$.01—This year’s NFL trade deadline was a lot more active than usual. Several trades went down involving notable players. The most pertinent trade came from New England, where the Patriots shipped backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco for the 49ers’ second-round pick. This move says a lot about the two franchises on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum.

New England will get the No. 33 or No. 34 pick in the draft, because the 49ers remain terrible. Garoppolo did not play in his first game for the Niners, a 20-10 loss to lowly Arizona in front of a half-filled Levi’s Stadium. After watching rookie starter C.J. Beathard get hit 16 times behind a porous line missing standout left tackle Joe Staley (broken eye socket) and throwing to a receiving corps highlighted by 5’8” undrafted rookie Trent Taylor, perhaps Garoppolo might want to struggle to pick up the new playbook in an act of self-preservation.

On Garoppolo:

I’ve never been a huge fan. There are certainly some positive traits. Garoppolo has a live arm and can whistle it into tight spaces on short and intermediate throws. He does not lack for confidence. He’s also incredibly good-looking and a decent athlete. But when he’s under pressure his most natural comparison is Brandon Weeden. Everything good goes out the window, save his handsomeness. It was obvious in New England’s preseason games. It was obvious when he played for Tom Brady last year before Jimmy G got hurt…which is another recurring theme for him.

The Niners have seven games to decide if they spent a top 35 overall pick on a quarterback they’ll have to franchise tag to keep unless they somehow convince him to sign a below-market deal when he holds 100 percent of the leverage. Good luck with that, Niners GM John Lynch…

New England was off, and after trading Garoppolo, whom they cannot afford to keep after the season, they signed a more experienced QB with time in their system in Brian Hoyer, who was cut by San Francisco to make room. They don’t even have to pay Hoyer much because they didn’t include him in the deal. Some teams keep winning and it seems the losers unwittingly help them do so. 

$.02—Why Can’t We Have Nice Things, Pt. 1

Deshaun Watson has been a beacon of shining and awesome light as the Houston Texans quarterback. The rookie has been thrilling with his derring-do and playmaking panache. He not only won the Offensive Rookie of the Month for November, he won AFC Offensive Player of the Month by leading the league in touchdown passes and pushing Houston to the NFL lead in scoring.

It was devastating news on Thursday when reports trickled out Watson hurt his knee in practice. Soon enough, the worst was confirmed: torn ACL on a noncontact play. Watson is out for the season, joining J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on injured reserve. That’s three of Houston’s five best players lost in the last four games.

Any hope the Texans might have had to salvage the season quickly left the building when Tom Savage started playing against Indianapolis. The Week 1 starter was horrible, completing just 9 of his first 30 attempts before getting on a hot streak late. It was too little, too late for the Texans, who lost to the Colts 20-14 in Houston.

A late rally came up short as Savage was strip-sacked on the game’s final play. The Texans are now 3-5 and have two home divisional losses, all but ending their injury-ravaged season. The only bright spot is that all the injuries came early enough in the year that Houston will get their stars back for next year. That’s little consolation for fans who quickly fell in love with Watson, who was rapidly emerging as one of the game’s brightest and most marketable young stars. 

$.03—Why Can’t We Have Nice Things, Pt. 2

The Indianapolis Colts finally ruled Andrew Luck out for the season. The franchise messiah has not recovered as quickly or as satisfactorily as many expected from offseason shoulder surgery. After complications and soreness every time he tried to throw in practice sessions, the Colts acquiesced to reality and shut Luck down.

There was some hedging by the Colts early on that Luck’s season might be in jeopardy when they traded for Jacoby Brissett just before Week 1. It’s a good thing they did, because while he’s no Luck, Brissett has been a lot better than Scott Tolzein. He proved capable of hitting open receivers in stride against Houston, though the biggest play of the game came when T.Y. Hilton fell down making a cut and Texans safety Andre Hal walked past him without bothering to touch him down. The Colts are now 3-6.

Luck’s long-term future carries some doubt. I listened to two separate sports doctors interviewed on radio late this week, and both expressed real concern over his throwing shoulder. Both recommended new exploratory surgery to see why Luck’s shoulder isn’t healing and is still causing him both discomfort and inhibiting his throwing motion. Thus far the Colts—and Luck—have shown no interest in more surgery, but that might change. They need to decide soon because if he does need another procedure beyond a scope, it needs to get done ASAP, else it bleeds into 2018. For a bottom-five overall roster sans former No. 1 overall pick Luck, that’s not something they can afford to risk. If they make a (long overdue) coaching change, certainty on Luck’s status is an imperative to hiring any new coach worth his salt.

