The XFL is officially back. Week One of the 2023 season has arrived and is in the books. As is typical in any football league, half the teams are undefeated after a week of play; the other half are winless. So there are plenty of knee-jerk doom and gloom reactions to go around.
It’s challenging to make declarations of power after only four games. However, at least we have something to work off now after finally seeing these eight new teams in play.
Here is how I feel all eight XFL teams stack up after the opening weekend.
XFL 2023: Week One Power Rankings
1: Houston Roughnecks
The Roughnecks are coming off a predictable but dominating performance over the Guardians at TDECU Stadium. Houston trounced Orlando 33-12. And if not for a controversial tie goes to the runner Cody Latimer touchdown early on; the game would have been even more lopsided on the scoreboard.
Wade Phillps and Brian Stewart’s defense came to play. They sacked the hapless Guardians seven times and forced three interceptions. One side was playing chess, the other checkers. A.J. Smith’s ‘Mike Leach’ dubbed offense on the ESPN/FX broadcast still has kinks to iron out as the season progresses. However, the Roughnecks’ offensive attack showed potential for growth as the season moves forward. Houston has some rising stars like RB Max Borghi and WR Jontre Kirklin, who look like NFL-bound players.
Houston has an extra day of rest as they prepare to meet another 1-0 Texas team, the Renegades Sunday at home.
2: D.C. Defenders
The Defenders found a way to slither themselves to victory, Beer Snake or not. For parts of Sunday Night’s 22-18 triumph over Seattle. It felt like week one would leave a sour taste on the Defenders 2023 relaunch. But D.C.’s crowd and Gregg Williams’s defense made lemons out of lemonade after appearing to be on the ropes early on.
The Sea Dragons came out on fire early, blazing their way to two scores in the first quarter. But the Defenders feeding off the energy of a rabid fan base, turned the momentum in their favor late in the game. You almost want to reserve a spot in the power rankings for the D.C. fans, who were a deciding factor in the outcome.
D.C.’s offense was mostly down all night. They struggled to have consistency in their passing attack. But, despite its struggles, Fred Kaiss’s offensive attack stayed true to their diversified ground game. D’Eriq King played a huge role in the victory and will be hard to keep off the field. It wasn’t pretty, but the Defenders have the makings of being the league’s most balanced squad.
D.C. heads to Vegas this Saturday night to square off with the Vipers at Cashman Field. It’s too bad they can’t bring their crowd with them. The Defenders remain undefeated at Audi Field now at 4-0.
3: St. Louis Battlehawks
No one had a more exciting victory in the XFL’s opening weekend than the St. Louis Battlehawks.
For most of their game at San Antonio. The Battlehawks were listless on offense and outplayed by Hines Ward’s team in front of the biggest XFL crowd of the weekend at the Alamodome.
However, St. Louis caught some breaks to keep hope alive. As evidenced by the combination of a dropped touchdown pass and a shanked short-field goal by the Brahmas before the end of the first half.
The missteps by San Antonio left St. Louis an opening, and they seized several moments to score an improbable 18-15 win.
It was an impressive feat by rookie head coach Anthony Becht’s bunch. The neophyte leader and his staff handled the end of the game expertly. The XFL’s unique comeback rules and the Battlehawks’ tremendous clock management helped propel St. Louis. And their anointed quarterback, A.J. McCarron, rewarded the team’s faith by showing why he was specifically chosen to lead their team.
The Battlehawks have a short week upcoming. They play at Seattle this coming Thursday night. But they have already shown that they can handle adversity on the road and are battle-tested. St.Louis passed a big test in Week 1.
The Renegades’ defense saved the day for Arlington against Vegas. If not for Jay Hayes and Tim Lewis’s brilliant second-half adjustments. Bob Stoops’s squad was headed for an ugly loss at home. Two defensive scores by Arlington’s defense helped the Renegades ride to a 22-20 home dub.
Arlington was brutally conservative on offense, sticking with a short passing attack that wasn’t complimented very well by their ground game. Drew Plitt was efficient (19/25) but failed to challenge the Vipers down the field. The Ball State rookie could be on a short leash with Kyle Sloter waiting in the wings if Arlington’s offensive struggles continue.
The Renegades are headed to Houston for a Texas Throwdown this Sunday Night. The winner will remain unbeaten, and Arlington will attempt to thwart the Roughnecks’ league-winning undefeated streak at 6-0.
5: Seattle Sea Dragons
The Dragons should be 1-0. They started hot, then rallied late, and appeared to be on the verge of a last-second victory before Ben Dinucci fumbled at the goal line with seconds left.
Seattle outgained D.C. 331 to 177 and still lost 22-18.
Seattle’s defense smothered D.C.’s offensive attack. But turnovers that led to unfavorable field position allowed D.C. to steal a victory. The same way Audi Field security confiscated the beer snake from fans.
On paper, the Sea Dragons are a contender to win it all. They have a seasoned coaching staff and a quality passing attack, and Josh Gordon had a great league debut (6-74-1td). Seattle’s defense and special teams look solid as well. But the way they lost in week one is alarming.
The Sea Dragons need to wipe their demoralizing defeat off the slate quickly. They face off with a St. Louis team on Thursday, who did the opposite of Seattle by coming through in the clutch when it mattered most.
6: Vegas Vipers
Rod Woodson’s Vegas squad let the Arlington Renegades off the hook with backbreaking mistakes. The Vipers got off to a 14-3 halftime lead but lost control of the game in the second half.
There were some positives for Vegas. The Vipers made some plays in their passing attack, early and late. And Cris Dishman’s defense was phenomenal. Vic Beasley was a star in his XFL debut.
However, like the Dragons on Sunday night. Vegas found a way to lose by letting their opponent roll snake eyes when the chips were down.
The Vipers have a home game upcoming against the Defenders this Saturday. Rod Woodson and his squad will be angry, looking to strike back at Cashman Field.
7. San Antonio Brahmas
The Brahmas have no one to blame but themselves for their improbable 18-15 loss at home to St. Louis.
For most of Sunday afternoon’s game, San Antonio kept hitting St. Louis with body blows but failed to knock them out. The Brahmas kept the Battlehawks in the game by tripping over their own feet on several occasions.
Jim Herrmann’s defense nearly pitched a shutout and held the Battlehawks to under 100 yards after three quarters. The script called for an ugly win in beautiful San Antonio. But the 24,000 fans on hand saw their new team fall apart in the game’s deciding final chapter.
The positive for San Antonio coming off a brutal loss is that they are facing a get-right opponent in Week 2 in the Guardians. Albeit on the road in Orlando this Sunday on ESPN.
8. Orlando Guardians
The consensus favorite to be the league’s worst team heading into the XFL 2023 season didn’t disappoint.
To quote the late great Dennis Green. The Guardians are who we thought they were.
The Orlando Guardians were outclassed by the Roughnecks players and, more specifically, their coaches on Saturday night. The 33-12 loss to Houston feels like the start of what is shaping up to be a brutal season for Terrell Buckley’s Orlando squad.
In their defense, the Guardians on that side of the ball with defensive coordinator Tony Carter did show some promise. And Orlando’s collection of skill players on offense has some promise. There’s still uncertainty with them at quarterback. But the team’s offensive line, which allowed seven sacks to Houston, is the worst overall unit in the league. Deondre Francois, if he gets the nod at QB, better suit up with some extra padding in Orlando’s home opener against San Antonio.
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