Game Preview: Houston Roughnecks at Michigan Panthers, Sunday, April 14, 2024

  • Houston Roughnecks (0-2) at Michigan Panthers (1-1)
  • Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 12:00 PM ET
  • Ford Field, Detroit, MI
  • Tickets: Ticketmaster and Stubhub
  • Broadcaster: ABC
  • Announcers: Lowell Galindo (Play-by-play), Tom Luginbill (Analyst), Harry Douglas (Sideline analyst), Kayla Burton (Sideline reporter).
  • Odds: Panthers -2, O/U 38 (DraftKings)

The Houston Roughnecks meet the Michigan Panthers for the first time in team history. Head coaches C.J. Johnson and Mike Nolan met each other last year when the Houston Gamblers fell to the Michigan Panthers 29-13 during Week 1 of the 2023 USFL season.

For the Michigan Panthers, this will be the third game in a row at home at Ford Field.

Michigan is coming off a disappointing loss at home to the Birmingham Stallions in a game that was close but saw the Stallions pull away at the end. Houston is coming off a road loss to the D.C. Defenders, in which their starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was injured.

Since this is an inter-conference game, both teams want to get the win.

What do we know?

Last week, in the Roughneck’s loss against the D.C. Defenders, backup quarterback Reid Sinnett entered the game in the second quarter due to a Jarrett Guarantano rib injury. Sinnett performed very well, completing 63% of his passes and throwing for 221 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Keke Chism. With Guarantano still injured, Sinnett will start this game for the Roughnecks.

Despite his injury, running back Mark Thompson has been “limited” in practices as of Thursday this week. Through social media, Thompson hinted he was “back,” but the team has not concurred with this decision. When Thompson returns to the field, it will be a huge boost for Houston. However, he does not currently appear on Houston’s Week 3 depth chart, and it looks like TJ Pledger will be carrying the ball.

Due to another injury, the Roughnecks cannot count on wide receiver Kirk Merritt to return kicks, as he suffered a wrist injury in the last game and will likely be out for the remainder of the season. Merritt also led the Roughnecks in receiving yards (79) in their Week 2 loss and will be missed in that area as well. We will most likely see Justin Hall return kicks for Houston.

The good news on special teams is that Roughnecks kicker J.J. Molson is a perfect 4-4 on field goal attempts this season, including two from 51 and 55 yards. He has become a solid addition to the Roughnecks roster, as his kicks are as crisp and clean as a Canadian lager.

On defense, through the first two weeks of the UFL season, the Houston Roughnecks rank third in the league in rushing defense, with coach Wilson’s defense holding opponents to only 2.5 average yards per carry. Also on defense, Corn Elder’s 98-yard pick-six last week versus D.C. was the first of the 2024 UFL season.

The Michigan Panthers have injury issues of their own. Starting quarterback E.J. Perry has been limited at practice this week due to an ankle injury he sustained in week 2. Reports on Friday indicated that he was practicing. However, if Perry cannot start, or if he starts and his injury flares up, backup quarterback Danny Etling would most likely be his replacement. Etling is unproven so far this season, as he has only thrown one pass (incomplete) and run once for nine yards this season.

On special teams, the Panthers have Jack Bates, a kicker who has demonstrated he can easily make a field goal from 60 yards or more. In the first two games of the season, the Panthers have asked Bates to kick from long distances, and he has made it look easy, kicking through the uprights from 64 yards and 62 yards.

A positive note for the Michigan Panthers has been their defense, which has only given up an average of 16.5 points per game. Not to mention that they performed this feat against the Stallions and the Battlehawks, two teams with powerful offenses. The Panthers defense will probably focus on shutting down the Roughnecks running game, thus forcing them into a one-dimensional offense.

What should we expect?

It will be all hands on deck for the Roughnecks as they try to get in the win column in 2024. Unfortunately, they have been bitten by the injury bug, and there are many holes to fill this week. They could surprise the Panthers by rolling out running back Mark Thompson, but Michigan may be prepared for that scenario.

Michigan is playing at home, but we probably should not expect a huge crowd, as the Panthers have had difficulty attracting fans to Ford Field.

Both teams want to win this inter-divisional game, but a Houston win would tie them both at 1-2, setting up an interesting race in the USFL conference.

Oddsmakers have only granted the Panthers a two-point edge in this game. It might be prudent to take it.

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