XFL Week 10 Recap & Rankings: The Semifinals Are Set

Niko Lalos of Seattle records a sack on Viper QB Jalan McClendon. (Ali Gradischer/Getty Images)

Written and Edited by Zach Kangieser

April 24, 2023 - 8:15 AM

       The 2023 XFL regular season has finally concluded, and after this week’s final slate of games, we will only be seeing three more over the next three weeks before the first XFL Champion since the league’s original incarnation in 2001 will be determined. However, unlike the 2001 season, which was marked by poor quality of play and too much of an emphasis on an “extreme” image, the 2023 season has shown us a consistent level of talent at most positions and maintained itself as a “second-chance” league for players looking to find their way to bigger stages.

Going into the week, every game had some set of playoff stakes, although it was very possible that results from the earlier games would render later ones mostly meaningless. One playoff spot from each division remained, and two teams from each division were still scrambling to get in. In the North, the Seattle Sea Dragons and St. Louis Guardians both entered their final games 6-3, with a set of tiebreakers to decide who between them would advance. In their final contests of the regular season, both were given one of the league’s bottom two teams to face, and you knew going into each game that the favored squad wanted to run the score up, although it wasn’t personal.

Meanwhile in the South, a less compelling race for the number two seed in the division was taking place. Both the San Antonio Brahmas and the Arlington Renegades had losing records going into their potential season finales, with the Brahmas sitting at 3-6 and the Renegades at 4-5. It seemed increasingly likely that a 4-6 team would be sneaking into the playoffs to face the Houston Roughnecks. Additionally, the odds were certainly in Arlington’s favor, because in order for them to be eliminated, not only would they have to lose to a resting Houston squad, the Brahmas would have to pull off a stunner against the DC Defenders, who were still the best team in the league despite showing some vulnerability.

For more details about every game this week, including some of the big highlights, interesting statlines and the moment games could be called, we’ve put together another weekly recap of every XFL game. After the recaps are done and dusted, I’ve compiled a ranking for the four teams that are all just two wins away from being crowned XFL Champions, as well as a special section for the teams that have been wiped from competition.

St. Louis Battlehawks 53, Orlando Guardians 28 

A flock of Battlehawks link up in the endzone for a group celebration. (Scott Rovak/XFL)

      The Dome at St. Louis remained packed (as usual) for the first part of the XFL North’s final week of playoff drama, featuring a playoff contender in the Battlehawks and the league’s basement dweller in the Guardians. The Battlehawks themselves entered on the back foot after a tough loss to the Seattle Sea Dragons, which put them down in the tiebreakers. To make up that deficit, they knew they’d have to light up the scoreboard and blow out Orlando, who had absolutely nothing to lose and looked to play spoiler.

The first half saw a back and forth, offensive shootout. Orlando struck first with a long drive capped off by a Deondre Francois TD pass. St. Louis then responded with a field goal, and Francois was picked off on the next drive to set up another quick STL score thanks to a Kareem Walker rush TD. Both teams then racked up two more touchdowns before the half, including an unbelievable eighty-four yard TD that came on an Orlando fake punt; punter Mac Brown threw it up to midfield, and tight end Jordan Thomas snagged the jump ball before taking it all the way. Still, A.J. McCarron was able to put up two passing scores, and the Battlehawks notched an extra two-point conversion to go into the half up 25-20.

With the pressure on to pull away from Orlando, however, St. Louis rose to the occasion, scoring touchdowns on their next four drives, all through the air. On three drives, McCarron marched the Battlehawks down the field before throwing a strike inside the red zone, but on the fourth, McCarron was able to hit Hakeem Butler for a sixty-six yard bomb that may as well have been the dagger, even though it only happened midway through the third quarter. The Battlehawks QB was able to finish the day with an unbelievable statline of 28-for-35, 420 yards and 6 touchdowns. Orlando did manage to tack on a score of their own late in the game, but by then the beatdown was so bad that they essentially gave up on their final drive, kneeling it out to end the game and their woeful season.

With that blowout victory, the Battlehawks put the onus on Seattle to perform well in their final contest against Vegas, but St. Louis needed to wait with bated breath to see if they could get a shot at redemption against the DC Defenders. As for Orlando, they finished the year a woeful 1-9 (the worst record in the league), with their lone win being a one-point stunner against DC.

