Lombardi: The wacky NFC South, power ratings and a Week 10 NFL preview

November 12, 2022 10:58 PM
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Who is the best team in the NFC South this season?  If you can answer that question, then you are way smarter than I am.  No team is any good -- and even though it’s easy to bet the Bucs, don’t forget that they lost to the Panthers and the Steelers already this season.  Don’t let the "come-from-behind Brady miracle" last week influence your thinking. 

After the Panthers beat the Falcons on Thursday night, the South is upside down.  The Panthers’ three wins have all come against their South opponents.  The Falcons can only run the ball, and if Marcus Mariota must throw the ball more than 20 times a game, he looks bad -- like he did on Thursday evening. When the Falcons cannot run the ball, play from ahead and are forced to throw, they show their lack of team talent and why most people (including me) felt they would win fewer than five games on the season.  They are well coached on offense, know their limitations and play to their style, they’re not a good team. As the weather turns cold and the winds of November start blowing, teams are forced to alter their designs and don’t catch anyone by surprise.  The Falcons have no chance to alter their style and their lack of defensive talent is a huge problem. 

Carolina is one missed kick (Week 1 58-yarder by Browns kicker Cade York) and one made kick (extra point in the previous Atlanta game) from being 5-5 and in first place.  And yet, the Panthers are not good, as they struggle to get any decent play from the quarterback position.  Last night PJ Walker did his best to turn the ball over, yet the Falcons refused to catch the ball.  They play hard and have improved even though they traded away their best player Christian McCaffrey. With D'Onta Foreman, the Panthers are running the ball more effectively and their young offensive line is improving.  Everyone acts as if trading wide receiver Robbie Anderson was an omission of forthcoming tanking, but he has one catch for minus-four yards in Arizona and wasn’t playing well for the Panthers. His departure was a positive. 

I thought the Saints were the best team in the South, until last week, when the Ravens dominated them.  They are like the Panthers, as they need to manage the quarterback position and rely on their running game.  Last week their defense was porous and this week they should take advantage of a rookie quarterback.  With a win in Pittsburgh the Saints are back in the race.  And they should beat the Steelers.  But I am no confident they will nor is the betting public as the line opened as the Saints being a 2.5 road favorite and now they are 1.5. 

The Bucs woke up this morning with huge motivation to win. A win against the Seahawks places them in first place at 5-5 as they enter a bye week to sort through their overall team problems.  This is almost a “Custard Last Stand” game for the Bucs, meaning they must go “all in” to win the game.  They need to play like a desperate team and pull out all the stops to win.  Can they?  If past performance predicts future achievement, then the answer is no. 

So, once again, who is the best of the NFC South?  When in doubt about wagering on teams, always support the team with the best quarterback which is why the Bucs are still the favorite.  If Brady were on the Panthers or the Saints, they would easily be the best teams in the South and a formidable playoff opponent.   I cannot buy into the Falcons, as their problems are impossible to overcome as are the Panthers.  The Saints should be factors, but with Andy Dalton under center, it’s impossible to gain my full support. 

By Sunday at 4, we will know much more -- and we will know the winner of the South might only have 7 wins. 

QB RATINGS

Has there ever been a year where the quarterbacking play has been so inconsistent?  From Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers to Lamar Jackson, there has been some great games, many mediocre games and several bad.  I’m not sure Brady or Rodgers has played a great full game all season -- which has never happened in their careers.  Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes has been the most consistent 2022 Blue Chip quarterback this year and he has carried the Chiefs to their 6-2 record. Allen, who might be injured has not been his usual dominating self the last two weeks. We are all searching for the MVP of the league, yet because of the lack of consistent quarterbacking, there isn’t an obvious choice as we pass the half way mark of the season. 

So, who is the MVP?  If we are being honest with ourselves, the MVP of the league is Tyreek Hill of the Dolphins, unless the MVP is reserved exclusively for quarterbacks. Hill is a game changer.  He significantly tilts the field in favor of the Miami offense and forces the defense to play in fear with each defensive call.  He has been targeted 100 times this season, has 76 catches which means his catch percentage is at 76% a number usually reserved for tight ends and running backs.  Because receivers normally catch the ball on the outside of the numbers which are the most challenging throws to complete, their catch percentage is typically in the mid 60s.  When an outside receiver is catching over 70% of his targets in a large sample size, that is rare and an indication of his incredible playmaking skills.  Yes, Hill only has three touchdowns on the season, but everything Miami does offensively is because of the defense giving Hill most of their attention which benefits the other receivers and their quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  Why not Tua as the MVP?  Why isn’t he in the top five of quarterbacks this season?   If you watch the game, study the tape, Tua is often saved from Hill and others being behind the defense and still catching his underthrown balls.  Tua is accurate and plays with good timing, but when facing the good defenses, not the Bears or Lions, he hasn’t been as effective.  Does anyone remember the five picks Pittsburgh dropped?  Or the bad 4th down throws?  I am not a Tua hater, nor a believer. 

In my weekly quarterback ratings, I have moved Tua from the middle teens to seven, which is significant, considering the last two weeks production has been against the 28th and 26th points allowed per play defenses in the NFL. If Hill wasn’t on this team, the Tua conversation would be entirely different, which to me makes Hill the MVP.  He makes Tua better, not the other way around. 

