Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 9

November 3, 2023 08:20 AM

A Look Ahead to Week 9

Even the best of the best has a bad day. Last week in Denver, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes registered his second-worst game in his 88-game NFL career, not counting playoff games. He wasn’t sharp and careful with the ball, as the Chiefs offense turned the ball over five times. It gave the Broncos incredible field position with each mistake, and the Chiefs returned home to Kansas City with a bad loss. In fairness to Mahomes, he was battling the flu before the game, which clearly affected his uncharacteristically bad play. Mahomes wasn’t himself, as the NFL world discovered that the flu might be his only kryptonite. 

When you review his 88-game regular season career, only the Denver game in 2021, which the Chiefs won 22-9, has Mahomes played worse than last Sunday.  During that span of games, Mahomes has only thrown three interceptions three times in his career, winning two of those games.  He has thrown two interceptions in eight games, losing five of them. He has had a one-interception game 31 times and no picks 44 times. With those consistent numbers, Frankfurt, Germany’s football fans will see the best of Mahomes—the one we are all familiar with seeing each Sunday. 

Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator of the Dolphins, knows last week’s game was an aberration for Mahomes. He has been on the losing end too often against the Chiefs to fall into the one-bad-game trap. Even though he was responsible for Mahomes' worst statistical game, Fangio, on the long flight to Germany, is still nervous.  Facing Mahomes twice a season as the head coach of the Broncos from 2019-2021, Mahomes scored 148 points on the Fangio led-defense. Under Fangio’s direction, the Broncos lost all six games, being outscored 148-84 and allowing 24.6 points per game.  However, when Fangio studies the game tape of the current Chiefs offensive team, the greatness of Mahomes still jumps off the screen. The rest of the Chiefs offense isn’t something Fangio is familiar with. And that gives him hope for a better outcome. 

So far in 2023, Mahomes has played three of his worst games during his 88-game career. Last week’s Denver game ranked as his second worst, the Jets game ranked as his fourth, and the Lions game as his 11th. In 2023, Mahomes has the lowest touchdown percentage of his career this year at 4.9, the highest interception rate at 2.6, the lowest success rate at 50.3, the lowest adjusted air yards at 7.2, the lowest yards per completion at 10.8, the lowest passing yards per game and his lowest QBR. 

Reading those numbers, you might believe Mahomes is why the Chiefs are not playing as well offensively. Wrong. Mahomes is playing great—his on-target percentage is the best of his career; his bad throw percentage is the lowest. What has caused the Chiefs offense to stagnate is the supporting cast around Mahomes. They are responsible for the highest drop percentage of his career and the highest-pressure rate.  Too many dropped passes, too many breakdowns in protection, and Mahomes has gotten hit too many times (35 after eight games, whereas 56 all of last year).

The Chiefs averaged 29.4 points per game last year; this season it’s 23.3. They average six fewer first downs per game than last year, and you get the feeling watching tape that if Travis Kelce doesn’t make a big play, the Chiefs are in trouble. Many believed this summer that receiver Kadarius Toney was going to make an impact on their offense, which hasn’t manifested. Toney averages 5.7 yards per catch on his 19 receptions and has scored one touchdown. That trade hasn’t worked out well for the Chiefs as they are still searching for someone, anyone, to replace the man who now aligns on the other side of the ball for the Dolphins, Tyreek Hill. 

Hill has changed both teams. By moving to Miami, the Dolphins' offense is explosive, and Hill is impossible to cover. Kansas City is more methodical offensively and slowly has become a good offense with a great defense. For three years, Fangio feared facing Hill in Kansas City. Now, his only fear is keeping Kelce from beating him on critical downs and in the red zone.

Fangio's biggest challenge in curtailing the Chiefs' offense is to keep Mahomes from making the unscripted plays—from breaking away from the pocket, escaping the pressure and finding an uncovered receiver.  When the Chiefs' offense stays on script, they are average. When Mahomes moves right or left, runs for a first down, or finds a receiver, they are great. Fangio isn’t worried about the design of the Chiefs offense; he is worried about the undesigned plays. Those plays will be the difference in the game. 

For all the talk about the offenses and two quarterbacks in this game, the outcome will be determined by which team can pressure the quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa has had trouble against pressure this year. He has a 122.6 (1st) rating in a clean pocket versus 57.1 (24th) against pressure. The Chiefs must get pressure on Tua using their four rushers because if they blitz him and don’t get home, he will make them pay, with a 121.4 rating in those situations.