DC Defenders 29, San Antonio Brahmas 28 

T.J. Vasher of the Brahmas extends his arms to the crowd after a successful two point conversion. (Alonso Ramirez/XFL)

       Some more inter-division playoff drama closed Week 10’s Saturday play, as the underdog San Antonio Brahmas hosted the league-leading DC Defenders. San Antonio faced a monumental task in their last-ditch effort to stay alive in the playoff race, but there was a bit of hope; as DC had already clinched their home field advantage, they didn’t have much to play for. Some fans went into the game speculating that DC would rest some of its starters, but that turned out not to be the case.

DC got on the scoreboard almost immediately, with a five play drive that concluded with a short scoring pass from Jordan Ta’amu to Alex Ellis, and a successful two points after to boot. San Antonio’s response was a plodding, nearly nine-minute drive that fell just short of the endzone, forcing the Brahmas to settle for three. DC got a quick field goal of their own after a great kickoff return, and then another TD on their next drive when Ta’amu connected with Ellis again to make it 19-3. Neither team did much until the two minute warning, where DC’s attempt to widen the gap even further were abruptly cut short when Ta’amu was intercepted by Jordan Williams, who returned the ball to midfield. That spark gave the Brahmas offense just enough life to drive downfield, punch the ball in thanks to Jacques Patrick, and nail the two point-conversion to make it 19-11 at the half.

Both teams traded field goals before the Brahmas led another long scoring drive capped off by another touchdown run, this one from Jon Hilliman, to cut DC’s lead to two. The Brahmas were clearly rolling at this point, as on DC’s very next drive, cornerback Luq Barcoo forced a fumble from DC’s Lucky Jackson and recovered it. The Brahmas then marched downfield again, scored a third rushing TD, and nailed the two points after to go up by six. Late in the fourth, DC finally responded to the San Antonio comeback, stringing together a quick scoring drive complete with a Ta’amu QB sneak for six points, and another to take a one-point lead with two minutes left. San Antonio quickly got into DC territory and looked to run the clock out for kicker John Parker Romo, who had been accurate all season. But with their season on the line, Romo missed a potential game-winning kick from 53 yards out, putting an unfortunate end to the Brahmas’ season.

With the loss, the Brahmas finished the season with a record of 3-7, good for, at best, third-worst in the league. They did have potential at the start of the year, but numerous injuries and a lackluster offense ultimately brought them down. The 9-1 Defenders will head back to Audi Field as heavy championship favorites. They will host the XFL North Championship on April 30th.

Houston Roughnecks 25, Arlington Renegades 9 

Houston QB Cole McDonald scrambles into the endzone for the first score of the game. (XFL Official Site)

       With the results from the Brahmas game in, the Arlington Renegades now knew that they had officially clinched a spot in the XFL playoffs, and would be looking to face off against the Houston Roughnecks next week. As a result, this showdown was between two teams that knew they’d be playing each other in a game with much higher stakes next week. As a result, coaches Wade Phillips and Bob Stoops took it as an opportunity to game plan for next week and see what they had in some of the more underused members of their squads.

Cole McDonald, typically Houston’s second-string QB, drew the start for the Roughnecks, and he immediately seemed to capitalize, leading his team to the endzone of both of his first two drives and capping off one himself with a ten yard scramble into the endzone. Backup running back Jeremy Cox also had an impressive day, rushing for 120 yards in total and Houston’s second score of the day. On the other hand, most of Arlington’s starters played the entire game, though Coach Stoops said in an interview that the Renegades “would save their special stuff for next week”. Arlington definitely needed something special in the first half, however, as all three of their offensive drives stalled out in field goal territory, including one that made it down to the Roughnecks’ one. Taylor Russolino was 3/3, and Houston held a slim 12-9 lead at halftime.

Houston’s defense was able to get the drop on Arlington after halftime, though. They forced a three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half, and after Houston tacked on another field goal, the play of the game happened at midfield. On third and three, Houston’s Ajene Harris got the drop on a pass intended for LuJuan Winningham, tipping it into the air before it landed in the hands of fellow DB Tavante Beckett, who took it back forty-five yards to the house. Cole McDonald punched in the extra point to go up 22-9, and that would remain the score for much of the game. Houston’s defense forced two more turnovers on downs, and the offense simply ran the clock out, tacking on one more field goal before time expired for a final score of 25-9.

