Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 8

October 27, 2023 08:20 AM

A Look Ahead to Week 8

Before America saw Al Michaels’ splendid tie knot, keeping his impeccable 40-year tie streak alive, money was pouring in on the Bills at all sportsbooks, offshore and on. The look-ahead line was 9, moved down to 8, then went charging in the other direction, closing at 10 with a small amount of 9.5 available. Most bettors believed the Bills would dominate the Bucs, and they did. They just didn’t cover the line, as they kept the Bucs in the game by not adding to their 14-point lead when they had three chances in the second half.  The Bills moved the ball, getting first downs on every drive with the lead, yet couldn’t put the game away. They were always in control of the game, always in the lead, yet it never seemed like they would blow out the Bucs, no matter how bad Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield played. 

As much as the Bills controlled the game, the difference in the game was one person—Josh Allen. Had Allen decided to wear a Bucs jersey before the game and Mayfield slipped on the Bills' flashy blues, the outcome would have been different. Allen tilts the field—which was my former boss Al Davis' favorite saying about great players. Often, he would ask me, what would our team look like if we had “name the player” on my team? My answer was always, “a helluva lot better.”

Allen hides the many problems of the Bills and makes many of us believe the Bills are this ultra-talented team—they are not. The Bills are an average team, below when the injuries hit, with an elite quarterback. Allen’s elite play is why they have a small chance to make a run to the Super Bowl. If you’re holding a Josh Allen MVP ticket, believing he has no chance based on the play of the Bills, don’t give up. If the Bills win the East, it will be because of Allen. If they win a playoff game, it’s because of Allen. If they get to Las Vegas, it will be all because of Allen. And even though the votes are tallied before the playoffs, if Allen does the unthinkable and gets the Bills the one or two seed, it’s because he played like an MVP. 

Watching the game last night, it’s hard to imagine Allen was the third quarterback picked in that draft. Mayfield, who became a media darling, was never the first pick in my mind in the 2018 draft. The Georgia-Oklahoma game was a clear indication of the struggles that awaited the barely six-foot passer. In the game, Mayfield struggled to see downfield, struggled to throw the ball outside the numbers, struggled to make plays and played small, which is how he looks now on his fourth team.

During the 2018 process, I was completely in the Lamar Jackson camp, not understanding why it took 32 picks for him to be selected. I was never in the Allen camp because, for all his arm talent and size, I wrongly believed he was going to be like Ebby LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham, a great arm with unlimited potential but lacking accuracy and control of the ball—a fatal flaw in my evaluation process. Accuracy was something that was a critical trait for any quarterback and a skill hard to improve upon. Clearly, Allen has proven me wrong. 

Allen will have to be the MVP of the league for the Bills to win the Super Bowl. He might have to be the MVP if the Bills make it to the playoffs. At 5-3 with a big game next week in Cincinnati, the Bills then return home to play Denver and the Jets before heading to Philadelphia before their bye.

After their bye week, the schedule gets ridiculously hard. Traveling to Kansas City, home for Dallas, in Los Angeles for the Chargers game, then home for a rematch with New England and ending the season in Miami. Five games on the road, four at home. If they win their home games, that gets them nine wins, which means they need to win two road games to get to 11.  That seems hard, but it's doable if Allen plays like the MVP. So don’t sell off your Allen MVP tickets. 

For Allen to carry the Bills, the troublesome factor is whether he can cut down on his turnovers.  Besides featuring two quarterbacks from the same draft class, last night’s game also featured two of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the NFL since they entered the league. Allen has thrown 67 interceptions, second most in the NFL to Mayfield’s 68. After last night, they are now tied with 68 picks. His 2.8% interception percentage is the highest in his career since his rookie season.

Allen hasn’t had two games in a row when he didn’t turn the ball over since the end of the 2020 season. His 55 fumbles (not all lost) are the most in the NFL since 2018.  For all of Allen’s mistakes with the ball, the Bills have been able to overcome, winning 57 regular season games out of the 83 he’s started, with 45 of those wins by seven points or more. Pretty remarkable that Allen can overcome his mistakes and still win by a touchdown or more. 

With injuries to star linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, the Bills cannot control the game with their defense. They don’t have anyone on their roster to step in and match their level of play, but what team does? Don’t let last night’s defensive performance fool your evaluation. Had they been playing a better quarterback, they would have been vulnerable to losing. 

Beating Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes will be challenging. Beating Tua again in Miami will be even harder. The Bills lack coverage players, and with Von Miller not being the same player (he played 27 plays and had one hit on the quarterback), they cannot rush the passer and create turnovers to extend leads. 

