- The gameplay was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. Unlike the AAF, which at times was incredibly slow paced, the pacing of XFL games felt akin to the NFL. The league featured extensive passing, which is expected considering the league’s inexperienced offensive line corps. Only 3 rushing touchdowns were scored league-wide during Week 1, compared to 12 passing touchdowns. It will be curious to see if these passing-centric playbooks continue over the course of the season or if teams rely more on running backs as the offensive linemen improve.
- The first weekend of play featured nearly every fan favorite play. In the opening game between the Seattle Dragons and DC Defenders, Defenders cornerback Elijah Campbell blocked a punt, which was recovered by teammate Jonathan Celestin in the endzone for a touchdown. Later in that game, Defenders cornerback Bradley Sylve intercepted a pass intended for Austin Proehl and returned it for a pick six. At the end of the first half, Defenders placekicker Tyler Rausa successfully kicked a 54 yard field goal. And the most exciting play of the game occured in the third quarter when a fleaflicker pitch resulted in Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones connecting with Khari Lee for a 39 yard touchdown. All of these exciting plays occurred in a single game, more than many NFL games.
- The rule changes that separate the XFL from the NFL were largely dormant during Week 1. After scoring a touchdown, teams generally went for the standard one extra point. There were only 8 two point attempts, with only three of them being successful. No team attempted a three point conversion during Week 1. The modified kick off, although successful in limiting touchbacks (only 2 occured all weekend), did not result in any major gains as expected. And not a single head coach had the guts to attempt the fabled double pass. In future weeks, I will be watching to see if any team has the guts to attempt a three point conversion or double pass.
- A goal of the XFL from day one was to have quicker games. At the very first press conference which publicly announced the league, Vince McMahon said he wanted the league to have “less stall, more ball”. Although McMahon originally aimed for an average game to be under two hours, Commissioner Oliver Luck said that they are aiming for games to be under a more reasonable 2 hours and 45 minutes. In the first week of play, they were unable to reach that goal, with games coming out to an average length of 2 hours and 56 minutes. This is slightly shorter than the average NFL game (Around 10 minutes shorter to be precise), but still a far cry from the innovation that the league’s executives had in mind before the season. I imagine the average length will shorten slightly over the next few weeks as players, officials and broadcasters become more accustomed to the XFL’s modified rules, but I don’t anticipate it making much of an impact.
- The one rule change that was very successful was the modified punting rules. Under the XFL rulebook, any punts that go out of bounds or into the endzone are treated as a touchback and placed on the 35 yard line. This incentives coaches to go for it on 4th and short, when they might have elected to punt otherwise. In the DC-Seattle game, Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton faced a 4th and 6 with the ball on the Dragons’ 31 yard line. In the NFL, a coach might attempt to coffin corner a punt, pinning the opening team near their endzone, but preventing the possibility of a return. Under the XFL’s punting rules, all coffin corners would result in a touchback, where the ball is placed on the 35-yard line. In this situation, it would have been more strategic to take a turnover on downs, or a knee for a loss of yards, than risk punting the ball out of bounds or into the endzone. As a result, Hamilton decided to go for it on 4th and 6, which resulted in a 31 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rashad Ross. Thanks to the XFL’s modified punting rules, an otherwise boring and routine play was replaced with one of the most exciting of the game.
