Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 4

September 29, 2023 08:00 AM

The Lions sleep no longer

In the mid-1950s, doo-wop music emerged into the American mainstream, originally starting from predominately African-American communities, with rhythm and harmonies never heard before on radio.  It became the musical rage, spreading from coast to coast.  One band from Brooklyn, New York, The Tokens, consisting of four Abraham Lincoln High School students, started to write and record their own music and became an overnight sensation.  Eventually, the group would record their only number one hit in 1961, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” which became a fitting title for the Detroit Lions football team as they have been sleeping for 66 years.  After last night, the Lions sleep no more. 

One of the many good things we do here at VSIN is provide you with betting trends to help you handicap the games.  (This is why you are a subscriber.) For me, trends are one small piece of the handicapping puzzle.  I use them to eliminate games off the card, more than giving me a winner on either side.  Some trends don’t apply, but some do.

Yesterday before the game, my cohost Stormy Buonantony had a few trends that made you stop and rethink the breakdown of the game. Stormy is well-versed in the betting market, and like most women, she has incredible instincts for making the right decision.

Her first trend note was that the Lions have covered 10 straight division games, tied for the second-longest divisional cover streak in the Super Bowl era.  The second, the Lions are 10-2 ATS against the Packers since 2017.  After last night, those numbers are now at 11 straight, and 11-2 ATS.  When Stormy read off the numbers, any instinct I had (which was strong) in favoring the Packers went away, and it was easy to move the game into the “Do Not Play” category. 

The Lions for whatever reason have played the Packers well—even when they weren’t a good team.  Last night, they didn’t play them well; they dominated the game from start to finish. We might be seeing the passing of the NFC North torch, from Green Bay to the Motor City.

The Lions were in control the entire game, using their power under center run game as their focal point behind one of the best offensive lines in football.   The Lions have built an offense that highlights the strength of their team and their quarterback Jared Goff.  They are not flashy, have no wide receiver currently on the team who was picked before the third round, and yet, they can move the ball up and down the field.  They are perfectly coordinated, with timely play calling from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

 When you have an offensive line that can dominate, winning on the road becomes much easier.  The Lions control the line of scrimmage by using their physical toughness to wear down an opponent.  What’s amazing for the Lions is after four games, they have not attempted a field goal over 40 yards even though they average 26.5 points per game.  They tend to be aggressive and go for it on fourth down in the fringe area, which has proven to be a 50/50 proposition.  Imagine if they take the points what their scoring average would be? 

The biggest improvement for the Lions has been their defensive front, which was showcased last night destroying the Packers' offensive line.  Aidan Hutchinson, their first pick in 2022, has played at a higher level than expected.  And so has their defensive tackles group, led by Alim McNeill, a third-round pick in 2021, Benito Jones, a waiver wire pick-up from Miami, and Isaiah Buggs, another wire claim from the Raiders. 

These three men inside have made running the ball on the Lions difficult, as they are only allowing 3.0 yards per attempt.  The longest run they have allowed is 16 yards, which indicates they are a good tackling team and can control the middle of the field.  They dominated the Falcons' run game, held Seattle to 82 yards rushing, and they have yet to allow an opponent to have balance in their play-calling sheet.  When Green Bay or Atlanta could not run the ball, they became one-dimensional. It then highlighted their inefficiencies at the quarterback position.  

Another area of strength the Lions have demonstrated this season is their ability to play less defense.  Because of the rules, the protection of the quarterback and the lack of physicality of the defense, the game favors the offense.  This wasn’t always the case.  When the Lions won their last championship in 1957, it was a defensive game, with players like Dick “Night Train” Lane dishing out punishment, scaring any receiver to cross the middle of the field. 

Today, the best defenses play less defense—the offense must complement the defense.  And the Lions' offense does this wonderfully.  After three games, they have only been on the field for an average of 27 minutes per game and have only allowed 4.5 per play down from 6.2 from last season.  Last season, for as good as they were on offense, the defense was on the field too often.  With this change and their defensive line play, the Lions are no longer asleep. 

With one quarter of the season gone once the Monday night game is played, it’s easy to see the hype around the Lions. Their defense is real.   They can challenge any team in the NFC because they can match the 49ers, the Eagles, and the Cowboys in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  Their improvement in the defensive front has convinced me the Lions are back to Buddy Parker status. (FYI, Parker was the last coach to have the Lions as a perennial championship-level team.) 

Even though the Lions have only been to the playoffs 12 times since 57, losing nine wildcard games, two Divisional games, and the conference title in 1991, this Lions team has a different feel and temperament.  Credit their head coach for making them tough.  Credit the front office for finding talent off the waiver wire in the defensive line.  And credit Aaron Glenn and the defensive coaches for improving in all areas that needed improvement. 