The Bills' defensive concept is to play a nickel defense with smaller, faster players who can run to the ball and make plays on the ball. They need their offense to start fast, play from in front and use their athletic skills to turn the ball over. Last season, they were fourth in the NFL in creating turnovers. Since losing Milano and Jones, the Bills have only forced one turnover in three games, giving the ball away five times. 

Because of their injuries, Allen will need to raise his already great game to another level. Can he? Yes, but when he tries to do it all, when he becomes the quarterback who plays like a shooting guard instead of being a point guard, the Bills' offense isn’t as good.  When Allen is the point guard, moving the ball all over, they are tough to defend. But with their defensive liabilities and they’re not getting in front, the burden of not punting the ball falls solely on the lap of Allen, which will either make him the MVP of the league or have him watching most of the playoffs at home. 


1. Patrick Mahomes - If Travis Kelce is allowed to run off the line with no jam and run freely down the field, Mahomes will make the play. Last week against the Chargers, Mahomes looked more comfortable and confident. Watch out NFL.

2. Lamar Jackson - With a 71% completion percentage and a success passing rating of 50.9, both the highest in his career, Jackson has been sensational the last two weeks now that the Ravens' offensive line is back healthy.

3. Josh Allen - Protecting the ball is the only negative in his game right now. 

4. Tua Tagovailoa - With a clean pocket, Tua has a 122.6 rating, best in the NFL. When pressure arrives, his 53.1 rating ranks 24th

5. Brock Purdy - Might not play this week. After getting his bell run on the sneak, he threw his two picks.  


28. Zach Wilson - The Jets will try to keep Wilson from beating them, getting conservative in the red zone.  Can they keep the Giants' pressure off Wilson so he doesn’t make a mistake?

29. Joshua Dobbs - Trending in the wrong direction as the Cards miss running back James Conner, which places the offensive burden completely on Dobbs. 

30. Cleveland QBs - Everyone reacts that Deshaun Watson isn’t playing as if it makes a difference. I am sure Seattle would rather face Watson than PJ Walker. Can you believe that?

31. Kenny Pickett - Pickett looked better in the second half vs the Rams and having Diontae Johnson back in the lineup. Now, Johnson might have pulled in hamstring in practice on Thursday, making him a game-time decision. Not good for Pickett or Steelers bettors. 

32. Tyson Bagent - Can he play mistake-free two games in a row and being on the road, even though SoFi might have more Bears fans than Chargers fans?

Power Ratings for 2023

Baltimore is moving up each week, as Buffalo moves down. New Orleans is the most confusing team on the list—excellent defense, great offensive numbers, until the red zone. They are a hard handicap. 

Kansas City



San Francisco






New Orleans







Green Bay




Tampa Bay




New England

NY Jets


NY Giants


Las Vegas



Hall and Oates Play: I Can’t Go for That

Atlanta at Tennessee

There are so many home dogs this week that under normal circumstances, with Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel as a dog, it’s an easy bet, considering Vrabel is 28-19-1. But with Will Levis under center for the Titans, it makes me pause for concern. Most bettors think Desmond Ridder of the Falcons hasn’t played well, which is wrong. He has played above expectation in throwing the ball, but he has become a turnover machine, which deflects how well he is throwing the ball. With worries on both sides, cue up Mr. Hall and Mr. Oates. 

Line of the Week

Did you know that the outcome isn't good when the line flips from dog to favorite? When this occurs, teams are 42-81 ATS when they move from dog to favorite. Green Bay, Indy and Tennessee all fit into this category. This week, we also have nine home dogs to pick from and as history has taught us, many will win outright. Green Bay as a home dog is the most tempting for me. 

Coordinator Battle of the Week

I know the statistics of Dennis Allen when he has been a head coach: 18-42 won-loss record and 22-36-2 against the spread. His 30% winning percentage places him in some bad company in terms of losing coaches, most notably Hue Jackson. You cannot deny the numbers or the results. You also cannot deny his ability to coordinate a defense like he did last year as the head coach of the Saints. Allen, facing the Eagles with Gardner Minshew under center, held the Eagles to 67 yards rushing, forced one turnover, and beat the Birds 20-10 with Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill under center. They dominated Minshew, forcing him to fumble twice, which he recovered, and cashing in on a pick-six to seal the win. Shane Steichen was the Eagles' offensive coordinator, and trust me, he has watched that game 200 times this week, trying to understand what Allen has in store for his team this year.

Enjoy the games. 

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