Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 6

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A Look Ahead to Week 6

Former 49er and Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh loved professional boxing.  He often would use boxing as a metaphor for a football player’s life, making me take a VHS machine to the hospital with the movie Requiem for a Heavyweight written by the great Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. 

The movie explores themes of loyalty, identity, and the harsh realities faced by professional athletes—which are precisely the thoughts of any player after an operation, especially one in the mid-1980s as the advancement in orthopedic surgery or recovery had not advanced.  At that time, surgery meant the end, or the near end of a career.  Only those who wanted to endure the painful rehab, who had the mental toughness, would return to the gridiron.  Those who could identify with the character in the movie, Mountain McClintock, would jump out of that hospital bed with the required determination to return—which is precisely what Walsh wanted. 

Walsh also saw the plight of playing quarterback in the NFL similar to that of a world-class boxer.  Both require great footwork, quick feet, quick hands, balance, athletic skills, and the ability to avoid the big hit. He believed the feet and the arm had to work together, which is the same for the boxer as the fists and feet need symmetry.  He also used boxing to understand when the quarterback was nearing the end of his career, from taking all the hits to not being able to see the next punch, and most of all, not having the same foot quickness and power in their lower bodies to punch with speed and force.  

Last night, we saw an aging champion, Russell Wilson of the Denver Broncos, a player who once had all those valuable quarterback qualities, and now has become a shell of his former self.  He isn’t the reason the Broncos lost five games, but he also isn’t the reason they can win games.  Unfortunately, the end is near for Russell.  For the Broncos to move forward, they know with total certainty, after six games it won’t be with Wilson under center in the future. 

Some of the biggest mistakes we all make in football can be summed up with two words:  Too late.  Too late to recognize the problem; too late to react to the problem; too late to have an answer to the problem.  Seattle knew Wilson was at the end, or extremely close.  They sold high and got incredible value for the aging star while Denver dug a deeper hole into the abyss. 

When Denver won the Super Bowl in 2015, they won with a great defense and an aging quarterback, who couldn’t make all the throws, but still was savvy enough to make smart plays.  After Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos did what most teams do. They lied to themselves, believing they were closer to returning to the Super Bowl than they actually were. 

The Broncos are on their fifth head coach since 2016 and still searching for a replacement for Manning.  Manning gave them four great years, two Super Bowl appearances, one win, and two divisional playoff games.  The winning ended when he left, and now eight years later, the Broncos are 45-75 (including last night) for a 37% winning percentage.  The time to rebuild is now. The time to stop kidding yourself is now, and since the only one with job security in Denver is their head coach Sean Payton, there should be no hesitation.

The Broncos need to sell off their aging assets.  No one will touch Wilson now, but if he is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2024, his 2025 salary becomes fully guaranteed.  And that’s $37 million—yikes.  The Broncos will have to eat the $17 million guaranteed for the 2024 season, as Wilson either continues to play or moves to the television booth.  You can honestly say without one ounce of hesitation, the next 11 games are the last games Broncos fans will see Wilson in their uniform. 

The Broncos know they are not extending receiver Jerry Jeudy’s contract, so if someone offers a pick better than a 2025 comp pick, Jeudy will be gone.  Same for receiver Courtland Sutton who has two more years remaining on his contract, all not guaranteed at 13 million per year. 

The Broncos need to continue to play young players and get high enough in the draft to either select Caleb Williams, Michael Penix, or another great young college passer.  The Broncos tried to push ahead. They attempted to put a good product on the field this year, spending ridiculous money in free agency without improving the team even a little.  They tried and failed.  Now is the time to start trying to rebuild, which for us as bettors, the Broncos line the next few weeks won’t be high enough—even against bad teams.  Because no matter how loud they scream they want to win, or they won’t trade away assets, they can’t do it with a straight face.  They have their own first-rounder but don’t have a second, so they need to finish badly to make sure they get their next quarterback.

We all know when the time to go “all in” is for teams. They often make the move without hesitation, but do we know when the time to go “all out” is?  After winning 37% of their games in the last eight years, if the Broncos don’t realize now is the time, then they are hopeless.  There is only one choice—for the Broncos, continue the teardown and rebuild. 

