The new XFL gets its first big test on prime-time television on Sunday, when the revitalized Tampa Bay Vipers travel to Los Angeles to face the Wildcats in what would be the first Sunday night football national telecast since December 29, at least in a regular season, according to Athlon Sports. After another week of TV ratings decline last weekend, the prime-time showcase should give a realistic indication of the XFL's potential to draw an audience, with no significant sports competition on the air.
Perhaps unfortunately, the showcase game features two of the three teams with the worst records in the new league. Both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles come in at 1-3, but the Vipers are riding high after scoring their first win last week, when they faced the DC Defenders.
Tampa Bay suddenly found whatever was missing for the first three weeks of the XFL season, blowing DC off the field with a 25-0 shutout. Former backup signal-caller Taylor Cornelius completed 24 of 31 pass attempts for 211 yards and a touchdown, along with one interception, for a respectable if not spectacular rating of 92.3
Running back DeVeon Smith — University of Michigan's leader rusher in 2015 and 2016 — led the way for Tampa Bay on the ground, picking up 122 yards on 24 carries for an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
For the Wildcats, who are coming off a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians, wide receiver Tre McBride has been the bright spot, recording two straight 100-yard receiving games, according to a report by The Long Beach Press-Telegram.
The Vipers will be getting tight end Nick Truesdell back from a knee injury that cost him the last two weeks of the XFL season. Wide receiver S.J. Green, a former Canadian Football League star, has also reportedly recovered from a knee injury and is set to make his XFL debut in Sunday night's game.
Despite the difference in momentum, and the newfound health of the visiting team, oddsmakers give the nod to Los Angeles at home, favoring the Wildcats by a slim 1.5-point margin, according to odds published by USA Today.
In moneyline odds, the home team is also favored at -121 — meaning a wager of $121 would pay off $100 if Los Angeles holds on for the victory in what USA Today says will play out as the closest game of Week 5 in the XFL.
Kickoff in the Tampa Bay Vipers vs. Los Angeles Wildcats XFL game is set for 6 p.m. PT, 9 p.m. ET, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles. The prime time national telecast will be carried by ESPN.