If the flu is Mahomes’ kryptonite, then getting rushers in front of Tua is his. So far, when Miami has played a good three technique or a team with good interior rushers, they have struggled. Philadelphia and Buffalo (at the time) were able to get in front of Tua and shut down the Dolphins offense. Kansas City has their best player, Chris Jones, inside, which will be the key to their success. If he plays great, the Chiefs win. If he doesn’t, Mahomes will need to be extra special to win. 

Waking up to this game on the East Coast is a great feeling. The football-hungry fans of Germany are in for a rare treat as these two teams are both playoff-bound, and this game will go a long way in determining if they are Super Bowl-caliber teams. 

Quarterback Ratings


1. Patrick Mahomes - He is still the best, even though, besides Kelce, no one is giving him much help. 

2. Joe Burrow - The stats don’t rank him here, but his game against the 49ers does.  His season started last week. Throw out all the prior numbers in your handicap. 

3. Josh Allen - Allen will need to play his best game of the year, and as an underdog, he is 16-10-2 ATS. Allen needs to cut down on his mistakes, as the Bills have no margin for error this year. His 68 career interceptions ties him with Baker Mayfield. Ouch. 

4. Lamar Jackson - For all the talk about the new Ravens offense, they still rank 31st in passing attempts, only this season they are making the most of those attempts.  Jackson averaged 6.9 YPA passing last year; this year, he’s averaging 7.8. 

5. Tua Tagovailoa - If you remove the Denver game, Tua is deadly with a clean pocket but ranks 27th in the NFL when he faces pressure from a four-man rush. When the game is tied or close into the fourth quarter, he ranks 28th in the NFL at 63.3.  


28. Zack Wilson - Wilson plays badly for most of the game, but his three wins required a fourth-quarter comeback. Since the Dallas game, Wilson has only thrown one interception. 

29. Mac Jones - Jones cannot connect with throws down the field, as he is 5-24 on throws over 20 yards. 

30. Jordan Love - Love cannot complete normal passes, and the Packers offense hasn’t thrown for over 250 yards all season. In their two wins, Love has thrown for an average of 242 yards; in their five losses, he’s thrown for 181.6.

31. PJ Walker - Walker throws a bad ball 29% of the time and is only on target 58.1%.  It’s hard to run an offense with those numbers. 

32. Tyson Bagent - Bagent hasn’t played poorly. He is a rookie who needs a running game and receivers to catch. In his 80 throws, the Bears receivers already have five drops. 


Power Ratings for Week 9

My numbers for Cincinnati and Jacksonville are too low, Buffalo too high. With the injuries to several key players, there needs to be an adjustment to predict future outcomes.  

Kansas City



San Francisco










Tampa Bay

New Orleans







Green Bay

New England


NY Jets



Las Vegas


NY Giants



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

A strange week in the market. There is a ton of reverse line movement. Miami, Chargers, Baltimore and Buffalo are getting little action, and the line is moving in their favor. That is never a good sign when the public loves a team, and the line doesn’t follow. Houston has gone from a 2.5-point favorite at home to a 3-point favorite against the Bucs.

Why? Is CJ Stroud playing great? Not since his shining moment against the Jags. In his last three games, Stroud has averaged 6.8 yards per attempt, the Texans have scored 52 points (17 points per game), and his longest pass play is 34 yards.  Stroud has hit the rookie wall, so why is the line moving towards the Texans? Baker Mayfield, that’s why. How can you trust Mayfield and the Bucs offense? In the last three weeks, Mayfield has averaged 6.25 yards per attempt with a long of 40 yards. Even with great receivers, Mayfield struggles to make explosive plays down the field. Tampa is the right play here, but I don’t trust them, so call up Daryl and John.

Line of the Week

Back in the late 1960s, America got to see Batman twice a week on television. It was a funky, weird show well ahead of its time with the Bat computer (an early version of Google Maps) and a great secret hideout. The first episode of the week was centered around the criminal outsmarting Batman and Robin. The Penguin, Joker, or Catwoman would set an obvious trap and watch the dynamic duo walk right in. Then, in the second episode the next night, Batman would find his way out, using his utility belt or common sense.

Sportsbooks kind of do the same thing each week. They set an obvious trap, watch America walk in, and laugh on Sunday after they made a fortune.  This week, the Batman game is the Bears and Saints. How can the Saints be 8.5 points better than anyone with Derek Carr under center?  Seriously, I know the Bears are playing rookie Tyson Bagent, but come on—more than a touchdown favorite? I wouldn’t touch this game, but I know on Sunday night, the side that wins will look obvious. 

Enjoy the games…

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