XFL Week 3 preview: Can AJ McCarron, Battlehawks continue their fourth-quarter heroics?

The start of the XFL season has been full of competitive games and exciting plays. Through the first two weeks, six of the eight games were decided in the fourth quarter, with five coming down to the last drive.

Week 2 also featured another last-second win for the St. Louis Battlehawks, piloted by quarterback AJ McCarron, who led a game-winning drive to defeat the Seattle Sea Dragons 20-18.

Former Notre Dame and Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan threw three touchdown passes for the San Antonio Brahmas, leading them to a 30-12 victory over the Orlando Guardians in the weekend’s most lopsided game.

This week’s slate will start with a Saturday matchup between the Sea Dragons and the Vegas Vipers, two teams desperate for their first win. Sunday’s schedule will feature three games, including a matchup between two undefeated teams when the Battlehawks take on the D.C. Defenders.

Here’s what to expect in Week 3, along with picks from ESPN sports betting insider Doug Kezirian. Betting lines are provided by Caesars Sportsbook.

Seattle Sea Dragons (0-2) at Vegas Vipers (0-2)

Saturday, 7 p.m., ET| FX, ESPN+
Spread: SEA -3 (38.0)

The Sea Dragons are still looking to turn early leads into a win after losing to the Battlehawks late in the fourth quarter last week. The Sea Dragons have led in the fourth quarter in both games but failed to hold on. The Vipers are hoping to bounce back after being shut out in the final three quarters of their 18-6 loss to the Defenders last week.

Players to watch: Even though the Sea Dragons are winless, quarterback Ben DiNucci leads the XFL in passing yards (478) and his favorite target, wide receiver Jahcour Pearson, leads the league in receiving yards (173). Vipers defensive end Maximilian Roberts has three sacks and seven total tackles.

Kezirian: This is a tough game because Vegas just added QB Brett Hundley, and while he looked decent after barely knowing the playbook, weather wreaked havoc in the second half. One would think Seattle’s Jim Haslett has the coaching advantage here over Rod Woodson in Vegas, but he’s very shaky so far. I lean to grabbing the points with Vegas (+3).

St. Louis Battlehawks (2-0) at D.C. Defenders (2-0)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET| FX, ESPN+
DC -2.5 (37.0)

The Battlehawks’ first two weeks have been defined by last-second, game-winning drives led by McCarron. In Week 2, he executed an eight-play, 50-yard drive capped by a Donny Hageman’s 44-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the Sea Dragons 20-18. The Battlehawks have scored 32 of their 38 points in the second half this season. The Defenders’ defense, led by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a longtime NFL coach, is holding teams to a league-best 12 points per game.

Players to watch: McCarron has thrown three touchdown passes, tied for second most, and is the only quarterback in the league with multiple touchdown passes and zero interceptions. One of McCarron’s favorite targets is wide receiver Hakeem Butler, who has seven receptions and two touchdowns. For the Defenders, the running back duo of Abram Smith (second in the XFL in rushing with 99 yards) and Ryquell Armstead (third with 88 yards) have been the driving force.

Kezirian: The Defenders (-2.5) are my favorite play this weekend. They have a top defense and St. Louis has a misleading record, with both wins in the last seconds. D.C.’s defensive line should pressure McCarron all game.

Orlando Guardians (0-2) at Arlington Renegades (1-1)

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET| FX, ESPN+
ARL -8 (37.5)

The Guardians’ first two games resulted in the two largest losses in the XFL. Their defense is allowing a league-leading 31.5 points and opposing quarterbacks have thrown a league-high five touchdown passes. The Guardians’ offense hasn’t received much from their quarterbacks, with former Broncos 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch, Quinten Dormady and Deondre Francois combining to throw four interceptions. Turnovers could be an issue against the Renegades, who lead the league in interceptions returned for touchdowns (two). Arlington is looking to bounce back after being shutout in the second half of a 23-14 loss to the Houston Roughnecks.

Players to watch: Renegades quarterback Drew Plitt has thrown two touchdown passes but also has thrown a league-leading three interceptions. On the bright side, tight end Sal Cannella is third in receiving yards (108). On the other side, Guardians running back Jah-Maine Martin is fourth in rushing yards (87).

Kezirian: Orlando is an auto-fade, especially if Lynch remains the quarterback. Either way, the Guardians have issues everywhere and Arlington (-8) is well-coached by Bob Stoops.

San Antonio Brahmas (1-1) at Houston Roughnecks (2-0)

Sunday, 8 p.m. ET| ESPN, ESPN 2
Spread: HOU -4.5 (36.0)

The Roughnecks, coached by former NFL coach Wade Phillips, are averaging 28 points, most in the league. Quarterback Brandon Silvers leads the Roughnecks’ offense and is second in the league in passing yards (445) and tied for the most passing touchdowns (4). The Roughnecks’ defense can overwhelm opponents, as it leads the XFL in sacks (12), interceptions (4) tackles for loss (17) and holds teams to 13 points per game, the second fewest. Houston faces a quarterback in Coan who is fourth in the XFL in passing yards (372).

Players to watch: The Roughnecks’ leading receiver, Jontre Kirklin, has 127 yards, second most in the league. The Roughnecks have gotten two interceptions each from defensive backs Ajene Harris and Sean Davis. They’ll need to be sharp against Coan, who is tied for the lead in touchdown passes (4). In addition to Coan, the Brahmas have the league’s leading rusher in former NFL back Kalen Ballage (107 yards).

Kezirian: Houston is likely the league’s best team but 4.5 is a lot of points in the XFL. The Brahamas (+4.5) should be 2-0 and Coan has settled into his role.

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