For more detail on Luck’s medical prognosis and options, read this from NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

$.04—In this week’s episode of “Is Zeke Elliott playing?”, the answer is yes. It’s hard to keep track with all the legal machinations that change the Cowboys running back’s status from suspended to active depending on judicial whim.

This week Elliott got another stay, or injunction, or restraining order, or something from a court that overruled what the last court said…which overruled what two prior courts decided. It all stems from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s completely random decision to suspend Elliott for 6 games for lesser domestic violence infractions than cost Giants kicker Josh Brown (among many others) just one game. The legal football trumps the NFL’s own ball, and Elliott got to play.

And play he did.

His line doesn’t look all that impressive, rushing for 93 yards on 27 carries and failing to see a target in the passing game. But he consistently ground out tough yards and scored Dallas’ go-ahead touchdown against the suddenly reeling Kansas City Chiefs. Dallas prevailed 28-17 thanks to Elliott’s lift and another solid, efficient game from Dak Prescott. A late Alex Smith INT which could have been picked by two separate Cowboys (Jeff Heath caught it) ended the Chiefs hopes.

Dallas is now 5-3 and has Elliott’s services for the foreseeable future. Getting that fifth win was huge in the middle-heavy NFC playoff race. Getting the win over the NFL is the kind of boost that can carry a team.

Kansas City was the league’s last undefeated team at 5-0 but has gone 1-3 since. The Chiefs shouldn’t bemoan losses to Pittsburgh or at Dallas, but the league has caught onto how to slow their speed-based attack. It’s time for Andy Reid and his staff to make the necessary counter adjustments, and those cannot be asking Alex Smith to do more. They’re getting to the bye at just the right time. 

$.05—Leave it to the winless Cleveland Browns to find some new and inventive way to lose. Despite being on a bye, the Browns were this week’s biggest loser in the court of NFL public opinion.

The Browns attempted to trade for Bengals backup QB A.J. McCarron to try and solve their long-running quarterback quandary. Never mind that the Browns were willing to part with a second- and third-round pick to acquire McCarron—more than the 49ers gave up for Garoppolo. I’m one of the bigger McCarron advocates in the greater NFL media sphere and that seems ridiculously high even to me. No, the Browns quickly washed away their gross overestimation of McCarron’s ability to help them win games in 2017 by the way they wound up not acquiring him.

Cleveland’s front office screwed up the process of completing the transaction. Between when the Browns and Bengals respectively agreed to the deal just before the deadline and the 4 p.m. limit, a paperwork snafu by the Browns kept their end of the deal from being approved by the NFL. While blame has shifted back and forth on the root of the error, one thing is clear: the Browns organization was clearly divided on the deal. The man pushing for the trade is Head Coach Hue Jackson, who coached McCarron early in the QB’s career. The man pushing back is Sashi Brown, the Browns’ de facto GM.

They have scuffled all season, and it’s getting uglier by the day. It has grown untenable, especially for a winless team which is both poorly coached and poorly managed. Owner Jimmy Haslam, no picnic himself, needs to pick a side or else last year’s 1-15 season will be the highpoint of Jackson’s coaching reign.

$.06—Sunday featured several fracases between players behaving badly. And it wasn’t no-name bench players firing off the line into victory formations in garbage time, either.

A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey, the two best players on the field in the Cincinnati-Jacksonville game, both got ejected for an altercation which Ramsey started and Green tried to finish.

That’s two All-Pros throwing hands. Or at least Green was swinging. Ramsey deserved a flag for the cheesy push which coaxed the violently uncharacteristic reaction from Green, but it did not appear he swung back. Green should get a one-game suspension, though that might be a reward as he’ll avoid another likely Bengals loss. Jacksonville cruised here 23-7 and shouldn’t need to worry about any suspension for their standout CB, who might be the best in the league this year.

If Ramsey isn’t the best, it’s Marshon Lattimore. He too was involved in a brawl, and his victimhood was far more unwitting than Ramsey’s complicity in his own fisticuffs. The Saints outstanding rookie CB got hit by a cheap shot from Tampa Bay’s best offensive player, wideout Mike Evans. It’s shocking behavior from such a well-respected player like Evans:

Being the third man into an altercation is invariably grounds for suspension. The raw brutality of this hit could net Evans multiple games. I’d fine Jameis Winston too for egging on Lattimore…while losing by 17 in the 4th quarter in a game he left early. Amazingly, Evans was not ejected for this. Somewhere Vontaze Burfict demands an explanation…

Then there’s this one from Arizona’s win over San Francisco. This was a run-of-the-mill pushing match until the breakout fracas between Carlos Hyde (49ers RB), Frostee Rucker and Hassan Reddick (the Cards defenders):

Never mind the lack of composure and poor example these players set. Competitive juices will get the best of folks sometimes. But I’ll never understand the mindset of punching someone in the helmet. Those things are hard! If you’re going to punch someone, do what Andre Johnson did to Cortland Finnegan some years ago and rip his helmet off first.

