Pity the Power Rankers.
If there’s been a dominant storyline through the midpoint of the 2021 NFL season, it’s been parity. Heading into week 11, 13 teams have either four or five wins, the most ever this late in the season. And it’s not just a mushy middle. Last week alone, a two-win Washington team knocked off Tom Brady and the Bucs; a two-win Dolphins squad dominated the Ravens; and an 8-1 Cardinals team lost at home to the sub .500 Panthers.
Throughout the season, Sling TV has been fortunate to chat with former NFL executive Michael Lombardi—host and namesake of The Lombardi Line on VSiN—and he has a theory about why we’re seeing so many upsets.
“I think injuries certainly play a part in it. When you look at some of the situations—like Tennessee [losing] in overtime to the Jets, Tennessee’s team at that time was pretty beat up,” he says. “The Jets rallied in the second half, took it to overtime, and [won]. Carolina goes into Arizona a 10-point [under]dog, and they win. But Arizona doesn’t have Kyler Murray.”
To be clear, Lombardi isn’t dismissive of the teams pulling off these upsets. A competitive, unpredictable NFL, “is what the league wants,” he says. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s exciting! I mean, what team is going to win the Super Bowl? You can’t really say definitively. Everybody wants to give it to the Rams, and yet the Rams haven’t played well. Like they often said, ‘on any given Sunday, anyone can win’ and I think we’re seeing that really come to life.”
We also asked Lombardi about the MVP race, the struggling Rams, the surging Patriots, and more. Check out his answers below, along with the full Week 11 NFL schedule. Add VSiN to your Sling package today and make sure you tune-in to The Lombardi Line weekdays from noon-2pm ET and weekends from 10am-12pm.
Week 11 - Nov. 18-22
|Thur. Nov. 18|
|8:20pm||Patriots at Falcons||NFLN/ FOX*||Sling Blue/ Select Markets/ Locals*|
|Sun. Nov. 21|
|1:00pm||Lions at Browns||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|1:00pm||Packers at Vikings||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|1:00pm||Eagles at Saints||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|1:00pm||Colts at Bills||CBS*||Locals*|
|1:00pm||Ravens at Bears||CBS*||Locals*|
|1:00pm||Washington at Panthers||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|1:00pm||Dolphins at Jets||CBS*||Locals*|
|1:00pm||49ers at Jaguars||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|1:00pm||Texans at Titans||CBS*||Locals*|
|4:05pm||Bengals at Raiders||CBS*||Locals*|
|4:25pm||Cowboys at Chiefs||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|4:25pm||Cardinals at Seahawks||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|8:20pm||Steelers at Chargers||NBC*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|Mon. Nov. 22|
|8:15pm||Giants at Buccaneers||ESPN||Sling Orange|
Bye Week: Broncos, Rams
Who do you think is the current front-runner for MVP and will that player hold on to actually win it?
I don’t think there’s a leader in the clubhouse yet. I think it’s still a debate. You could say, ‘well, it’s Josh Allen.’ Well, he played really poorly against Jacksonville, is that what an MVP candidate looks like? You could say Lamar [Jackson]. He played poorly against Miami.
I think this: I think the next eight games, seven games for some teams who haven’t had a bye, are going to determine it. Could I see Kyler Murray winning the MVP? Yeah, I sure can if he comes back from the ankle injury and plays really well. Could I see Lamar winning it? Yeah, I sure can if he plays the next seven games like he did the first six, seven games of the season. Could I see Aaron Rogers? Absolutely.
I think it’s yet to be determined. But those would be some of the guys that I like. I would bet Murray, I would bet Aaron Rogers, I think they have a chance. Patrick Mahomes is 25-to-1 to win the MVP. If he plays lights out and the Chiefs win the [AFC] West, who knows?
The Rams got Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. to make a Super Bowl run, then lost two in a row. Are we overestimating their chances of winning it all?
You know, they remind me a lot of the Bucs from last year. Remember, this time last year, nobody was thinking the Bucs were going to win the Super Bowl. They had gotten beaten badly at home by the Rams, they lost to the Chiefs at home, and they looked like their season was not very good. They kinda stumbled into the playoffs, they barely beat Washington in a playoff game. And then they beat New Orleans and the next thing you know, they’re Super Bowl champs. And so I think there are some similarities you could draw upon between the Rams currently and the Bucs from last year.
They’ve got to come together, there’s no doubt about that, they’ve got to bring all the pieces together. And more importantly, they’ve got to find their identity. I mean, last game against the 49ers, they ran the ball 10 times. The Rams under [coach] Sean McVay have been a balanced team, a play-action team. And now that they have [new quarterback] Matthew Stafford, they’ve kind of lured themselves into thinking, ‘maybe we should just throw it all over the lot.’ Well, that has a cause and effect. Sometimes the cause can be good, but the effect now means the offensive line isn’t as good as it needs to be to pass protect. So I think with the bye week coming up, they need to get their stuff in order. I think this bye week came at the perfect time for them to kind of reestablish who they are as a football team.
After winning six in row against quality opponents, should the Tennessee Titans be considered Super Bowl favorites?
Whether they’ll win the Super Bowl, that’s hard to debate, but they could easily have the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They have the easiest schedule; they play Houston this week, then they play New England and have a bye. Obviously, they should beat Houston (but we all know how that goes), and then they have a hard game against New England before the bye.
But I think that Mike Vrabel deserves a lot of credit for keeping his team together. Started the season off not very good on defense. They’ve gotten that fixed. Then he suffers the [Derick] Henry injury and everybody says, ‘how are they gonna win?’, me included. And they come back and don’t do very much on offense but their defense has really played well the last five weeks. Since the Buffalo game, they’ve played good defensively. When you watch the New Orleans tape, New Orleans moves the ball on them, yet they make the plays they need to make to win.
And I think the one thing when we watch the Titans play, the adage really comes to mind, ‘you first have to avoid losing before you can win.’ And the Titans have avoided losing: They’re not making mistakes, they’re not costing themselves games, and they’re playing just well enough to put themselves in position to win the game, like they did against the Saints. The Saints have a chance for a 2-point play to tie the game and send the game into overtime, they don’t get it, [Titans] win the game.
Is it time to start thinking about the Patriots winning the AFC East?
They’re playing really good. I think since the Dallas game when they gave up 550 yards of offense to Dallas, their defense has played much better. They’re turning the ball over with their defense, which has been critical. And we’re seeing the maturity of Mac Jones, [he’s] starting to play better, especially last week against the Browns. And their offensive line, which was the strength of their team this summer and wasn’t the strength of their team in September, has now become the strength again. They’re starting to block and getting Trent Brown back at right tackle is huge for them.
So they go into Atlanta this week, tough game on a Thursday night, a hard game to play because you’re on the road off a short week. But they’re starting to play with a lot of confidence. They’re practicing well and they’re playing well, and that usually translates into good things. And Mac Jones has now played 10 games in his NFL career, so he’s played [the equivalent of] another college season. Now we’ll see where he can go and develop as he starts to get more comfortable. And he looks like it. I mean, his maturity level is great and his processing has improved a lot over the last two weeks.