Lombardi: NFL Week 13 Preview

December 2, 2022 03:15 PM
Allen

Last night, we witnessed a good team and a team that hopes to be good—one day.  And in December, hoping ain’t good enough. The month of December requires teams to declare either they are, or they aren’t. There is no grey area.  December is playoff football—light—and every game is magnified with huge implications.  And last night, the Bills announced to everyone they are still in control of the East, and the Patriots have more work to do.  Looking at the final score is deceiving.  Yes, the Bills won by two touchdowns, but the game felt as if they were ahead by four scores, and this game was never in doubt. 

The Patriots' defense proved again they are not capable of handling a six-back attack, as the Bills were in complete control all game.  They held the ball for 38:08, converted every red zone trip, and were 60% on third down.  The Patriots' front seven are too slow on defense to handle Josh Allen and are not good enough to keep pace on offense.  Once the Bills put the Patriots in catch-up mode, the game was over.  For the Patriots to win, they needed to control the ball for 38 minutes, and from the onset, that wasn’t happening. 

The Bills now have 10 days to rest and prepare for their rematch with the Jets.  They need one Chief loss over the next five weeks to reclaim home-field advantage, thus forcing the AFC playoffs to run through Orchard Park.  If they play as they did last night with an emphasis on running the ball, then allowing Allen to make his usual plays in the passing game, they will be hard to beat in January.  As for the Patriots, they are not mathematically eliminated from reaching the playoffs, but their constant struggles offensively will keep them from winning four of the next five games, which would be required to reach the AFC playoffs. 

December football is the best month to watch teams declare their readiness for the playoffs.  Records don’t mean anything this time of the year unless the coach is on a hot seat as he is in Denver.  Teams with a losing record still play hard and get a thrill out of beating a “so-called” playoff team.  And as a handicapper, you cannot overlook the motivation within the bad teams.  Take the Texans' game against their old quarterback Deshaun Watson as he returns to Houston and begins his Browns career.  The Texans are a bad team—really bad.  But if Head Coach Lovie Smith wants to show the Houston brass he is still in control of his team, then they need to play their best game of the season.  The seven-point spread is an indication of how bad the Texans have been playing, but the past is the past.  Both teams are not playoff teams, but this will be a playoff-like game. And if the Texans lay another egg, it won’t be good for anyone in the building.  When a team faces a scenario like the Texans, throw out the last five weeks, throw out the numbers, and believe it will be a close game. 

Another factor when handicapping games in December centers on who is playing their best football now.  Now matters more than anything and is one of the main reasons the Commanders are favorite over the Giants.  The Commanders have been playing their best ball of the season for the last five weeks, whereas the Giants have been in decline.  According to Team Rankings, Washington ranks 11th in the last five weeks, Giants rank 25th.  The top five teams in the last five weeks regardless of record are:

  1. Dallas
  2. Kansas City
  3. San Francisco
  4. Miami
  5. Baltimore. 

The bottom five:

28. Denver

29. Arizona

30. LA Rams

31. Chicago

32. Houston 

Handicapping Week 13 correctly lies in understanding the matchups and who is playing their best, as well as which team has fewer injured players.  Even though Kansas City is playing well, the Bengals seem to have found their groove on both sides of the ball. With the return of running back Joe Mixon and receiver Ja’Marr Chase, they seem to be getting hot at the right time.  Tennessee, coming off their loss to Cincinnati, needs to play their best game of the season against the Eagles.  The Titans match up well defensively against the Philadelphia six-back offensive attack.  Their defensive line is strong inside, and they have the speed to make plays in space.  This will be the hardest game of the year for the Eagles' offense, and if Derrick Henry can run the ball effectively, Philadelphia might suffer their first home loss. 

What I love most about December football is the haves and the have nots get separated, and all those teams who have hope will disappear.  By Tuesday, there will be no more hoping teams. 

QB RATINGS

Top Five

  1. Patrick Mahomes - Without Tyreek Hill, Mahomes has his yards per attempt number above 8.0, which is 0.7 higher than last year.  And he is averaging the most passing yards of his career per game with 325.9. 
  2. Josh Allen - When he plays within the framework of the offense like he did last night, he is hard to handle and one of the best.  He embraces cold weather and becomes even harder to tackle when the temperature dips below 35 degrees.
  3. Joe Burrow - He makes his first appearance in the top five of the ‘22 season.  Burrow looks healthy, and now with Chase returning and the Bengals' offensive line improving, the offense is getting into a rhythm. 
  4. Tua Tagovailoa - After beating up on four bad defenses the last four weeks, the Miami offense gets its first real test against the 49ers.  Missing left tackle Terron Armstead is a huge blow. 
  5. Justin Herbert - When he has time and the Chargers are healthy at receiver, Herbert is sensational. 

