Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 12

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A Look Ahead to Week 12

Week 12 in the NFL started with a bang. I am not talking about the overeating, drinking and Dolly Parton wearing a Cowboys cheerleader outfit, although she was a showstopper at 77 years young. Or the loud screams we heard from the 216 contestants of the Circa Survivor contest who selected the Lions. The bang I am referring to occurred in Motown, where the once thought-for-dead Green Bay Packers came to life, leaving many Packers fans exiting Ford Field believing they might have found their next great quarterback. 

 

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From the first play of the game, Jordan Love looked like a confident quarterback, with a sense of timing rhythm, accuracy, and awareness. His ball location was perfect; his decision-making was exceptional, and his poise was the best it’s been all season. From his first connection on a deep throw to Christian Watson, the Packers’ offense was aggressive with throws down the field, showing the best execution in terms of completions and moving the chains. They built a 23-6 halftime lead and then allowed the Lions to make mistake after mistake, not taking the points, calling for a fake punt, and acting with desperation, resulting in a bad loss.

For two weeks in a row, the Lions’ offense or defense has not looked sharp—trailing to the Bears with 4:15 in the fourth quarter by 12 and by 15 to the Packers with 3:30 in the third quarter, and they never made yesterday’s game interesting. When I told my cousin Vince (often called “Big Daddy” on the GM Shuffle Podcast) that the Packers were dominating as we watched the game, he laughed with a high level of disbelief. Even when the Packers play great, it’s never great enough for Big Daddy. 

At 5-6, winners of three of the last four games, the question of whether the Packers have a chance for the seventh seed is a fair one to ask this morning. Are they worth a bet at +120 to make the playoffs? After their win yesterday, their chances of making the playoffs are at 45.5%, which seems a little low considering the remaining six games are against the Chiefs, Bucs and Bears at home and the Giants, Panthers and Vikings on the road.  In four of the six games, the Packers will be the favorite, only being the underdog against the Chiefs and Vikings. 

Most believe ten wins assures you a playoff seeding, yet most often, the “right” nine wins can qualify for a seat at the playoff table.  The Packers’ only bad loss in the tiebreaker scenario is against the Falcons. With Seattle losing last night, the Packers are one game behind them in the fight for the seventh seed as Seattle faces a daunting schedule for the next three weeks. The Seahawks play Dallas, San Francisco and Philadelphia in the next three games, with the first two on the road. The last three games of their season are at Tennessee and home for Pittsburgh before heading to Arizona for the final game. Finding nine wins for Seattle is harder than finding nine for the Packers. Perhaps the better question to ask is, which team is playing better right now? Which quarterback is playing better?  The answers are the Packers and Jordan Love. 

Yesterday marked the fifth game in a row Love has thrown for over 225 yards and the third game in a row he has thrown over 280. His 7.3 over expected completion percentage was the best of the season while maintaining his aggressiveness with the football, fitting the ball into tight windows. Love is a different player today than he was in Week 1 when he faced the Bears. He has steadily improved in all areas, and the young receivers of the Packers are also improving, considering they had 19 drops this season before the game yesterday. The overall improvement of the Packers’ offense in spite of all the injuries gives them hope for the immediate future and next season. 

All season, many thought the seventh seed in the NFC wasn’t going to be a quality playoff team, which is still a true belief. If the Packers continue to improve offensively and get their best cover man Jaire Alexander back from injury, they will fill the bill as the seventh seed—a good, but not great team with upside for the future. So, for me, they are worth a little pizza money on them to be playoff-bound. 

Top Five Quarterbacks

1. Patrick Mahomes – Yes, I know the Chiefs have not scored any points in the second half in three straight games, but it’s not because of Mahomes, who continues to play well with no support. 

2. Brock Purdy – The man should be an MVP candidate, and even with a bad overthrow last night resulting in a pick-six, Purdy was still great. His 28-yard touchdown throw to Brandon Aiyuk was one of the best throws of his career. How can people continue to doubt Purdy? 

3. Dak Prescott – Prescott has been excellent all season working the ball down the field and being deadly accurate on third down. The Cowboys offense starts fast, averaging 19.4 points in the first half—11.4 in the second quarter. 

4. CJ Stroud – The Texans moved the ball up and down the field against the Cards last week, with Stroud uncharacteristically throwing three careless red zone picks. Stroud continues to make great tight window throws, and with Tank Dell in the lineup, these two rookies have been fabulous. Stroud leads all quarterbacks with average intended air yards. 

5. Lamar Jackson – Without tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson will lose his safety blanket in the passing game. Jackson ranks 31st in passing attempts but seventh in yards per pass, which means when he does throw the ball, he makes a big play. 

Bottom Five Quarterbacks

28.  Mac Jones – Jones might not be the starter on Sunday, and the fact he ranks 28th isn’t because he is playing well but rather because the other quarterbacks are even worse.

29. Dorian Thompson-Robinson – The Browns need Robinson to play mistake-free, hit open receivers, make a few first downs with his feet and not force the ball into tight windows. 

30. Jake Browning – Browning takes over an offense that ranks 32st in rushing attempts and 4th in passing attempts, meaning the bulk of the offense falls on his shoulders.  In spite of all their passing the Bengals with Burrow ranked 26th in yards per attempt—how can that improve with Browning? 

31-32.  New York, New York – Once the city that never sleeps could watch Joe Namath, Phill Simms, YA Title, Eli Manning, Brett Favre, Boomer Esiason, Chad Pennington, Richard Todd, and Jeff Hostetler. Now they are subjected to Tim Boyle and Tommy DeVito. How did it get this bad? I mean many of the past quarterbacks weren’t elite, but this drop to Boyle and DeVito is enormous. God bless Giants and Jets fans. 

Power Rating

Bill Parcells once said that by Thanksgiving, you know who your team can and cannot become. Good coaches will play to their style, which often separates the Super Bowl contenders from the pretenders. I am not sure we can predict the Super Bowl teams now. We can narrow the field down to six to eight teams that could be in Las Vegas and the rest, will have no chance.