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Stallions QB J’Mar Smith thinks a championship game between rival leagues will happen ‘soon’

Birmingham quarterback J’Mar Smith’s primary goal is leading the Stallions in their pursuit of back-to-back USFL titles. But if the opportunity to face the XFL’s best team also presented itself, Smith would certainly welcome that opportunity, too.

Ahead of his Birmingham’s season opener on Saturday night against the New Jersey Generals, Smith was asked about his possible interest in a game pitting the two leagues’ top-two teams. While the question was hypothetical, Smith thinks a championship game between the two leagues is certainly a possibility.

“That would be nice and what the fans want,” Smith said in a text message to CBS Sports. “Merging two spring pro leagues, champion vs. champion, to see the competition between the two leagues. … I think it should happen and will soon!”

Given that the two leagues enforce different rules, Smith posed the interesting question of which rules would be utilized should the two leagues face off. There are several rules within each league, especially on kickoffs, that are vastly different from each other. For example, the USFL gives scoring teams a chance to keep the ball if they are able to complete a 4th-and-12 play from their own 25-yard line. While the XFL has a similar option, the scoring team must convert a 4th-and-15 play in order to retain possession.

Rules aside, a USFL-XFL championship game would certainly generate attention, especially during the dog days of summer. The Super Bowl, after all, was initially between the National Football League and the upstart American Football League. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers won the first two contests before Joe Namath’s Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The leagues merged shortly after the AFL’s Chiefs defeated the NFL champion Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

Often lost in history is the fact that the AFL and NFL had already agreed to a future merge prior to playing in their first AFL-NFL Championship Game. At this point, the USFL and XFL are entirely different entities that start their seasons at different points. It seems that there would have to be some sort of connection between the two leagues before games between the two would actually happen.

Both leagues are currently trying to coexist while becoming the first successful spring league. When they kick things off this weekend, the USFL will be the first spring league in nearly 40 years to return for a second consecutive season. The XFL, currently in its third incarnation, is nearing the end of its 10-game regular season.

Neither league is trying to compete with the NFL. In the USFL’s case, helping provide players with a new pathway to the NFL is one of the league’s primary goals, along with being a league that prioritizes its fans with affordable tickets.

“We’re about football,” USFL president Daryl Johnston recently told CBS Sports. “We’re about the why, what motivates the guys, what you are trying to accomplish here and trying to do everything we can from a coaching and from an exposure standpoint to give them an opportunity to continue to chase that dream.”

When it comes to a possible USFL-XFL championship game, it’s interesting that Smith answered the question with such honesty. Instead of ignoring the other league, Smith welcomes the conversation and would welcome the prospect of facing the XFL’s best team at the end of the USFL’s season. Rest assured that Smith isn’t the only player who would like to see such a game take place.

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2 underdogs win outright while a third nearly shocks top seed

Playoff Pete is back.

Yep, I had a nice start to the postseason. I went 5-1 against the spread, but 3-3 straight up. I’ll take it.

The only ATS loss I had wasn’t close. I had the Cleveland Browns beating the Houston Texans, which never had a chance.

The ATS week brings my season record to 139-128-11. My straight-up record is now 171-107-0.

This week, I am going with the dogs. I like three underdogs and two to win their games outright. Let’s keep it going. Playoff Pete is looking for a sweep.

Houston Texans (+9) at Baltimore Ravens
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN, fubo)

The Texans are coming off an impressive home victory over the Browns, while the Ravens are coming off a bye. The rest could be good for the Ravens, but the starters haven’t played in three weeks. That might matter. This will be the first road playoff game for Texans rookie passer C.J. Stroud, which can be a challenge. It can be even tougher against the Ravens stout defense. They will throw a bunch of different looks at Stroud. How he handles those will be key. Lamar Jackson will be the league MVP, but he has to go out and show he can do it in a playoff game. The pressure is on. But I think in this offense he will respond. Look for a lot of points as both quarterbacks play well, but the Ravens will win a close one behind Jackson.

Pick: Ravens 30, Texans 29

Green Bay Packers (+9.5) at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox, fubo)

The Packers really looked good in beating up the Cowboys last week on the road. Winning a second straight road game against the NFC’s best team won’t be easy. The 49ers will be rested coming off the bye. Will there be rust? Jordan Love has been special the last eight weeks and showed up in a big way last week against the Cowboys. I think that carries over. The 49ers defensive front is tough, but the Packers offensive line is playing well. If you block them, you beat them. The Packers will have a big day throwing it. The 49ers will score as well, as Brock Purdy also has a big day. This will be a shootout. In the end, I am calling for the upset. The Packers pull off a stunner.

Pick: Packers 33, 49ers 31

If you want a more analytical approach to your NFL picks, then I highly suggest that you check out the SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year. Check it out if you want to know which side to bet for every game in the divisional round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6.5) at Detroit Lions
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, fubo)

Both these teams are coming off big home victories, with the Lions earning another home game. The Bucs blew out the Eagles as Baker Mayfield came up big. The Lions had to hold on against the Rams. Detroit played well on offense, but the defense showed some flaws. That could lead to another good day by Mayfield and his receivers. I think Jared Goff will also play well, especially if he can handle the Bucs blitz. Ben Johnson will have a plan for that. The Lions beat the Bucs earlier this season in Tampa, but it was close. This will also be close, but I think this time Tampa Bay gets payback and advances to the title game. Mayfield will keep it rolling. Upset.

Pick: Bucs 30, Lions 28

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills (-2.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

This is the game of the week between two teams that have met in recent years, but this game is a Bills home game. That means Patrick Mahomes will be playing the first road playoff game in his career. It sure doesn’t come in an easy place to play. The Bills have rolled into the playoffs, needing to win every game down the stretch, but they have some major defensive injuries. The Chiefs offense showed well last week against Miami, so that could be a problem. Josh Allen has to limit his mistakes, which he did in the victory over the Steelers. I think he does here as the Bills beat the Chiefs to advance to the AFC championship game.

Pick: Bills 28, Chiefs 23