Monday, July 4, 2022

USFL Week 10 wrinkle: Panthers earn first pick in 2023 draft by beating Maulers in matchup of two worst teams

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The USFL didn’t have to worry about tanking in the final week of the regular season, as the league took matters into its own hands to prevent teams from losing to improve their draft status. Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Maulers and Michigan Panthers presented a unique opportunity for the league to try something new, as the teams entered the matchup tied with the league’s worst record at 1-8.

With the two playoff semifinals already set heading into Week 10 — the final week of the regular season — the league had no games with any implications in Week 10 … that is, until it created one. The USFL announced this week the winner of the Maulers-Panthers matchup would earn the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 USFL Draft, instead of the loser clinching the worst record in the league and “earning” that pick.

The Panthers defeated the Maulers 33-21 to earn the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft — and the first pick in each round thereafter. Michigan, with a 2-8 record, will have the No. 1 pick in each round while the Maulers will have the No. 2 pick in each round — despite finishing with the worst record in the league at 1-9. 

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Paxton Lynch, a former NFL first-round pick, completed 22 of 30 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Panthers to victory. This will be the second consecutive season the Panthers had the No. 1 overall pick in the USFL draft, using the first pick in the inaugural draft to select quarterback Shea Patterson — who was released from the team in May and signed with the New Orleans Breakers days later. 

The USFL does have plans for a second season in 2023, so there was some incentive for the teams playing in case the spring football league returns. Whether all the games will be played in a central location (as they did this season with Birmingham, Alabama) is to be determined. The league will host its playoffs in Canton, Ohio starting Saturday, with the first of two semifinals featuring the New Jersey Generals vs. the Philadelphia Stars at 3 p.m. ET, followed by the Birmingham Stallions vs. the New Orleans Breakers in the other at 8 p.m. ET. The two winners will play in the championship game the following Sunday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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