- The attendance and television viewership were both solid. All four games featured a billed attendance between 17,000 and 18,000 fans, with the league averaging 17,454 fans per game (HOU: 17,815; NY: 17,634; DAL: 17,206; DC: 17,163). This is slightly less than the 19,210 fans that the AAF averaged during Week 1 last season, but is comparable to the average attendance at an NBA or NHL game. The television viewership averaged 3.12 million viewers, which is quite decent for an upstart league. Last year, the AAF averaged 2.9 million viewers during its first week. The opening game between the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons, which was broadcast nationally on ABC, averaged 3.30 million viewers. Saturday’s late game between the Los Angeles Wildcats and Houston Roughnecks averaged 3.29 million on FOX. The most viewed game of the weekend occured on Sunday for Fox’s coverage of the New York Guardians vs Tampa Bay Vipers, which averaged 3.39 million viewers. The final game on Sunday between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Dallas Renegades was broadcast on ESPN and received 2.50 million viewers, slightly less than the other three games since it was the league’s lone cable game. The three games on broadcast television ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, among this weekend’s live sporting events, behind only the PGA Tour on CBS. Notably, those three games surpassed ESPN’s coverage of Duke vs North Carolina men’s basketball and the Lakers vs Warriors game on ABC. The question remains if the league can match, or even improve, its decent attendance and viewership numbers over the course of the season. I will keep an eye on the billed attendance for the home openers in Seattle and St. Louis. Both cities are expected to draw a large number of fans and have even opened up more sections for seating during their upcoming games (Both the Dragons and Battlehawks play in NFL, or former-NFL, stadiums and are only selling tickets in certain sections of the stadium). Reportably, the Seattle Dragons expect to surpass 20,000 spectators, while the St. Louis Battlehawks are expecting over 25,000 fans in attendance. If the original XFL and last year’s AAF are any indication, the television viewership will almost certainly drop off during Week 2 as the league’s novelty wears off for many fans. Best case scenario, the XFL retains an average viewership of 2.5 million fans for its Week 2 slate of games, and then slowly grows its viewership over the remainder of the season.
- Although I was initially skeptical, I enjoyed the in-game interviews with players. I found that these moments humanized the players and added personality to the broadcasts. In an upstart league with very few household names (Cardale Jones and Aaron Murray are the only two who come to mind) these interviewers are an ingenious method of helping fans get to know the players. Additionally, in an era where fans expect professional athletes to be infallible, these interviews work wonders in humanizing the players. Also, they aid in investing in storylines over the course of games. For example, consider Tyler Rausa, the placekicker for the DC Defenders. Early in the second quarter, Rausa missed a 35 yard field goal that would have tied the game. Immediately after the kick, sideline reporter Dianna Russini asked him about his mindset. Because of that interview, fans were especially proud of Rausa when he nailed a 54 yard kick later in the game. Finally, the in-game interviews are opportunities for the occasional gem, such as Seattle center Dillon Day’s inadvertent profanity after Day was penalized for an on-field skirmish.
- Continuing off of the last topic, Pat McAfee as an XFL sideline reporter for ESPN is incredible to watch. McAfee, the former All-Pro punter for the Indianapolis Colts, was ESPN’s ears on the field for Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Dallas Renegades. Throughout the game, he interviewed players, coaches and even found time to speak with XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck and Troy Aikman, the three time Super Bowl champion quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. McAfee’s best moment came of the evening came in the third quarter during a punt from the Battlehawk’s Marquette King. On Fourth & 4, St. Louis elected to punt from their own 37 yard line. King blasts the ball over 60 yards and it comes to rest right on Dallas’ 2 yard line, a near perfect punt. McAfee is gushing about how beautiful the kick was when Battlehawks linebacker Steve Beauharnais pushed it into the endzone, causing a touchback and placing the ball at Dallas’ 35 yard line. McAfee, ESPN’s undisputed punting expert, was outraged and instantly said “I'm going to go talk to that guy”. True to his word, mere seconds later, he got the scoop from Beauharnais (who claimed that he thought the Dallas returner had touched the ball, making it live). McAfee’s position as both a former player and fan of the game at heart makes him a perfect sideline reporter (I believe this reasoning is similar to why Tony Romo has seen so much success as Color Commentator for CBS). During Week 2, McAfee will be covering the 3:00 game on Sunday between the Dallas Renegades and the Los Angeles Wildcats, which will be broadcast on ABC. I am excited to follow McAfee’s commentary over the course of the season and to see if his stint with the XFL becomes a stepping stone for his career.
