Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 15

December 16, 2022 09:00 AM


The funny thing about NFL players, even though they make millions playing the sport they love, nothing fuels their motivation when playing for a simple T-shirt and hat.  The hats and shirts represent winning their division, which also means playoff checks, and a chance at the ring, yet players seem to raise their level of play when free gear is available.  And last night, the 49ers showed everyone they have another echelon of play with a convincing road win, 21-13, against the Seahawks. If you took Seattle and the 3, or the 3.5, you knew from the start it might not cash as the 49ers' defense and their offense were by far the better team.  The score wasn’t as close as the game. 

When Bill Parcells was coaching the Giants with the great Lawrence Taylor rushing off the edge in 1986, once his team got a two-score lead, he was on the headsets telling his offensive staff to milk the clock. Check out any NFL Films clip and hear Parcells telling Ron Erhardt his offensive coordinator, “milk it, milk it.”  It didn’t matter when the lead occurred; all Parcells cared about was reducing the game and letting his defense dominate.  He knew teams couldn’t put two great drives together. Parcells knew his defense eliminated the big play, so the shorter he made the game, the quicker he would gain a win.  The '86 Giants, winners of Super Bowl XXI, allowed only 14.6 points per game and controlled the line of scrimmage—much like the '22 49ers. 

Examining San Francisco, they have been as dominating the last seven weeks, allowing 11 points per game, and only 15 points per game on the season.  When healthy, the speed and quickness of the 49ers, along with their space tackling ability, make it hard for any offense to have consistent success.   They are relentless in their pursuit and closing speed to the ball, requiring the offense to be precise with each throw.  They fit the runs perfectly, forcing teams to be one-dimensional, and when the game becomes all pass—the 49ers' defense becomes better—much like those '86 Giants. 

Watching the game last night, I was wondering what happened to all chatter about 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan having to change his offense?  That narrative led to the drafting of Trey Lance, giving away high draft picks for a player who allegedly would give the 49ers more explosive plays and expand their staling offense.  It never happened—and won’t happen.  In two starts, Brock Purdy has looked ten times better than Lance because he is the perfect player for the Shanahan offense.  His talents fit within the offense.  Purdy is smart, accurate, can move and make plays with his feet, and can handle the pressure of the moment.  The game isn’t too big for him. Winning on the road, in a hostile environment like Seattle, playing with great poise last night is a tribute to his 46 career starts at Iowa State.  Yes, I know Ames, Iowa isn’t the big time—but Purdy played in many big games, in front of huge crowds, and the poise and confidence he displayed last night was impressive. It should give the 49ers confidence when they head on the road in the playoffs.    

What Micah Parsons of the Cowboys said about Jalen Hurts of the Eagles can be said about Purdy and the 49ers.  It’s the perfect system for the player's talent.  Why do fans get offended when players are labeled as system players?  Any good coach always wants to match the talents of the players to the system.  When a player is forced onto a system that doesn’t highlight his skills the best, he looks bad.  Why was Steve Young a failure in Tampa Bay and a Hall of Fame player in San Francisco?  It was the perfect system match—the same can be said for most Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  Lance wasn’t a good fit for the system, whereas Purdy is. 

With three games remaining, the 49ers' largest hurdle is remaining healthy come playoff time.  If they have their complete team when facing Dallas or Philadelphia, they will be a hard team to beat—even with Purdy under center.   


Top Five

  1. Patrick Mahomes.- Mahomes is suddenly becoming a little like Brett Favre with his willingness to take chances and turn the ball over.  For every incredible ad-lib play, Mahomes has too many bad plays for an elite player, and come playoff time, this could cost the Chiefs. 
  2. Justin Herbert - 22-23 as a starter, 21 career 300-yard passing games, and two more over 290.  He is amazing and facing a porous Titans secondary should allow Herbert to have another 300-yard day passing.
  3. Jalen Hurts - The last two weeks have swayed me into believing Hurts is the NFL MVP.  His talents within the system are perfect, and his deep ball accuracy has been perfect. 
  4. Jared Goff - Goff has been on a heater the last five weeks, making great throws, protecting the football, and keeping the Lions' slim playoff hopes alive.  Goff has even played well in cold weather. Even though it will be above the 40-degree mark in the Meadowlands this Sunday, he will get another opportunity to show his skills outdoors. 
  5. Josh Allen - Last week, the Jets did a great job on Allen, keeping him from making the big play in the passing game.  Even though the Bills have won four straight, their offense has not been dynamic.  Allen has only one 300-yard passing game since Week 6 of the season and three throwing for under 187 yards.  Saturday night, the real Josh Allen needs to show up against Miami.  

