Though the featured matchup of the XFL Week 4 slate takes place in the early game, as the Houston Roughnecks defend their undefeated record against the 2-1 Dallas Renegades, Sunday's finale also holds a certain intrigue. The game will answer the question of whether the only winless team on the new pro football circuit, the Tampa Bay Vipers, can finally gain some credibility.
At the same time, the question also remains as to whether their opponents, the DC Defenders, can rebound from a shocking defeat last weekend that was not only their first loss of the XFL season, but also the most one-sided beating absorbed by any team in the league over the first three weeks — a 39-9 drubbing by the Los Angeles Wildcats.
Former Ohio State — and, very briefly, Buffalo Bills— quarterback Cardale Jones was a disaster for DC in the game against the Wildcats, tossing for just 103 yards with four interceptions and zero touchdowns. Even with that calamitous outing, Jones still ranks fourth in the XFL with 602 passing yards.
The team based in the nation's capital also features a three-headed ground attack with running backs Donnel Pumphrey, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, Jhurell Pressley, 3.1 yards per carry, and Nick Brossette, who has carried just eight times, but gained 75 yards for an average of 9.4, according to XFL stats.
Perhaps because DC's most recent outing resulted in the blowout loss to Los Angeles, the 2-1 team is favored by only a single point against the 0-3 Vipers, according to odds published by FanDuel.
The difference in offensive and defensive performance would also seem to indicate a larger difference between the two teams than the spread might reflect. The Defenders have scored an average of 22.3 points per game though the first three weeks. That's nearly 10 points more than Tampa Bay, who have scored only 13 per game.
The defensive situation is somewhat tighter, but DC nonetheless holds more than a five-point advantage on that side of the ball as well. The Defenders have allowed 19.3 points per game, while the Tampa Bay defense has given up 24.7.
For Tampa Bay, former Oklahoma State signal-caller Taylor Cornelius will get his third straight start, despite a pair of mediocre outings. Last week against Houston, Cornelius threw the ball 31 times, hitting 16 completions with a touchdown and an interception. Cornelius has tossed three interceptions already in his two games.
The XFL will also be looking for a bounce-back in television ratings this weekend, according to a USA Today report. After an impressive showing in the league's opening week, drawing an average of 3.1 million viewers for the four games on the slate, the Week 3 XFL broadcasts pulled in just 1.61 million per game.
The Week 4 XFL finale pitting the DC Defenders against the Tampa Bay Vipers is set to kick off at 7 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. PT, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday.