons offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks all season on a mind-numbing 376 pass attempts, or they must force a trigger-happy Ben DiNucci into turnovers. (18 in ten games).
What could aid D.C., besides being at home on Sunday, is the weather forecast. Right now, the early word is that rain is expected throughout Sunday’s game. That could play directly into D.C.’s favor, which is more equipped to play in slop fest-like conditions.
When life gives you lemonade, The D.C. Defenders and their rabid fans turned it into lemons this season. The rain might dampen the crowd. But a loss on Sunday will do much worse to their spirits.
Seattle was my preseason pick to win the XFL Championship, and there’s no turning back now. The D.C. Defenders will lose their first-ever game at Audi Field on Sunday to the Dragons. And their chance at an XFL championship in 2023.
XFL 2023 North Championship Prediction: Seattle Sea Dragons 26 D.C. Defenders 19
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