Just one game stands in the way of the DC Defenders from completing an impressive run to the 2023 XFL Championship. With only one loss by a single point, the Defenders (10-1) only need to beat the Arlington Renegades (5-6) to claim the title for this season.
The Defenders are a 6.5-point favorite at the XFL odds boards, with a total of 48 points. The game will be played on a neutral site in San Antonio, the same venue the Brahmas play at.
We are going to review the two teams this season, take a look back at their only meeting in Week 9, and give our betting advice for this championship game, which you can find betting markets for at many of the US sportsbooks.
Arlington Renegades vs. DC Defenders
Saturday, May 13, 2023 – 08:00 PM EDT at Alamodome
This is a unique matchup for a league championship game when one team was clearly the best in the league while the other had a losing record in the regular season. But here we are after one round of the playoffs that already saw the Renegades pull off one upset.
DC Defenders: Top Quarterback, Top Offense
Before the XFL season started, the DC Defenders had the worst odds (+650 at Bovada) to win the XFL Championship at certain sportsbooks. Incredibly, expectations were this low for head coach Reggie Barlow’s team despite having one of the more accomplished quarterbacks in Jordan Ta’amu.
The Defenders jumped out to a 2-0 start behind some low-scoring wins over Seattle and Vegas. But starting in Week 3, the Defenders were establishing what would become the best offense in the XFL this year by a wide margin.
The running game was what carried the Defenders early in the year as they were far and away the most prolific ground attack in the league as most teams struggled with their offensive line cohesion. But the Defenders were putting up big numbers on the ground.
But in the second half of the season, things started to change with the Defenders. Ta’amu was becoming more comfortable in the passing game and started to carry the offense on days when the running game was no longer ripping off 150-plus yards with ease. The points kept coming anyway, and the Defenders finished the season with a league-best 29.8 points per game.
However, the defense had some struggles and allowed the third-most points in the league at 24 points per game. Things really soured in Week 7 when the Defenders lost their only game, 37-36, to the winless Orlando Guardians. It would be the only game the Defenders lost this season and the only game the Guardians would win. The Defenders missed a 63-yard field goal at the end of that 37-36 loss.
But the defense also had some crucial stops late in the season, including a 2-point conversion against Seattle in a 34-33 win in Week 8. The Defenders won their last three games of the regular season by a combined 4 points.
Ta’amu and Defenders Dominate the Season
Ta’amu was named Offensive Player of the Year with a league-best 8.3 yards per pass attempt and 39.3% of his passes going for a first down. He has 14 touchdowns to 3 interceptions and finished No. 3 in passing yards (1,894). Barlow was also named the Coach of the Year.
While there was some concern about the running game and defense going into the playoff showdown with Seattle, the Defenders came through big in the 37-21 win in the semifinals. Seattle was completely one-dimensional, with just 2 rushing attempts by non-quarterbacks, yet the Sea Dragons only had 17 first downs and 291 yards of offense.
Ta’amu threw a pair of interceptions, but he still led his offense to 29 first downs and 37 points despite little help from the running game (30 carries for 73 yards), and he was facing the No. 1 scoring defense in Seattle.
Now, the Defenders have drawn an Arlington team that has a lesser offense and defense than Seattle.
Arlington Renegades: A Trade to Remember (Maybe)
The Renegades had the 3rd-best odds (+400 at Bovada) coming into the season to win it all. They were the only team returning the same head coach, Bob Stoops, from the 2020 XFL season.
Despite a 2-1 start, it was clear the Renegades needed help offensively. Even in Week 1, the Renegades barely made it to a 22-20 comeback win over Vegas thanks to the defense intercepting two passes for touchdowns. Oddly enough, the quarterback they picked off twice for scores was Luis Perez.
On March 28, the Renegades traded for Perez, but he was unable to play until Week 8. With Arlington’s offense failing to score more than 15 points in the first seven games this season, giving Perez a shot was a necessity. His first start was an 18-16 win over Orlando. He had an admirable effort in a loss to the Defenders in Week 9 that we will go over in the next section, and he had a rough finish in Week 10 against Houston in a game where both teams knew they would meet in the playoffs a week later.
The Playoff Upset
But in that playoff game, Arlington was a considerable underdog. The Renegades are the lowest-scoring team in the XFL at 14.6 points per game, but the defense is at least middle of the road, ranked No. 4 in points allowed (19.4). But the scoring numbers can be misleading since Perez only started 30% of the games for the team in the regular season.