This game didn’t really mean much overall, as both teams will run it back on April 29th with a spot in the XFL Championship on the line. However, the 7-3 Roughnecks will go into it holding all the cards, having both home field advantage and the regular season sweep over the 4-6 Renegades. But don’t count out the Renegades yet. They may have something special up their sleeves after all.

Seattle Sea Dragons 28, Vegas Vipers 9 

Seattle's Jahcour Pearson snags a deep ball for a TD to extend his team's lead. (Ali Grandischer/Getty Images)

Similarly to the Renegades, the Sea Dragons knew exactly what they had to do in order to get a ticket to the dance. A win was always going to be absolutely necessary to make it, but after the St. Louis thrashing of Orlando, Seattle needed to do just a bit more than win. It was made official just before the game that the Sea Dragons would need to either score 34 or more points and win or hold Vegas to under 26 and win. Seattle was as motivated as ever, with their season on the line. Vegas was still looking to play spoiler as usual, and an upset would at least give them a better record than the San Antonio Brahmas.

Over fifteen thousand fans packed into Lumen Field hoping to see Seattle smoke the Vipers and punch their playoff ticket. Instead, the first half produced the worst set of back-and-forth football possible. After a Vegas punt and Seattle’s Dom Eberle missed a field goal, both teams combined for seven straight punts, with both quarterbacks in particular struggling to get anything going. Finally, Ben DiNucci managed to lead a sixty-six yard drive downfield, running for the last fourteen himself to put six beautiful points on the board. They would be the only points of the half after yet another Vegas punt, but during a sideline interview, DiNucci himself said six points wasn’t going to cut it.

The Sea Dragons then found the end zone on each of their next three drives, similarly to what St. Louis had done yesterday. Drives of eighty, sixty-four and sixty yards were capped off by a DiNucci touchdown pass, each of which went to a different receiver. Add on a pair of two point conversions to make it 28-3 after that third scoring drive. Defensively, the Sea Dragons continued to put the hurt on the Vipers offense, allowing a single field goal but forcing two more punts and a pick on the next four drives. DiNucci did struggle late in the game, throwing two interceptions, but the Sea Dragons had absolutely nothing to worry about with a 28-3 lead late in the game. Vegas tacked on a garbage time touchdown, couldn’t convert afterwards, and Seattle ran out the clock to wrap things up.

With the clear-cut victory, Seattle clinched the final playoff spot. They now have seven days to prepare to face the DC Defenders at Audi Field, a stiff opponent in tough conditions. The Vipers cap off a disappointing season with a 2-8 record, second worst in the league.

A Week Ten Special: The Hater’s Corner 

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        It would be totally fair to expect me to turn my focus towards the playoffs. After all, half the teams in the league have been snapped out of contention, leaving just four of them remaining. Why focus on the teams that are done for the season?

The answer to that is simple: to reflect on what went wrong, and to poke fun at them as well. Each of the four teams had some significant reason for failing to make the dance, ranging from poor play (mostly poor play) to the playoff format itself. So this is where I’ll let a few of my less professional thoughts fly about the squads that have the XFL Draft to look forward to:

Orlando Guardians (1-9): More like the Orlando Garbage. This squad, with the exception of former NFL tight end Cody Latimer, consistently sucked week in and week out, so much so that when coach Terrell Buckley was asked about their execution, he said he was in favor of it. Paxton Lynch started the year for them at QB and was cut, meaning he’s been cut in four different leagues now. They were the losing defense responsible for the two highest scores from a single team, letting the Roughnecks drop 44 points on their heads before the Battlehawks put up 53, and they let the struggling Brahmas, who struggled to crack 15 points most games, put up 30 on them. Somehow, the Guardians managed to get one fluke win over DC, by a single point (because their kicker went 0/2, but that’s another thing), before they went right back to being terrible and turned the ball over five times the very next week. 

Vegas Vipers (2-8): The Vipers went into the season with one of the most talented rosters in the league, on paper at least. A few fans saw their players and thought they had a real chance to win it all. Instead, they found a new way to lose on an almost weekly basis, from blowing two score leads (a la the Atlanta Falcons) to giving up two fumble recovery TDs on back-to-back drives to just sometimes not having an offense. QB Brett Hundley was the highest paid player in the XFL this year. He never played in a full game and was the second string QB on the team, and even when the one guy above him on the depth chart was traded away, they just picked up a new starting QB seemingly off the street. Defensive end Pita Taumoepenu was arguably the defensive player of the year, and he’s too good for this team. He should quit the Vipers like a bad habit once the NFL comes calling. 

