The 2023 XFL championship is here, and the Arlington Renegades and D.C. Defenders will battle for the crown Saturday evening at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The Defenders earned their spot in the title game by defeating the Seattle Sea Dragons 37-21 in the North Division Championship. They have been a dominating force, going 9-1 during the regular season. They are first in points per game (29.8) and point differential (+6.7), and are second in yards per game (343.2).
The Renegades were only 4-6 in the regular season but pulled off an upset in the South Division Championship by defeating the No. 1-seeded Houston Roughnecks. Arlington was led by quarterback Luis Perez, who threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns.
Here's what to expect for the championship game, along with picks from ESPN sports betting insider Doug Kezirian. Betting lines are provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | ABC, ESPN+
Spread: D.C. -6 (46.5)
The Defenders will bring a lot of talent to the game as they had seven players -- quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, running back Abram Smith, wide receiver Lucky Jackson, guard Liam Fornadel, defensive lineman Davin Bellamy, defensive back Michael Joseph and punter Daniel Whelan -- make the All-XFL team, a league-high. On the other end, the Renegades had only one player make the list, defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert.
This will be a rematch from Week 9, when the Renegades erased a 17-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to force overtime before ultimately losing to the Defenders 28-26. Both quarterbacks had strong performances, as Perez threw for 335 yards and one touchdown while Ta'amu went 14-for-20 passing for 188 yards with two touchdowns.
The Defenders have been an offensive force all season. They lead the league in rushing yards (1,490) and rushing touchdowns (18). Their defense is also a huge factor in their success, as they are second in the league in sacks (29) and first in pick-sixes (4), including one in their previous meeting with Arlington. D.C. has not trailed by more than nine points at the end of any quarter this season.
The Renegades' offense had a more turbulent start, averaging 13 points and 232.9 yards, before trading for Perez in Week 7. But with Perez inserted into the starting lineup their scoring average increased to 19.8 points and they also saw a significant bump in yards per game (343). The Renegades have also relied on their defense, which allows 19.4 points per game (fourth-best in the league) and has the most interceptions (14).
Players to watch: The Defenders' offense is led by Ta'amu, who finished the regular season third in the XFL in passing yards (1,894) and passing touchdowns (14). Jackson has also been a huge offensive contributor with 573 receiving yards and five touchdowns, third-most in the league. Their ground attack is headed by Smith, who led the league with 791 yards and tied for first in rushing touchdowns (seven).
Arlington has rallied behind Perez, who is fourth in passing yards (1,636) and threw for seven touchdowns in the regular season and three more in the playoff win over Houston. Another key player for the Renegades' offense is running back De'Veon Smith, who is fourth in rushing yards (365) and is tied with Abram Smith for first in rushing TDs. Joe Powell leads a solid Renegades defense with four interceptions.
The Defenders' season has been about executing when the pressure is high, as they have six wins decided by one score, three coming by one or two points. Their opener against Seattle came down to the last play, as they forced a fumble by Sea Dragons quarterback Ben DiNucci at the Defenders' 1-yard line to complete a come-from-behind win. That began a six-game winning streak before the Defenders lost to the previously winless Orlando Guardians by one point in Week 7. D.C. regrouped, stopping Seattle's go-ahead 2-point conversion attempt for a huge road win in Week 8, then won their last two games by a combined three points to grab the North Division title. The playoff victory over the Sea Dragons -- their third win over Seattle -- was a bit more comfortable, as the Defenders rolled 37-21.
The theme of the Renegades' season has been inconsistency. They haven't won two consecutive games at any point, alternating wins and losses for the first six weeks behind a struggling offense that averaged 13 points per game before trading with the Vegas Vipers for Perez in Week 7. The defense, which gave up only 17 points per game, kept Arlington afloat, as it went 1-2 in the final three games with Perez as a starter and made the playoffs when the San Antonio Brahmas fell to D.C. by one point during the last week of the regular season. Despite barely making the playoffs, Arlington came through with its best performance when it needed it most, beating the Houston Roughnecks -- who had swept the Renegades in the regular season -- 26-11 to get to the final.
Over 48 ... Arlington's offense looked much different in the semifinals with Luis Perez at quarterback. I expect that to continue, as the D.C. defense is a bit overrated. We should see plenty of points.