In that playoff game, the Arlington offensive line protected surprisingly well against Wade Phillips’ aggressive Houston defense. Perez only took 1 sack and rode a 17-point second quarter to lead a shocking 26-11 upset win. Perez was 19-of-27 for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns, the kind of big numbers you want from your quarterback in the postseason.
Arlington's Hopes Hinge on Perez
But there is also no denying that Houston’s offense was putrid late in the year, and it really failed them in that playoff loss at home. The Defenders are the best in the business, so Arlington’s better hope is a shootout where Perez has the ball last.
If the Renegades pull this one off too, they have to credit the Perez trade as the No. 1 factor in turning things around in the nick of time.
Week 9 Recap: Defenders 28, Renegades 26
These teams had their only meeting in Week 9 and it was encouraging for the Renegades despite the 28-26 loss. Perez passed for 335 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Arlington actually had more first downs (29 to 22) and yards (434 to 314) than the vaunted Defenders, but there is a big caveat in this game.
With a 26-9 lead, DC was on the verge of blowing the Renegades out before Ta’amu was intercepted in the red zone late in the third quarter. This sparked a rally from the Renegades, who scored the next 17 points to force overtime. There was a second interception by the Defenders from their backup quarterback that also contributed to this game going extra.
In overtime, the teams kept failing on their 2-point conversion attempts, though Ta’amu was able to complete one that proved to be the game-winner in the 28-26 final. Still, that game got very close for comfort because of two interceptions, which the Defenders will need to avoid to finish this season properly.
Over/Under 48 Points
This is one of the highest totals for an XFL game this season at 48 points, but if the Defenders are involved in a game, this has usually been a good bet.
In fact, the Defenders’ last 9 games have all hit 48 points. The Defenders have scored at least 28 points in 9 straight games, which would actually be tied for the 3rd-longest streak in NFL history for scoring 28-plus points. This is impressive stuff for a football team at any level beyond college.
Unfortunately, every Arlington game this season except for the 28-26 outcome against DC has finished under 42.5 points. Most were under 40 points. Arlington has scored more than 18 points just three times this season, though they arguably came in the best spots (opener, last game with DC, and the first playoff game).
The history of football is loaded with examples of high-scoring juggernauts with suspect defenses falling apart in the championship game. It would not be that surprising to see the streak of 28-point games come to an end here, but DC has been so consistently great on that side of the ball and in multiple ways, it feels like they are still a safe bet to get their numbers.
Which Perez Will We Get?
The over hitting will depend on which version of Perez shows up for Arlington. If it is the quarterback who threw for big yardage against DC the last time and in Houston in the playoffs, then we could very well have a shootout that goes over 48 points here. But Arlington’s history of low-scoring games does give some concern, including a running game that averages a league-low 3.3 yards per carry.
As for the defense, the Renegades were tied for the 2nd-fewest sacks (19) and had the 2nd-fewest tackles for loss (45). The Renegades did tie for the most forced fumbles (10) and 2nd-most fumbles recovered (9), but those plays are often random. Arlington led the XFL with 13 interceptions, which is exactly what Ta’amu has to watch after throwing a pair in the playoffs to Seattle last game.
But with the 28-26 game these teams played last time, the over still feels like the better value here. We did just see a 38-35 Super Bowl in February, so maybe this is just where football is headed.
Will the Defenders Cover or Another Arlington Upset?
Finally, there is the 6.5-point spread in favor of DC, a spread they have won by in 5-of-10 wins this season. Arlington has covered +6.5 in 7-of-11 games this season. These numbers do suggest the game should be close, especially with the way the Defenders played defense in the second half of the season.
The XFL also has some things in place to help with close games, like allowing a team to go for a 3-point conversion or to gain a new possession in the fourth quarter by converting a fourth-and-15 instead of recovering an onside kick. We have already seen that come into play when these teams last met.
But the other part that is hard to shake is that it was 26-9 with the Defenders driving for more in Week 9 against this team with Perez at quarterback. If not for that interception, we are likely talking about another blowout win for DC instead of a tight overtime loss for Arlington.
Is an Upset Possible?
Rooting for a high-scoring and close championship game is usually the fun thing to do in football. Also, nothing is really off the table when the Defenders have that loss to Orlando on their resume. This would not even be the biggest upset in the XFL this season because of that game’s existence.
But in the end, it is great to see a team finish a super regular season with a championship in the playoffs. The Chiefs just did it the unconventional way with the No. 1 offense and No. 21 defense. Let’s see if Barlow, Ta’amu, and the Defenders can also pull it off with an impressive showing against Arlington for a cover and the championship.
XFL Pick: Defenders -6.5 (-115) at Bovada
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.