Bottom Five

28.  Desmond Ridder - Not sure what to expect from Ridder in his first start, but having started 49 games in college and running the ball over 500 times should prepare him for the game against the Saints. 

29.  Russell Wilson or Brett Rypien - Broncos are hurting all over, and it’s a good thing they face a team like the Cardinals who are hurting even more.  Doubtful that Wilson plays, and Rypien was 28/54 in his one start this season and threw two picks against the Jets. 

30.  Mason Rudolph or Mitch Trubisky - Trubisky played well last week if your remove the three horrible picks—which you can’t.   Clearly, head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t trust him to protect the ball.  Rudolph hasn’t played since 2021 when he started one game against the Lions, and the game ended in a tie. 

31. Matt Ryan - Once a great warrior and competitor, Ryan's skills have diminished greatly and he is now mistake-prone.  Can he look good against a bad Viking defense?  Maybe, but he can also turn the ball over. 

32.  Houston QB - No matter who is under center for the Texans, they are not going to receive quality play—from the players or the scheme. 




San Francisco


Kansas City






NY Jets

New England





NY Giants



Green Bay

Las Vegas

Tampa Bay


New Orleans










San Francisco game codes are the best in the NFL, even though they are ranked third in my power ratings.  The 49ers going into last night’s game are in the top 12 in 16 of the 19 categories that determine winning.  Since Week 7 and their bye week, the 49ers have been on a steady climb. 

Detroit, much to my surprise, has improved in many categories defensively.  The most significant improvement has come on third down, where the Lions' defense has been able to get off the field and rank 6th overall in third downs converted per game—a huge jump. 

Cincinnati is much like the 49ers, on a steady rise in all areas.  And their game this week against Tampa mirrors the game last night.  One team (Cincinnati) playing well, and the other Tampa, playing badly, yet everyone is ignoring the Bengals quality play, and the money is coming in on the Bucs, partly because we all expect Tom Brady to do the impossible.  I am sure about that one. 


Who are you taking Denver or Arizona?  The line as of Friday morning is the Broncos favored by three.  How can the Broncos be favored against anyone other than the University of Colorado?  Colt McCoy is better than Brett Rypien, and both teams have problems on and off the field.  For me, this game is a coin flip which means, it becomes a Hall and Oates play.  Whenever I see bad on bad, I stay away, as handicapping the level of bad is one of the hardest things to do.  I feel bad for Chris Myers and Robert Smith, the television announcers doing this game who have to talk positively for 60 minutes about two teams who have done nothing positive all season. 


Steve Wilks, the interim head coach of the Panthers, has done a remarkable job.  His team has improved over the last six weeks and now has an identity on offense and defense.  One more win and he might be able to secure the head coaching job permanently.  And with another win, the Panthers can be in the NFC South playoff race.  Big game for the Panthers, and a big one for the Steelers after giving away last week’s game.  When Pittsburgh traveled to Atlanta on December 4th, they were a one-point dog in most shops.  Now heading to Carolina, they are a three-point dog.  Not sure that’s right, even with Mason Rudolph under center for the terrible towels.  Mike Tomlin, as a road dog of three or more after a home loss, is a tempting play.


In Las Vegas this weekend, there will be a family coaches’ reunion—Bill Belichick against Josh McDaniels.  Pat Graham, defensive coordinator of the Raiders, against Matt Patricia, the offensive coordinator of the Pats.  There is intimate knowledge on both sides in every facet of the game.  Both teams know each other well having practiced and played against one another this summer.  And every coach on each side of the field has been trained and developed in some aspect of the New England system.  Going to be fun to watch. 

Make sure you check out the Sunday newsletter for my picks.  28-19 on the season for 59.5% and 135-97 overall for 58.1%.   

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