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Tampa Bay Vipers and XFL ready for reboot this weekend

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the reboot of wrestling promoter Vince McMahon’s XFL Spring football league, and it gets set to take to the field for the first time in 19 years. And, with one of the eight franchises in Tampa Bay, we’re interested and are left with some early questions to be answered.

Those would be questions about the teams like: how good they are, and who really should be favored against whom, much less to win the championship in April?

As for the Tampa Bay Vipers, they will not only represent the “Sunshine State,” but the Southeastern part of the United States with other franchises in New York, St Louis, Dallas, and L.A. to name a few. The eight teams are broken into two divisions and will battle over a 10 game schedule. They will then play two weekends of playoffs to decide the title in April.

So, now we take a look at what Vegas thinks early on about the league and who is favored to not only win the whole thing but specifically, the week one matchups? It’s tricky, because most everyone has nothing to go on in terms of preseason games etc.

The Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas has installed the Dallas Renegades, coached by former Oklahoma National Champion college coach Bob Stoops, as the favorite to win it all at 5 – 2. The Vipers, being coached by former Bears boss and CFL Grey Cup winning coach Marc Trestman are in a group of teams with New York and Houston that are 5 to 1.

Meanwhile, the best value starting the re-boot season to win the XFL Championship is the Seattle franchise being coached by former Seahawks great Jim Zorn, as they are 16 – 1.

And, that brings us to the opening weekend, the Seattle Dragons and Washington D.C. Defenders will make XFL history by playing the first XFL game, since the LA. Extreme held up the XFL Championship Trophy in April of 2001. The Dragons and the Defenders tee it up in the nation’s capital at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday on ABC.

The second game of the XFL first doubleheader has the L.A. Wildcats, (yes, we checked and Goldie Hawn is not the head coach) playing at the Houston Roughnecks in a game that will be televised at 5 p.m. on Fox

That leads us to the Vipers and their first ever game on the road against the New York Guardians at the Meadowlands, which will also be on Fox Sunday at 2 pm.

As we wrote previously this week, the Vipers definitely have a lot of Florida ties in finalizing their roster. and recognizable names for trestman’s roster. Those include Tampa native and former Georgia QB, Aaron Murray, and USF record breaking dual threat QB Quinton Flowers (above) being the most prominent.

The Guardians are being quarterbacked by former Penn State signal-caller and Oakland Raider Matt McGloin, and for what it’s worth, the Westgate Sportsbook installed New York as a 2.5 Point favorite in this one.

The final matchup of the first weekend will feature the Saint Louis Battlehawks vs. the league favorite Dallas Renegades. That game will be televised on ESPN late Sunday afternoon with the Renegades are 8.5 Point favorites to win.

How will the quality of play be? That’s a very good question.

Will the league financially survive, unlike its predecessor the Alliance of American Football last year at this time? The AAF reportedly ran out of money almost from the time it began its regular season last Feburary and ceased operations after only eight of their scheduled 10 weeks of the regular season.

Likely, McMahon won’t let that happen here, and now it’s time to see if his 2020 version of XFL catches on Tampa and the other cites.

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Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.

First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.

That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.

The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.

Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.

And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001.  That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.

However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.

Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.

At least, that’s what we think.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

Florida Football Insiders

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.

Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.

The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.

However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.

Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.

Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.

The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.

Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.

The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.

The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.

However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.

And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.

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