Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 13

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A Look Ahead to Week 13

Pat Summitt, the former head women’s basketball coach once said about her team, that if they would lose two times during the year, it would help them become a champion.  Summitt knew one loss could be ignored, one loss could be bad luck or a bad day. Two losses meant we needed to improve. The team needs more attention to the details, and when a team takes this mental approach with deep concentration, it embraces coaching and then improves. 

Last night, the Cowboys didn’t suffer a loss; they found a way to win, coming from eight points down in the fourth quarter to beat a resilient Seattle team by six. The “almost loss” late in the season often provides valuable motivation to the team, helping the coach gain everyone’s attention for the stretch run. It’s way better than a loss—it counts as a win. Everyone celebrates for a brief moment, then reality sets in, with everyone saying, we need to get our sh*t together—quickly. 

Yes, it was a struggle for the Cowboys. Yes, it aged their owner Jerry Jones as he watched the back-and-forth track meet between two offenses who never punted, gaining over 400 yards each and were both above 57% on third down. The Cowboys had been a great third down defense, second overall in the NFL, but not last night, as they allowed the Seahawks to convert nine out of 14 third downs, and of the five they didn’t convert, they attempted three fourth down conversions, all in the fourth quarter, which failed and essentially cost them the game. Seattle had the ball four times in the fourth quarter, ran 25 plays, gained seven first downs, and scored seven points. Dallas, also had four possessions, ran 21 plays, also gained seven first downs, and scored 14 points. This was a great heavyweight fight, with Dallas winning on a late-round knockout, even though they didn’t cover the 9.5. Hey, at least the Over hit and Al Michaels continued with his perfect knot. We all should have known the game was going to be great when Al went with the tie. 

Dallas gets 10 days to fix their defensive issues before facing an Eagles team who would have played their third tough game in a row. Much like Philadelphia and San Francisco, Dallas must rely on their front to slow down a good passer, as their secondary is vulnerable. If the line wins, pressuring the quarterback, the Cowboys look great on defense. If they don’t, everyone is worried about how good is Dallas on defense, how good are the Eagles, or 49ers?

Besides having the pass rush element similar to the other elite teams, Dallas also can alter their opponent’s game plan by their ability to play from in front. Dallas averages 19 points in the first half alone. They are in a mad sprint early in the game to gain the lead, which then allows their rush and their third down game plan package to take over. 

Remember all the chatter about Mike McCarthy being a bad playcaller? How losing Kellen Moore was going to destroy the offense and Dak Prescott? Well, guess what? Everyone who was killing Mike is wrong. The Boys’ offense is elite, from a playmaking ability to a complementary element for their defense. After last night, in the last four games, the Cowboys averaged 42 points and have controlled the ball for over 32 minutes per game, running 88 more plays than their opponent. That’s more than a full game difference in play, which then helps keep his defense fresh and ready to attack the passer. 

Besides the right calls, what makes the Cowboys offense so good is how well Dak Prescott is playing. Consider what he did last night—throwing the ball 41 times, gaining 299 yards in the air, scoring 41 points, and not having a pass play over 25 yards.  Dallas made two plays over twenty yards in the game, a run late by CeeDee Lamb (A great call, by the way. Had Moore made this call, there would have been fireworks going off on television, Kirk Herbstreit’s dog, Ben, would have barked loudly, and Moore would be a shoo-in for being the next head coach in pick your city.) and a 23-yard pass to Lamb. Prescott was methodical in his approach, accuracy and decision-making. He never forced the ball into tight windows, was able to reach the red zone eight times in nine possessions, and he made plays when the play broke down. 

Prescott has improved from last year to this year in many categories, already throwing for more touchdown passes than he did all of last year. His interception percentage is 2.2 points lower, his bad throws are the lowest in his career, and his on target is the highest. It’s fair to say, Prescott seems to love the offense and is playing better than ever.

Is he an MVP candidate? Yes, for sure, and with each win, his odds continue to go down. Bet him now on a hunch, believing if he continues to play at his current rate, and the Cowboys successfully navigate the challenging schedule over the next four weeks, he could easily win the award. With Philadelphia, at Buffalo, at Miami and Detroit awaiting, Prescott will need to win three of the four games and have Philadelphia lose more than twice to take away the MVP from Jalen Hurts or Brock Purdy. 

Last night, we saw Dallas win, not play well defensively, and perhaps help McCarthy use the Pat Summitt approach to focus his team down a tough remaining stretch. 

Top Five Quarterbacks

1. Patrick Mahomes – Mahomes has suffered two road losses when he is a 5-point or more favorite—one this year when he had the flu vs. the Chiefs, the other in 2019 against the Titans. 

2. Brock Purdy – If you remove the name and examine the numbers of what a great quarterback must do to win each week, Purdy is the leader in most categories. Expect his odds for MVP to drop lower if he plays well on Sunday.

3. Dak Prescott – As mentioned above, Prescott is playing exceptionally well and is now 37-38-2 ATS against non-NFC East opponents. 

4. Josh Allen – Allen will need the rest this week. When he returns, he will have to carry the Bills offense on his back. He will need to play at an MVP level if the Bills are to make the playoffs. 

5. Jalen Hurts – He might not play well for 50 minutes, but he can close out the game, gaining the win. His knee still does not look right, but his will to win and timely throws have never been better. 

Bottom Five Quarterbacks

28. Will Levis – Since his first start, Levis has been trending downward, not able to make consistent plays. He struggles to be accurate, with a 67% on target throws. 

29. Jake Browning – With the Bengals having no ability to run the ball, the bulk of their offense falls on the quarterback’s play, and Browning isn’t good enough to handle the responsibility. It’s not his fault. The blame lies with the Bengals head coach for not having a more balanced attack. 

32. Cleveland, New England, and the Jets – With Joe Flacco coming in as the starter this week against the Rams, how doesn’t he become the 32nd-ranked passer? Well, because Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and Tim Boyle deserve that honor. All three teams will attempt to win a game in spite of the quarterback—which is hard. If you decide to take the Jets, getting the 2 points, it won’t be a fun watch. If you take the Patriots with the 5.5, you might also want to look away. And if you take the Browns, remember, Flacco is 3-14 SU since 2019. 

Power Ratings

Green Bay’s numbers have improved over the last few weeks because they have been able to move the ball effectively through the air. Dallas finally beat a team with a winning record, as their prior eight wins had come against opponents with a 24-55 overall record.