Bottom Five

28.  Russell Wilson - He has lost the juice in his lower body and reminds me of 76er great Allen Iverson late in his career when he lost a step or two. 

29.  Kyler Murray - It’s never his fault, even though he cannot make a play down the field, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. 

30. Andy Dalton - He has to protect the ball and make the easy throws, which he has struggled to do during the last month of the season. 

31.  Matt Ryan - He makes too many mistakes for a veteran and his lack of movement against a good front like the Cowboys is a concern.   

32. Kyle Allen - Houston’s offense is awful from design to production.  Not sure it’s all on Allen, but he needs to play better. 

POWER RATINGS

POWER RATINGS       GAME CODES RATINGS

Kansas City

Philadelphia

Buffalo

Kansas City

Philadelphia

Buffalo

Dallas

Baltimore

Tennessee

Cincinnati

Cincinnati

NY Jets

Baltimore

San Francisco

Miami

Dallas

Seattle

NY Giants

San Francisco

Seattle

Minnesota

Minnesota

NY Jets

Jacksonville

Cleveland

Miami

Jacksonville

Chargers

New England

New England

Detroit

Cleveland

Denver

Detroit

NY Giants

Tampa Bay

Chargers

Tennessee

Tampa Bay

Washington

New Orleans

New Orleans

Indianapolis

Chicago

Washington

LAS VEGAS

Arizona

Pittsburgh

Green Bay

Arizona

Atlanta

Green Bay

Pittsburgh

Rams

Rams

Denver

Carolina

Indianapolis

Chicago

Houston

Las Vegas

Atlanta

Houston

Carolina

The game notes are different than the power ratings as each team gets assigned a number based on being in the top seven categories of my 19, or the top 12, and then the bottom seven when you examine those numbers against the opponent they are playing.  For example, if Justin Fields is playing for the Bears, they have a better game code against the Packers, and the Packers are giving between 3.5 and 4.5 depending on the book.  So, if Fields plays, it should be an easy Bears take, because my line has the Packers as a 1.31 favorite to go along with their better game codes. 

Is this system perfect?  Of course not; no system can predict the direction of the bouncing ball. But it helps take bias out of the handicap.    

HALL AND OATES PLAY “I CAN’T GO FOR THAT”

I have been impressed with Trevor Lawrence during the last month of the season.  He has limited his inconsistencies and improved his fundamentals.  This weekend, he heads to Detroit to face the Lions and should have a big day.  But both teams are so inconsistent. They can look good one moment, then bad the next.  And both teams make too many coaching mistakes to accurately predict the outcome.  My numbers favor the Jags, but I don’t trust them, and I clearly don’t trust the Dan Campbell-led Lions.  Therefore, this game is a Hall and Oates play for me. 

LINE OF THE WEEK

The preview line of the Seahawks-Rams game was the Rams as a ten-point favorite.  Today, the Rams are a seven-point home dog.  And I am not sure that is right, as the Rams are the worst defending Super Bowl Champions ever.  It’s not even close.  Yes, they have suffered injuries, but everyone knew based on their lack of depth, if injuries occurred, they would suffer.  Seattle is on a two-game losing streak and unless they make mistakes and turn the ball over, they should win this game by double digits. 

COORDINATOR BATTLE

We have an old home coming in San Francisco this weekend.  Former Kyle Shanahan long-time confidant and assistant Mike McDaniel returns to face his mentor.  McDaniel will have a complete understanding of how Shanahan wants to attack his defense, as Shanahan will know who McDaniel likes to attack.  They have been partners for a long time, so there won’t be any initial surprises.  The essence of this game will occur with the adjustments—how each team reacts and pivots to matchups and is forced to alter.  McDaniel has practiced against the San Francisco defensive scheme most of his career, and he has faced the Jets who run a similar style.  Therefore, McDaniel will know the soft spots to attack but his concern is a basic one.  Can the Dolphins block the 49er front? 

Make sure you get the Sunday email for my picks, as this season I am 24-17 for 58.5%, and my overall record since posting picks is 131-95 for 57.9%.

Good luck, and don’t get fooled by the records!

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