TOP FIVE

  1. Patrick Mahomes—throwing it over 60 times to beat the Titans was impressive, but his foot movement and running skills won the game. 
  2. Joe Burrow—when Burrow gets time and a running game, he can excel.
  3. Lamar Jackson—still needs Mark Andrews back on the field, but Jackson has been effective the last two weeks. 
  4. Geno Smith—after throwing the pick six last week, he came back and led his team on three scoring drives.  His accuracy and toughness have been remarkable. 
  5. Jalen Hurts—protecting the ball and making the right decisions in the passing game has made Hurts and the Eagle offense effective.  The Birds have only three turnovers all season. 

BOTTOM FIVE

28. Kyler Murray.  Struggles to make plays from the pocket and when the game is on the line, he isn’t delivering. 

29. Davis Mills.  He will face constant pressure from the Giants this week and will struggle to protect the ball.

30. Kenny Pickett.  With a week off, Pickett gets time to review his mistakes and hopefully avoid turning the ball over.  Saints need to pressure him and force those ill-advised throws

31. PJ Walker.  It might be time for the Panthers to turn back to Sam Darnold after last night.  Walker ended up playing mistake free, which had more to do with the Falcons not catching the ball then Walker protecting the ball. 

32. Sam Ehlinger.  The Colts have a hard time protecting the passer and even harder time run blocking, which doesn’t help Ehlinger. 

POWER RATINGS

My Week 10 Power Rankings

Buffalo

Philadelphia

Baltimore

Kansas City

Dallas

Minnesota

Cincinnati

New England

NY Giants

San Francisco

Seattle

Chargers

Cleveland

NY Jets

Jacksonville

Tampa Bay

New Orleans

Green Bay

Miami

Tennessee

Washington

Denver

Las Vegas

Chicago

Rams

Atlanta

Indianapolis

Arizona

Detroit

Houston

Pittsburgh

Carolina

Baltimore and Kansas City are tied for third place as Baltimore has significantly improved over the last five weeks. 

San Francisco appears too low for their talent base but remember the injuries on the defensive side of the ball in October affected their overall numbers.  I fully expect them to rise in coming weeks. 

The teams who have not played well in the last five weeks and have been sliding down:

  1. Indy
  2. LA Rams
  3. Green Bay
  4. Cleveland
  5. New Orleans

Some teams like Carolina and Houston have not been bad in the last five weeks, as they have been bad all year. 

Philadelphia is the number two team in my power rankings and have been all season.  They play a softer schedule than Gonzaga basketball.  How soft is their schedule?  I can only find one game, in Dallas Christmas eve where the Birds will be less than a 6-point favorite.  Even when they play New York in the Meadowlands, December 11th, the Eagles will be at least a 6-point road favorite or more.  Could they lose a game?  Of course.  With two meaningless games at home to end the season, assuming homefield is secure then the Saints and Giants games will both be giveaways. 

HALL AND OATES PLAY, I CAN’T GO FOR THAT

Because of the injury uncertainty for quarterbacks, from Josh Allen, Matt Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Kyler Murray there are many games to be wary of going into Sunday.  It’s important to check the medical reports today and if a quarterback doesn’t practice today, there is a good chance he isn’t playing on Sunday. 

The Minnesota Buffalo line opened at 9.5 and now sits a 3.5 indicating Allen isn’t playing.  And if Allen doesn’t play do you trust Case Keenum in bad weather to lead the Bills to victory?  Do you trust the Vikings and Kirk Cousins to squeak out another win?  My answer is I don’t trust either side, so this game with all the uncertainty and the lack of trust, makes it a Hall and Oates play, I can’t go for that. 

LINE OF THE WEEK

How is Seattle a dog to Tampa?  If you have watched both teams, Seattle is playing well, Tampa isn’t, Brady is playing at his poorest level in terms of yards per attempt since his last season in New England.  His 6.4 yards per attempt is the lowest of his career since 2002, his second year as the starter resulting in a 9-7 season. 

If the game were being played in Tampa, I would understand the Bucs love.  But the game is in Deutschland with fans who may love Brady and the Bucs, but love football as much.  This is the first of many in Munich as the German people have embraced our game.  The setting will be festive and loud.  They tremendously supported the NFL Europe League in the early 2000’s as five teams played in different cities (Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin and Rhein) and all of them drew large crowds. 

I am excited for the game, but still wonder why the Bucs are getting so much respect and the Seahawks so little. 

COORDINATOR BATTLE OF THE WEEK

The Giants are coming off the bye.  The Texans are coming off a Thursday night game so both teams will be rested.  Don Martindale the defensive coordinator of the Giants will be locked and loaded with blitzes and pressures to not allow Davis Mills any easy throws.  Mills has struggled to handle pressure and make good decisions and Mike Kafka the Giants offensive coordinator will be able to take advantage of the Texans defense with easy short throws and control the clock.  The game coordinator wise favors the Giants, even though the line has moved from its opening of Giants minus 6 to Giants minus 4.5.  The Giants are normally not a field goal better than any team as they need to play their style and win the fourth quarter, but in this case, they are playing a team that tends to diminish in the fourth.   So, this matchup does favor the G-Men. 

Picks will be in the Sunday email from VSiN.  20-12-2 on the season. 

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PRO TOOLS

Betting Splits: Percentage of handle & tickets from DraftKings for every game on the board, updated every 10 minutes. GO HERE.

NFL Power Ratings3 sets of numbers from Steve MakinenGO HERE.

CFB Power Ratings3 sets of numbers from Steve MakinenGO HERE.

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PRO TIPS

The Greg Peterson Experience: In NBA and college hoops, place more value on teams that emphasize low post defense. It travels much better than shooting. View more tips

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PRO PICKS

Paul Howard: Seahawks Win NFC West +350. View more picks

Gill Alexander: Bengals (-6) vs. Browns. View more picks

 

 

 

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