- In my opinion, the league’s other broadcast innovation, allowing fans to hear play calls in real time, was not as successful. Before the first game, I was pretty excited about this, as I thought it would allow fans to be tipped off about what is happening. However, as I should have expected, the coaches communicated in coded phrases, and might as well have been speaking German. Maybe this has a chance to go viral in future weeks with a repeat of Peyton Manning’s 2015 “Omaha” trend, but for now, this addition will be appreciated by few.
- The XFL is dominating their social media presence. The XFL is going to see much success if it can engage fans, particularly a younger audience, through social media. And so far, the league is doing a fantastic job. Even before the first kickoff, team accounts were forming rivalries with each other. In one poorly-aged tweet, the official Dallas Renegades account posted “@XFLBattleHawks QUICK! Re-post this while it’s still relevant for you!” and included a photo from @XFLonFOX which listed every team as undefeated (The Battlehawks went on to beat the Renegades 15-9). During games, accounts post highlights, scoring updates and interviews with players and fans. And these accounts are unafraid to break the norms of professional sports by posting memes about their opponents. One particularly schathing gif posted by the DC Defenders instagram account after their victory over the Seattle Dragons showed a video from Seattle's famous Pike’s Place fish market. The gif had a giant “L” superimposed over a fish, which was being tossed from a Defenders fisherman to a Dragons fisherman. To close out the weekend, the main XFL account posted “NFL Red Zone”-esque clip on Instagram showing every single touchdown of the entire weekend. The XFL’s social media presence enhanced my engagement with the games and players.
- Finally, it would be a disservice to ignore the intangibles that made the weekend chaotic and unpredictable, yet awesome for fans. In what other league would you see players on a winning team (the St. Louis Battlehawks in this instance) shotgunning hard seltzer in the locker room after a Week 1 victory? What about a receiver on the Dallas Renegades doing push-ups as a self punishment after dropping a pass? Los Angeles Wildcats running back Elijah Hood leaped over a Roughneck Defender on Saturday. And probably the most absurd moment of all occurred when Houston wide receiver Kahlil Lewis started projectile vomiting during an extra point attempt (Apparently, he just chugged some gatorade and was too excited after teammate Cam Phillips scored the first touchdown in Roughneck history). Buckle up, because this is going to be a wild season.
- Keep reading to see WCBN’s XFL power rankings, Players of the Week, MVP race standings, and our Week 2 game to watch.
To begin the season, P.J. Walker was absolutely dominant as quarterback of the Houston Roughnecks. Despite some early hiccups, Walker led his team on a 31-3 run as the Roughnecks trampled the Los Angeles Wildcats in the season opener. He finished the game with 4 passing touchdowns for 272 passing yards, with only one interception. Additionally, Walker showcased his speed by producing 26 yards on the ground. Other offensive players with noteworthy weeks were DC Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones, garnering a league high 92.2 passing grade and 87.5 adjusted completion percentage, on top of 2 touchdowns, 235 passing yards and 0 interceptions. Additionally St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta'amu had a dominant week in his win over the Dallas Renegades. Serving as a dual threat, Ta’amu finished the week with 1 passing touchdown, 209 passing yards and 77 rushing yards. Finally, Seattle Dragons wide receiver Austin Proehl made his case by scoring 2 touchdowns and accumulating 88 receiving yards in his team’s defeat at the hands of the Defenders.
