Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 11

November 17, 2023 11:09 AM

A Look Ahead to Week 11

Within 48 hours, the AFC North went from potentially having all four of their team’s playoff-bound reduced to two as injuries to starting quarterbacks may have derailed the season for both the Ohio teams. Last night, we watched Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow struggle to grip the ball after throwing a touchdown pass. After the failed attempt to grip the ball, the Twitter and Internet doctors were out in full force, predicting wrist surgery was in Burrow’s future.

Today, the news is that Burrow is out for the season with the wrist injury, which probably didn't change the Bengals' destiny.

Even after Burrow was one hundred percent healthy from his calf injury, the Bengals weren’t a complete team. Their defense still allowed teams to move the ball up and down the field, never gaining control of the game regardless of how many points the offense scored. They had to rely on creating turnovers, interceptions, forcing fumbles and playing well in the red zone. Remember the Seattle game in Week 6? Seattle moved the ball and could not score once in the red zone. Going into last night, the Bengals ranked 30th in yards allowed, 16th in points allowed, and second in creating interceptions. This year, their defense relied on being great in all aspects of situational football. It has not been great in gaining control of the game. 

Remember, being in the lead and being in control are two different aspects of every game. Only a team’s defensive unit can control the game—never the offense, as we have seen this year with the Miami Dolphins. Miami can score and dominate bad teams.  When faced with playing a good team, they can get the lead, but they never gain control of the game, partly because their defense was not completely healthy. In recent weeks, with the return of key defensive players, the Dolphins might move from being all offense to being a team that can gain control. More on Miami later in the column. ‘

The Bengals' defense is different this season—not in a good way. Losing key defensive starters in the secondary, not being as physical or tough up front, has allowed teams to move the ball at will, keeping the game close.  Bad offenses can move the ball on the Bengals' defense, making the remaining seven games hard to win.  Without Burrow to pull them out and win close games, finding five more wins in the remaining seven games will be a challenge, with four on the road. 

When the Deshaun Watson news hit for the Browns, it was a complete surprise as we were all expecting a report on the ankle injury he suffered in the Ravens game, which required him to wear a boot on the team plane back to Cleveland. Instead, we found out he played his best football of the year with a broken shoulder and a ton of good drugs to ease the pain. Now, the Browns turn to Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback. 

Unlike the Bengals, the Browns can still get the lead in games and be in control because their defense is so good. They should dominate bad offenses with their defense, keep the game close to the fourth quarter and make a play to win.  The Browns are 3-2 in one-score games this year, which will be the norm for the remainder of the year based on their injuries on offense. Every game will be close, with the Browns having to avoid mistakes to win. It will require the Browns to play smart offensively, not turn the ball over, control field position, and let Myles Garrett create a big play when matched on a bad opposing lineman. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be pretty to watch, but winning four games over the next eight is doable. Don’t give up on the Browns—yet. 

Now, back to the Miami Dolphins.  After nine games, head coach Mike McDaniels has to realize his team's best chance to win the AFC is to play complementary football. Forget about setting records on offense with yards and explosive plays. Moving forward, his job is to protect his bad offensive line from hurting his offense, which sometimes forces turnovers, run the ball, improve on third down offensively, and let his defense control the game. He doesn’t need to play fast, only effectively, because as his defense improves, they will set the offense up for success. 

The Miami defense is the opposite of the Bengals. They don’t give up yards, ranking 12th in that category. However, they have allowed points, as they are 26th in that category. Since losing to the Bills, the defense has allowed 21.2 points and one game of offense over 300 yards to the Eagles. They have been strong with their front seven, getting solid play from their defensive line and demonstrating closing speed with excellent tackling skills. The Dolphins started slow on defense due to the new system being installed by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and the team's overall health.  For the next five weeks, starting with the Raiders, then the Jets, Commanders, Titans and Jets again, the Fins should win all five and control every game. 

Once Miami returns home from their Week 13 game in Washington, they finish the season with four of the remaining five in Miami. At home, if you remove the 70-point game vs. Denver, the Fins have averaged 34.6 points per game. Miami is 37-20-3 ATS at home since 2016, and since having Tua under center, the Fins are 16-5 ATS at home vs 9-12-1 on the road. Factor in a defense that is going to dominate the next five weeks; the Dolphins have a great chance to get the number two seed, or even the one seed, if KC and their offense continues to struggle.  

Forget all this nonsense moving forward about how the Dolphins cannot beat a good team—this is a different team now defensively. Yes, Tua struggles to make tight-window throws. Yes, he struggles when the pocket isn’t clean, with a 37.3 quarterback rating. But with De’Von Achane returning and the impact of Tyreek Hill, Tua doesn’t have to be perfect, only efficient. If McDaniel fully understands his team, the true strengths and weaknesses, and removes any ego from his planning and decision-making, he has a team that can beat anyone—even on the road.  As you can tell, I am sold on Miami moving forward. 

