Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 14

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A Look Ahead to Week 14

If last night was a preview of things to come in Week 14, we might want to revisit our betting thoughts. With the Army/Navy game this Saturday, and bad weather in the northeast, the Under has been a conversation for many games all week, beginning with the Thursday night game.

Because the Steelers and the Patriots struggle on offense normally and with their backups under center, the Under in their game was rapidly moving down. Before kickoff, the Under was at a record low of 30 with no wind, snow or rain in the forecast—the lowest with no wind since 2005.

Overall, the NFL hasn’t seen an under that low (factoring 10-plus-mile-per-hour wind) going as far back as 1980. By the time Zeke Elliott crossed over the goal line in the first quarter, you instantly knew this wasn’t going to be an Under game. You knew it was a low-scoring game, but the 30 number wasn’t going to cash. 

The Patriots haven’t been able to cover all season, even when professional money hits on game day. For the last few weeks, the pros have believed the Patriots would break their ATS losing ways of going 2-10 ATS and 4-15 ATS in their last 19 games. Finally, when no pro money moved the number off of six, the Patriots won outright. Go figure.  They scored 21 points, which is more than the last three games combined. Again, go figure. With all these strange things occurring on Thursday night, what’s in store for us on Sunday? 

Let’s start with the Steelers. They beat the Bengals in Week 12 to give them their seventh win of the season. With home games against the 2-10 Cardinals and 2-10 Patriots, it was easy to pencil in the Steelers for two more wins, bringing their total to nine and having a huge stranglehold on the AFC Wildcard. Everyone had the Steelers penciled in as a lock wild-card team. Head coach Mike Tomlin never had a losing record at home. Tomlin finds ways to win ugly, and we all believed the Steelers would be 9-5.  Penciling is what we do at this point of the season, assuming the teams with winning records will beat the bad teams since the bad teams have nothing to play for. 

The noise of losing to improve your draft position rings loud from the outside, yet after each loss, the noise of how bad the team is playing is way louder. It’s irritating to the players as the beat writers love to bury the bad teams (for good reason), which then makes the players take things personally.

Fans don’t understand the players want to win. They don’t want to tank. They are playing for next year, a new contract, and the tape is their driving force. Being good on tape means the money will flow come contract time, regardless of the record. It’s easy to say keep losing and let the media keep harassing you. For the players, it makes them crazy. It makes them want to have a week of not reading how bad they play, and that is why penciling this time of the year is a bad idea. And the Under not covering last night is an example of us assuming things will go as planned. They won’t. 

Last night was the perfect time to serve as a reminder not to assume anything. Handicap games as if this was September when everyone still had a chance. This weekend, there will be potentially nine backup quarterbacks under center. Some have been there for a while, some might be starting for the first time. Don’t assume they will play badly, or the team has no chance with them playing, as strange things happen in the NFL in December. Focus on how teams have played the last four weeks. Have they improved? And most of all, how do they match up with their opponent?  Forget the records. Bad teams love erasing the teams with playoff hopes. 

Top Five Quarterbacks

1. Brock Purdy – No one in the NFL is playing better than him, from the eye test to all the statistical data. He has now moved into being a co-favorite in the MVP race with our number two quarterback.

2. Dak Prescott – Prescott has been sensational with his accuracy, his timing and his playmaking skills. If he gets protected this weekend vs the Birds, he will light up the scoreboard. 

3. Patrick Mahomes – When their opponents have scored more than 20 points this year, the Chiefs are 0-4. They need to rely on their defense to win, not their explosive offense, which hasn’t been explosive all year.  Don’t expect that to change. 

4. Josh Allen – He has to become the scoring point guard for the Bills offense, not the playmaker, allowing others to make plays. It’s do-or-die time for the Bills and normally this is when Allen takes his game to another level. If he doesn’t, we can pen the Bills as a non-playoff team.

5. Lamar Jackson – With bad weather coming to the northeast, Lamar needs to use his legs and arm to move the ball and force the Rams to play from behind. The Ravens have a 12-game fourth-quarter lead streak, third best in NFL history. 

Bottom Five Quarterbacks

Not counting last night’s game. 

28. Joshua Dobbs – He shows flashes, but Dobbs’ inability to protect the football, more fumbles than interceptions, makes him a liability.

29. Will Levis – I am not sure the Titans can watch Levis play and believe he is their long term answer. Too many throws in the dirt, too many balls all over the place, and as the game goes along, he struggles, failing to cover in the second half of any of his starts. 

30. Jameis Winston – If he starts, we need to be reminded that he is one of the least profitable quarterbacks as a favorite in the NFL with a 9-19-1 record. The Saints have not covered a game at home all season.

31. Zach Wilson – Welcome back, Zach. We missed you. The Jets found two quarterbacks with a worse success rate than you—Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian.  Wilson, 35.4, Boyle, 29.1 and Siemian, 18.8. Impressive.

32. Chicken Cutlet Tommy – Look, as a fat Italian, I love a chicken parm sandwich with good gravy and lots of cheese. What I don’t like is a quarterback who gets sacked on 21.1% of his passing attempts. Tommy DeVito starting is a surprise to me and Tyrod Taylor. 

Power Rankings

San Francisco is number one, moving ahead inch by inch of the other teams, and Miami is the fast riser. The last two weeks, the Rams have been excellent in terms of their offensive and defensive production, and if they stay healthy, they will be a hard team to play and beat.