They ain’t sleeping anymore. 


Top Five QB Ratings

1. Patrick Mahomes - Nothing changes from week to week for Mahomes as he continues to make key plays at critical times.

2. Tua Tagovailoa - The game looks too easy for him. He has yet to take a hit, his uniform never looks dirty, and unless the rush gets in front of him, he will continue to put up amazing numbers. 

3. Josh Allen - Two weeks in a row, Allen has been operating within the offense, not trying to steal the offense.  When he plays point guard as the quarterback, and not shooting guard, he makes the team better. 

4. Lamar Jackson - He needs his receivers back, and he needs his linemen back to maximize his talent—even still, he is playing well.

5. Justin Herbert - Has not thrown an interception all season and has been deadly accurate with a 74.4 completion percentage.  He averages 8.1 per attempt, but losing Mike Williams will hurt the offensive down-the-field production.  


Bottom Five QB Ratings

28. Ryan Tannehill - He hasn’t played well all season, with only one touchdown pass and being sacked 13 times in three games.  Their offense is offensive to watch. 

29. Kenny Pickett - Pickett hasn’t been good in spite of the Steelers' two wins.  He hasn’t been as accurate as they need, and if you remove the two 70-yard touchdown throws, his numbers would look even worse. 

30.  Desmond Ridder - When the Falcons cannot run the ball, they have no chance.  Ridder lacks accuracy and boldness.  He never wants to put the ball into a tight window throw for fear he might make a mistake—which is due more to his inaccuracy issues than his decision-making.

31. Justin Fields - The excuses still being made in favor of Fields are incredible. Why can’t we just believe what we see?

32. Zach Wilson - One more game Jet fans, one more game. 


Power Ratings for 2023

My statistical numbers after three weeks are getting closer to being realistic declaring teams' strengths and weaknesses and how those match up against their opponents.  Twelve points separate Dallas from San Francisco, which makes the top four teams interchangeable. After three weeks, Chicago has the highest number ever recorded since I have been using the handicapping model. There is almost a 90-point difference between the Bears and the Panthers.  There is bad, then there is Bears bad.  Sorry Bill Adee. 


Kansas City


San Francisco







Green Bay



New England




Tampa Bay

New Orleans






NY Giants


Las Vegas


NY Jets





Hall and Oates Play: I Can't Go For That

Pittsburgh’s plane had to land in Kansas City early Monday morning due to engine trouble.  This unfortunate problem caused the players and coaches to fall behind in their rest and preparation against the Texans.  On Saturday, they will head south for another long road trip, and it worries me they might not have enough endurance to play well against Houston. 

I was impressed with the Texans dominating the Jags last week, and the improvement CJ Stroud has demonstrated.  This game is a game plan rematch from week one against the 49ers for the Texans.  They are not the same team personnel-wise as the Niners, but they use the same scheme on both sides of the ball—which will help.  I love Mike Tomlin’s team when they are in close games as he always finds a way to come out ahead, but this one is tough for me based on the Texans' relentless effort and the short week.  Cue, Daryl, I can’t go for this one. 


Line of the Week

I don’t bet, nor do I play in any contests.  I do keep tabs on the contest numbers as they are a look into a bookmaker’s mindset for the weekend.  The contest sets their numbers on Thursday, so the book needs to make a prediction on where they expect the line to move—one way or another.  In the Circa contest, the Vikings line is -5 vs. the Panthers on the road.  Yet, there are plenty of -4.5 in shops all over and even some at -4.  So expect a big surge Sunday morning for the Vikings, and if you like them this week, grab the number now as it might surge ahead. 


Coordinator Battle of the Week

So far, other than Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense, no one has been able to slow down Miami’s offense.  The Pats held the Fins to 244 yards passing, which was well below the 466 they achieved against the Chargers or the 376 against the Broncos.  The Patriots held Miami to 24 points and 22 first downs and had a chance to tie the game at the end. 

Now, Sean McDermott of the Bills, another bright defensive mind, gets his chance to slow down the Dolphins offense.  Last year in Week 3, the Bills held Miami to 212 yards, then in Week 15 in Buffalo, the Dolphins gained 405, with 188 coming on the ground.  In the playoff game with Skylar Thompson, they could only gain 231 yards, but they kept the game close, losing 34-31.  In the last three games, the outcomes have been decided by three points twice and two once, the only one Miami won. 

This game between two head coaches each calling the plays for their side of the ball will be fun to watch from a scheme perspective and the adjustments needed.  Miami has changed what they do. Can Buffalo keep up with the change?  I’m not sure. 

2-1 last week and 5-4 for the season.  Check back with The Lombardi Line on Sunday for my three plays. 

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