Defensive Player of the Week: Bunmi Rotimi, DE, New York Guardians
New York Guardians defensive end Bunmi Rotimi was the strongest link of the XFL’s strongest defense. Through 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 5 sacks, the Guardians held Aaron Murray and the Tampa Bay Vipers to only 3 points. Rotimi finished the week with a league high 9 total tackles, 7 unassisted tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Teammate Jamar Summers also had a dominant week with a tackle and a strip six. Battlehawks cornerback Darius Hillary also finished the week with 9 tackles, 8 of them unassisted. Defenders cornerback Bradley Sylve also received a nod for his interception that he returned to the house for a touchdown.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Elijah Campbell, CB, DC Defenders
DC Defender cornerback Elijah Campbell earned special teams player of the week after he blocked Brock Miller’s punt attempt in the second quarter. After the block, teammate Jonathan Celestin secured the football in the endzone, resulting in the league’s first, and so far only, special teams touchdown. Honorable mentions go to St. Louis Battlehawks punter Marquette King who completed 5 punts total, for an average of 42.6 yards, including a near perfect one that caught the eye of Pat McAfee. It is worth mentioning Dallas Renegades kicker Austin MacGinnis, who successfully completed all 3 field goal attempts and scored all 9 of his team’s points. DC Defenders Tyler Rausa went 2/3 on field goals, including one from 54 yards as time expired in the first half.
1. Houston Roughnecks (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Win vs Los Angeles Wildcats (37-17)
Week 2 Matchup: vs St. Louis Battlehawks (+8), 6 p.m. ET Sunday, FS1
2. New York Guardians (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Win vs Tampa Bay Vipers (23-3)
Week 2 Matchup: at DC Defenders (-6.5), 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC
3. DC Defenders (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Win vs Seattle Dragons (31-19)
Week 2 Matchup: vs New York Guardians (+6.5), 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC
4. St. Louis Battlehawks (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Win at Dallas Renegades (15-9)
Week 2 Matchup: vs Houston Roughnecks (-8), 6 p.m. ET Sunday, FS1
5. Dallas Renegades (0-1)
Week 1 Result: Loss vs St. Louis Battlehawks (9-15)
Week 2 Matchup: at Los Angeles Wildcats (-4), 3 p.m. ET Sunday, ABC
6. Seattle Dragons (0-1)
Week 1 Result: Loss at DC Defenders (19-31)
Week 2 Matchup: vs Tampa Bay Vipers (-3), 5 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX
7. Los Angeles Wildcats (0-1)
Week 1 Result: Loss at Houston Roughnecks (17-37)
Week 2 Matchup: vs Dallas Renegades (-4), 3 p.m. ET Sunday, ABC
8. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-1)
Week 1 Result: Loss at New York Guardians (3-23)
Week 2 Matchup: at Seattle Dragons (+3), 5 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX
MVP Race Standings:
- P.J. Walker, Roughnecks QB (4 TD / 1 INT / 272 Passing Yards / 26 Rushing Yards)
- Cardale Jones, Defenders QB (2 TD / 0 INT / 235 Passing Yards / 28 Rushing Yards)
- Jordan Ta'amu, Battlehawks QB (1 TD / 0 INT / 209 Passing Yards / 77 Rushing Yards)
- Austin Proehl, Dragons WR (2 TD / 88 Receiving Yards)
- Brandon Silvers, Dragons QB (3 TD / 2 INT / 217 Passing Yards)
- Matt McGloin, Guardians QB (1 TD / 0 INT / 182 Passing Yards)
- Rashad Ross, Defenders WR (1 TD / 52 Receiving Yards)
- Cam Phillips, Roughnecks WR (1 TD / 67 Receiving Yards)
- Chad Kanoff, Wildcats QB (1 TD / 1 INT / 1 Rushing TD / 214 Passing Yards / 21 Rushing Yards)
- De’veon Smith, Vipers RB (0 TD / 79 Rushing Yards)
Week 2 Game to Watch:
DC Defenders (-6.5) vs New York Guardians
Saturday, February 15 -- 2:00 pm ET (ABC)
- On Saturday, the Guardians travel down I-95 to Audi Field to face the Defenders. Both teams are undefeated entering Week 2 and a win would place either team at a controlling spot on top of the east division standings. This will be a match up between the electric Defenders offense behind QB Cardale Jones and the Guardians’ stonewall defense that only surrendered 3 points in Week 1, in addition to 2 interceptions, 5 sacks and a fumble returned for a touchdown. This could be the first ever matchup in a longstanding rivalry, and certainly not a game that you will want to miss.