QB Ratings

1. Patrick Mahomes - Mahomes has more passes dropped than any quarterback in the league with 24. Last season, he had 33. His on-target and accuracy numbers are the best in his career. Now, he needs a little help from his other players. 

2. Jalen Hurts - With a tough schedule ahead, Hurts will need to continue to dominate the down-the-field throws, posting 8.7 air yards. His on-target throws are the best of his career. 

3. Brock Purdy - Forget where he was drafted; watch him play. He is outstanding. For all the talk about Tua and his big play ability, Purdy averages 9.3 YPA, compared to Tua’s 8.5.

4. CJ Stroud - After a three-week slowdown against Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina, the last two weeks against the Bucs and Bengals, Stroud has been unbelievable. His timing, accuracy, poise and decision-making appear to be un-rookie-like. 

5. Lamar Jackson - Losing Mark Andrews will be hard on Jackson as he loves throwing the ball in the middle of the field. Jackson ranks 10th in the NFL with an 8.2 sack percentage, which highlights how the injuries have affected the Ravens' offensive line. 


28.  Kenny Pickett - He might be the 28th-ranked quarterback in the NFL for the remainder of his career, but his team and head coach believe in him and wins matter—even the ugly ones. 

29. Justin Fields - The remaining seven games should not determine the future of Fields, as he is 6-25 SU in the 32 games he has started and 9-21-1 ATS.  Do we really expect this to change? 

30. Mac Jones - His rookie season of solid play was an aberration, as right now, Jones isn’t a starting quarterback on any team in the NFL. He makes too many mistakes, cannot make throws down the field and is turnover turnover-prone. Remember, in his rookie season, his percentage of interception rate was 2.5. Last year, it was the same. Now, it’s 3.1%. 

31.  Zach Wilson - If Zach is playing well, which his head coach believes, we aren’t watching the same games. Wilson has the lowest success rate of any quarterback in the NFL this year at 35.7, two points lower than Daniel Jones. He isn’t just last; he is last by a lot. 

32. Dorian Thompson-Robinson - One awful game doesn’t make a career. DTR can bounce back and all he needs to do is be an average player, nothing great and nothing awful. Take the easy throws and play smart. 

Power Ratings

Expect Buffalo and Cincinnati to continue to slide and Miami to rise. Don’t be tempted by the Chargers, as they will always break your heart. They always play close games—20 of their last 28 games have been decided by 7 points or less since last year. With Justin Herbert under center, according to Betlabs, the Chargers are 8-25-2 ATS when leading at the half. 

Coffee is for closers, and the Chargers can’t close. 

Kansas City

San Francisco











New Orleans

Tampa Bay



NY Jets

Green Bay









Las Vegas



New England


NY Giants


Hall and Oates Play – I Can’t Go For That

How can a team that only scored 7 points in their last matchup be favored in the second match-up by 9 points? Yes, the Commanders, who went 1-15 on third down against the Giants in Week 7, are now a 9-point favorite in Week 11. I realize much has occurred over the past four weeks from the Giants' perspective, but 9 points? There is no way I am taking the Giants and the nine with Tommy DeVito under center or Washington as touchdown-plus favorite. Sing it loud, John and Darryl.    

Line of the Week

I monitor the lines each morning to predict how the public reacts and which group might be taking a position. I color code each day and jot down a few thoughts on if the movement might entice me to use the game for my Mad Dog Russo contest on Friday, in which I am 18-11-1 and he is 18-12. I am determined to beat him this year after listening to him gloat for the last 12 months. I won year one, he won year two, and this will be the key season, so tune in each Friday on Mad Dog radio at 5 p.m. for our segment. 

Watching the lines move is much like the stock market, as there is much volatility on key games based on several factors. For example, the Bears opened as a 10-point dog to the Lions in Detroit, which seemed too rich. Immediately, without even knowing if Fields would start, the line moved towards the Bears, going all the way down to 7.5, where it appears to be holding steady. Normally, a sharp line move of 2 or more points forces you to ask has the number gone too far in one direction. What is the buy-back point for the Lions? One thing we know for sure is the sports book never posts a bad number to start—they want action on both sides from the public. What you don’t want to happen is take the 7.5, and the Bears lose by 8 or 9, making the original number correct.    

Now, Lions quarterback Jared Goff has covered 11 straight games vs the NFC North, and the Bears have been the most profitable team to bet against over the last five years. They are 5-20-1 ATS against the NFC North and 4-13-1 ATS in their last 18 games. The hard part to understand is not will be the Bears cover—they probably won’t. Rather, has the line moved too far?  Which is why this is the line of the week. 

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