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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks (3-0) Week 4 Preview/Prediction

After taking down the San Antonio Brahmas 22-13 on Sunday, the Houston Roughnecks will look to move to 4-0 on the season this weekend when they travel to Orlando. This will be Houston’s second matchup against the Guardians (first being the season opener), and will also be the fourth straight divisional opponent the Roughnecks face. The biggest change for the team this week is playing away, as each of the past three games have taken place at home. Let’s take a closer look at how the Roughnecks can remain at the top of the South division.

Houston Roughnecks (3-0) at Orlando Guardians (0-3)

Time: Saturday, March 11th, 6:00PM CST

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Florida

Television Broadcast: FX

Weather Forecast: 73°F with clear skies expected, winds up to 7 mph

Betting Odds (per DraftKings Sportsbook):

Moneyline: HOU -390/ORL +320

Spread: HOU -9/ORL +9

Over/Under (points): 37.5

News & Notes

The Roughnecks made a handful of roster moves, which started by cutting wide receiver Davion Davis prior to the Brahmas game. Davis’ release came at his own request, as he did not catch a pass through two games and saw most of his action on special teams. Defensive back Alexander Myres, a University of Houston alum, was added to the reserve list. To fill in the vacant roster spots, the Roughnecks brought back both David Tolentino and Caliph Brice, who participated in training camp and were let go during the initial roster cutdown. Tolentino, who is a defensive back, played college football at Grand View, and his story was featured in the first episode of ESPN’s docuseries “Player 54: Chasing the XFL Dream.” Brice, a linebacker, played college football at Florida Atlantic, and signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2022.

Injury Report

As of Thursday, March 9th, the only player listed on the Roughnecks’ injury report was running back Max Borghi. Borghi suffered an awkward knee injury in the win over San Antonio, but was able to finish the game and performed well. After initially being limited, Borghi has been upgraded to full participation in practice at the time this article is being written, and he is officially probable to play on Saturday night. 

Depth Chart

There are a handful of minor changes to the Roughnecks’ depth chart worth talking about for this week, starting with the new additions on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Aaron Donkor, who played on special teams last week in his first game for Houston, is listed behind Emmanuel Ellerbee at the “Mike” spot. The other new linebacker, Caliph Brice, finds himself behind Tavante Beckett at the “MO” spot. Finally, David Tolentino slots in at CB3 behind Ajene Harris and Will Likely, although he will be inactive for this contest having joined the squad mid-week. 

On offense, Travell Harris has regained his starting job from week one, after missing week two due to injury and catching two passes in his week three return. Cedric Byrd will also start over Ben Putman, as Putman led the team in catches and yards in week two but did not have the same production last week. Lastly, Brycen Alleyne has swapped spots with Dejoun Lee at RB2, after a strong performance against the Brahmas when Lee was inactive. 

Keys to Victory

Second Half Momentum: While the Roughnecks have proven they can win games early, there was a significant drop of production on offense against the Brahmas, one that seemed a bit too close for comfort even with Houston maintaining control and getting the job done. It’s hard to put a limit on what this offense can do, but making proper second-half adjustments could make any game more comfortable. The Guardians should not be a team to worry about, so setting the tone for future matchups (especially on the road) will be extremely beneficial. 

Ground and Pound: While this offense is centered around the passing game (both short and long), the rushing attack looked fresh in week three. It’s no secret that the running back room is talented, and while it may not be as deep as some other teams for obvious reasons, it could still be a useful weapon to some extent. Assuming the Roughnecks get another early lead on Orlando, letting Borghi and Alleyne take control in the second half could be a fun experiment, and the ball can still be thrown as both backs have proven they can catch. This is a team that will throw first regardless of down or time left on the clock, but so far, that ideology has put more pressure on the defense later in games than it probably should. 

Special Teams: I could have talked about the defense here, but after their impressive stand against the Brahmas, I figured I would talk about the special teams unit. Compared to week two, when Will Likely fumbled twice on punt returns, the special teams group looked better in week three, but could still use a bit of improvement. The Roughnecks gave up a long kickoff return on the first play of the game, which resulted in the Brahmas scoring early and Houston having to come from behind (as they also did in week one). Additionally, Hunter Duplessis missed his only field goal attempt of the night, which fell short from 53 yards out. These are only minor hiccups, and while they have yet to severely affect the outcome of any Roughnecks game, it’s better to demonstrate change early rather than waiting for a dire moment.

Game Prediction

After defeating the Guardians by 21 points in the season opener, Houston looks poised to put on a similar performance in week four. While Orlando has home field advantage this time around, they remain the only winless team in the XFL alongside the Vegas Vipers, and it sure doesn’t look like the Roughnecks are going to be the opponent that allows them to fix their problems. The Guardians played a tough game against Arlington last week, but the Renegades got the last laugh, escaping with a 10-9 victory. 

There is no reason for the Roughnecks to lose this one. They look better than the Guardians in just about every single way, and while many would label this as a “trap game,” the same could have been said for Houston’s matchups against Arlington and San Antonio. If the Roughnecks do indeed advance to 4-0, it would look good not just for playoff hopes, but for the rest of the road trip that Houston will have to complete. 

Instead of returning home after week four, the team will travel across the country to Seattle for an early week five game, and then back the other direction to DC for week six. It certainly won’t be easy, but being undefeated is one of the biggest “flexes” you can have. Ultimately, this should be a relatively stress-free trip down to Florida, and as long as no one lets their guard down, the Seattle game should already be a main focal point given the quick turnaround time.

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Football journalist/scout/future coach covering the Houston Roughnecks. Air Raid/Run-and-Shoot enthusiast.

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