QB Ratings

1. Patrick Mahomes – After last night’s game, throwing for 300-plus yards, I fully expect the Chiefs to be active in the trading market for another receiver. Perhaps they will bring back Mecole Hardman from the Jets as he is basically in witness protection in their offense with one catch for six yards.  The Chiefs need help on the outside—scoring 19 points vs. the bad Broncos’ defense with six of those points coming on field goals over 50 yards isn’t going to cut it for Mahomes and their offense.  

2. Josh Allen – With the injuries to two of the Bills’ best defensive players, Matt Milano and DaQuan Jones, the pressure to win falls even more onto Allen’s shoulders.  The Bills’ defense is built to play from in front, rush the passer, and create turnovers. Both Jones and Milano were sensational in their roles.  Now, it’s even more important for the Bills to play from in front, control the ball and play less defense.                       

3. Brock Purdy – At some point, can we stop saying Purdy was a seventh-round pick and Mr. Irrelevant?  It doesn’t matter where they are picked. It only matters how they play, and Purdy is playing at an MVP level right now.  When the system matches the players’ skill set perfectly, the results are incredible, which is what has been happening in San Francisco.  With bad weather coming to Ohio this weekend for the Browns game, remember Purdy played in Iowa and won 25 games in the month of October, so he knows how to handle the wind and bad conditions.    

4. Jalen Hurts – Hurts finally looked like the player we all saw in 2022.  He has 55 carries after five games, averaging 10 per game (which is too many), and he’s making perfect throws down the field.  Last year, the Birds dominated the second quarter, putting most teams away before halftime. This season, they are dominating the third quarter, scoring 37 points and allowing only seven. Hurts has won his last 11 regular season games and is 22-1 over the last 23 games.              

5. Jared Goff – Since 2021, Goff has been 25-11 against the spread and has improved his outdoor performances going 14-11 ATS on the road.  This game in Tampa is a big test for Goff against a solid defensive front and a good attacking scheme.  Even without his best receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, Goff is still making plays down the field, averaging 8.0 YPA. The key to him beating the Bucs is running the ball. The Bucs allow 4.1 yards per attempt, and if they don’t slow down the run, they won’t slow down Goff. 

Bottom Five

28. Jordan Love – Love had a complete meltdown in Las Vegas last Monday, throwing three picks, one to end the game and seal the victory for the Raiders.  His accuracy is off, and he seems to lack confidence in his game, which is natural for someone who hasn’t played much football over the last four years.  He needs Aaron Jones back to give him an explosive playmaker in the backfield.               

29. Bryce Young – Call me crazy, but I like Young and believe he will be a great player one day.  He has great rhythm to his game, sees the field and can make throws.  The offense is painful to watch, always in shotgun, but there are signs of Young being a good player, trust me. It’s just not yet. 

30. Daniel Jones – Jones needs a strong run game and great pass protection to be a decent quarterback. He gets neither from the Giants. Their offensive line is awful, and without any playmakers, Jones isn’t good enough to make up for their problems.  Why the Giants paid $40 million per year will go down as one of the foundational questions we continue to ask here in America without getting answers. After who killed JFK, where is Jimmy Hoffa and where was the Batcave, comes why pay Jones?

31. Mac Jones – Will the real Mac Jones come forward?  Is the 2021 Mac still there, or is the 2023 Mac the reality? In 2021, Mac looked like a promising rookie. This season, he looks like a washed-up backup.  In 2021, he ranked 14th overall in drop-back passing. This year, he’s 30th.  In 2021, he ranked 10th on pass formation; this year, he’s 28th.  The numbers are so different, can he be all coaching?  Look at Michael Penix Jr.’s numbers after Kalen DeBoer left Indiana and look at Jones after Josh McDaniels left New England.  Is it the player or the coaching? 

32. Kenny Pickett – Speaking of coaching, the Steelers need to decide whether Pickett is their problem, or if it’s Matt Canada’s offense. If I were in Pittsburgh, I would call Minnesota and try to trade for Kirk Cousins.  Use Cousins for two years as you decide if Pickett is good enough to move forward.  Why not?  You have a good team with good offensive skill. All that is missing is a quarterback to make plays. 

Power Ratings for 2023

Tampa’s numbers are better than I expected.  Miami’s are worse.  Miami cannot sustain their offensive pace—especially when they play good defensive coaches.