San Antonio Brahmas (3-7): Far and away the winners of the XFL Injury Bowl, the Brahmas seemed to lose three more guys every week. It was clear most of them were on offense, too, because the Brahmas went five weeks without scoring more than fifteen points in a game. Jack Coan started at QB before being benched midway through the year, and his four replacements were all either hurt or so bad that the Brahmas just gave up and made Coan the starter again. At least San Antonio’s defense was one of the league’s better units, capable of keeping them in many of the games they played, but a stout defense and a struggling offense made for some football that could be generously be called hard to watch. Somehow this team was still just a single point away from making the playoffs, but they made an awful decision in trusting a guy named Romo to not screw up a kick. 

St. Louis Battlehawks (7-3): I’ll be light on the Battlehawks because they were a Top 4 team that was just in a strong division. Their three losses were all against either DC or Seattle, and they had one of the more exciting teams in the league as well as its largest fanbase. But the fact of the matter remains that in each of those three losses, they were decisively outplayed. They lost in two different ways against DC, first by giving up four turnovers and then by letting Defenders RB Abram Smith look like Derrick Henry against the Texans. They then hosted Seattle knowing full well their playoff hopes may have been on the line. With seemingly every advantage, having won their prior contest and hosting, the Battlehawks got smoked like a rack of ribs by the Sea Dragons in front of nearly forty thousand people. Now some salty Battlehawks fans will complain about missing the playoffs, even though their team had every chance to win just one more game and failed.

Ranking The Playoff Teams 

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So, here we are. Forty regular season games have been played to get to this point. Four teams are officially out of playoff contention; three of them truly were bad, while the fourth simply fell victim to being in a strong division. With those four teams out, four remain, and three playoff games will decide the fate of the 2023 XFL Season. I’ve put together a short ranking of the four teams still in the race, based on their odds to win it all.

1. DC Defenders (9-1) - After a tough game against the Renegades last week, DC essentially repeated their performance, narrowly beating the Brahmas thanks in no small part to a missed field goal from one of the league’s best kickers. The Defenders are definitely the most consistent of the teams still in the race, and their offense can always be expected to perform as they’ve scored more points than any other team. However, their defense doesn’t live up to their name, having allowed nearly fifty more points than any other defense on this list. Additionally, they’ve played down to competition over the last few weeks, meaning their number one spot is precarious.

2. Seattle Sea Dragons (7-3) - Seattle managed to come out on top in the scramble for the second XFL North spot, clinching it with a dominant win over Vegas this week. While DC has cooled off, Seattle is only heating up, steamrolling the Battlehawks and Vipers to go into the postseason with loads of momentum. Ben DiNucci and his deep WR core are easily capable of putting up thirty points in a given game, and while he is prone to throwing picks, Seattle’s quietly underrated defense is quite good at preventing opposing squads from scoring. If they can knock off DC, which is likelier than most people think, they’re in the driver’s seat to bring the title home.

3. Houston Roughnecks (7-3) - Houston isn’t exactly being seen as a favorite to win it all, despite the talent they do have. In particular, their defense has caught on fire over the last three weeks, forcing multiple turnovers in each of the last three games and scoring four times in that span to boot. Additionally, the Roughnecks have no less than five quality runners on offense, and have thrived almost entirely on the ground over the last month. However, Houston never found the answer to their quarterback problem, and offensive coordinator A.J. Smith has been forced to adjust their offense to compensate. With a run-first focus, Houston stands a chance against both Seattle and DC, but their lack of a consistent QB will limit their odds against both.

4. Arlington Renegades (4-6) - While they have pushed the Defenders to the limit, Arlington is still kind of a playoff afterthought. In order for the Renegades to sneak into the XFL title game, they first have to get past Houston, who won their matchups this year with an aggregate score of 48-23. If they can pull off that stunner, they’ll face even longer odds against either Seattle or DC. Arlington does have some talent, with an improving offense and a respectable defense, but to win it all (with a total record of 6-6, no less), the Renegades would need a miracle.