Feb 18, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) throws a pass against the Orlando Guardians in the fourth quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Houston Roughnecks at Orlando Guardians

The Matchup:

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

Game Time: Saturday, March 11, 2023, 6 p.m.


What’s at stake: Domination vs. survival.

For the Roughnecks, currently 3-0 and with wins over each divisional opponent, this week offers a chance to beat one of the league’s two winless teams, and not only stay unbeaten at 4-0 but have four division wins with only two division games remaining. The Roughnecks can essentially put a stranglehold on the division with another win in Week 4.

For the Guardians, their season is essentially on the brink. In a 10-game season, 0-3 is almost a death sentence. 0-4 is the equivalent of flatlining. They are coming off their best defensive effort of the season, but their offense only scored nine points, and their 33 points scored are easily the worst in the XFL.

When the Roughnecks have the ball: The Roughnecks like to sling it around in their version of the Mike Leach Air Raid offense. Quarterback Brandon Silvers is second in the XFL with 723 yards passing and is tied for the league lead in touchdowns with seven.

Wide receiver Jontre Kirklin is third in receiving yards with 204 through three games and is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns with three. He and Deontay Burnett (125 yds receiving, 2 TD) have given Houston a solid 1-2 punch atop a deep WR corps that features a lot of speed.

Running back Max Borghi is the XFL’s third-leading rusher with 143 yards, he has two rushing touchdowns and is also a weapon in the passing game.

When the Guardians have the ball: Paxton Lynch, once upon a time the 26th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, is still trying to find his footing. He was a late signee for the team and has struggled with consistency.

He has a pair of former NFL receivers at his disposal. Super Bowl champion Cody Latimer, a former second-round pick of the Broncos in 2014, is Orlando’s leading receiver with 155 yards and 2 TDs. He is expected to play despite being a nonparticipant in practice Thursday with a knee injury. Former Pittsburgh Steelers WR Eli Rogers has not made much impact on offense so far.

The running game has struggled to get going, as Jah-Maine Martin has had little room to operate (25 car, 96 yds, 0 TD). Paxton Lynch is actually the team’s second-leading rusher.

Key Roughnecks to watch:

RB Max Borghi: Borghi left Week 3’s game for a period of time with a knee injury, though he did return. He was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice but a full participant Thursday. He averaged 5.3 YPC in these two teams’ Week 1 matchup with a touchdown. If the passing game hits a dry spell, they could lean on Borghi more. He has shown burst and elusiveness.

QB Brandon Silvers: Silvers has run hot and cold within each game this season, playing well for stretches and then plying poorly for stretches. So far, his defense has been able to bail him out in those dry spells by forcing turnovers and making big plays. Silvers needs to find a consistent rhythm; he has the weapons that can make plays with the ball in their hands.

CB Ajene Harris: Harris has pulled down interceptions in two of the team’s three games, including an incredible interception last week that may have defied the laws of physics. He has shown speed on the outside and the toughness to fight hard for contested balls. He and Sean Davis have made for a tough, ball-hawking pair of corners. Both corners had interceptions against the Guardians in Week 1.

LB Trent Harris: Harris was a one-man wrecking machine in Week 1 against Orlando, recording four sacks and four tackles for loss. Orlando must find a way to block the speedy former NFL linebacker, or he could have another monster game that could put Paxton Lynch on the bench early yet again.

The Bottom Line: So far, the Roughnecks look like the class of the XFL. They are one of two undefeated teams remaining, and their +39-point differential is the best in the league by 17 points.

This will be Houston’s first game this season away from the friendly confines of TDECU Stadium, colloquially known as “The Rig” for Roughnecks home games.

Houston has allowed 12, 14, and 13 points so far this season, showing the ability to get pressure and force turnovers. Orlando has scored 12, 12, and 9 points offensively this season.

While Houston is listed as an 8.5-point favorite, this game shouldn’t even be that close, even though it will be Houston’s first road game of the season. Houston may be the best defense in the league, and Orlando is the worst offense so far. A Guardians win would likely be the biggest upset of the season. Don’t count on it, though; every matchup in this game favors Houston.

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