$.07— The college football playoff picture took a dramatic turn with some unexpected upsets on Saturday. The Big Ten was turned on its head with both Ohio State and Penn State losing, effectively eliminating both teams from the playoff with the second loss for each.

Penn State lost at Michigan State on a last-second field goal some 7 hours after opening kickoff in a disjointed game disrupted for hours by severe weather. The Spartans have a plucky defense and keyed in nicely on Saquon Barkley, holding the former Heisman front-runner to just 63 yards.

Ohio State wasn’t nearly as sound as the Nittany Lions, the team they beat last week. Iowa blew the doors off the Buckeyes, handing Urban Meyer his worst defeat as coach in Columbus, 55-24. This game was effectively over when the Hawkeyes turned the first play of the game into a pick-six off a bewildered J.T. Barrett. Iowa’s defense continually confused Barrett and forced the Buckeyes off schedule.

Now the Spartans are the only real hope for the Big Ten. Yes, Wisconsin remains unbeaten after a workmanlike win over Indiana. But the Badgers have just two wins over bowl-eligible teams and one of those is Florida Atlantic. They draw Iowa next, then a Michigan team which looks more dangerous with Brandon Peters showing competence at QB. Michigan State has beaten both, plus Penn State. If they beat Ohio State and then roll Wisconsin in the B1G Championship, the Spartans will have the best resume’ of any 2-loss team. They’re helped if Notre Dame, the team which pounded them for one of those losses, stays prominent in the playoff too.

Right now it appears as if both Georgia and Alabama are locks to make it unless either has an unexpected slip-up, which could happen when the Crimson Tide face Auburn. Notre Dame has one loss, a 1-point heartbreaker to Georgia, and if they beat unbeaten Miami this week (I believe they will) the Irish are sitting pretty. The Bedlam shootout likely cost the Big 12 any chance unless the TCU/Oklahoma winner captures the rematch in their inaugural title game. Iowa State losing to West Virginia cheapens the Cyclones in strength of schedule and makes their win over TCU and Oklahoma more damning for those teams. The PAC-12 appears done without some help, looking up at Clemson and Miami in the ACC.

This one shapes up as one of the most unpredictable seasons at the top. This week’s No. 2 is next week’s No. 12, a cycle which seems stuck on repeat. 

$.08—NFL Quickies

--Washington’s stirring comeback win in Seattle proved why so many teams will covet Kirk Cousins this offseason. Given the circumstances, it’s even more impressive…

--Jay Ajayi was another prominent name moved at the trade deadline. The Dolphins top RB wore out his welcome and got shipped off to Philadelphia. If Miami’s intent was to punish the locker room malcontent, sending him to the league’s best team seems an odd choice. Ajayi ripped off a long TD run in his Eagles debut and makes Philadelphia a stronger favorite in the NFC. I love that the Eagles are aggressively going for it, too.

--As Gil Brandt noted, the Eagles have good reason to push all-in. They’re 8-1 now, and the other four times in franchise history they’ve started that hot, the Eagles have advanced to at least the NFC Championship game. With Settle being so up-and-down, Aaron Rodgers being out at least five more weeks and Minnesota tough to trust with their injury issues, it’s hard to see anyone beating the Eagles as the No. 1 seed. Apologies to the Rams and Saints, both of whom took big steps towards capturing their divisions with impressive blowout wins on Sunday.

--Injuries continue to rob fans of stars, but lesser-known players are getting hit hard too. One of my personal faves, Giants center Weston Richburg, is now on IR. You could win multiple playoff games with the all-injured team in 2017.

--Props to the Jets for covering their season win over/under total by beating Buffalo on Thursday night. The win pushed them to 4-5, and most sportsbooks had them at 3.5 wins on the season. As maligned as Josh McCown has been throughout his career, he’s quietly playing very well at QB in New York. McCown is handily the best QB in the Big Apple in 2017.

$.09—College/Draft quickies

--The one undefeated team nobody is talking about is UCF. The Golden Knights handled a game SMU team 31-24 to move to 8-0. They’re currently ranked 14th and have little chance of cracking the top four, but like Western Michigan last year they stand a decent shot at crashing the New Year’s Bowl picture. If they beat 1-loss USF in their finale, it will be hard to keep them out. The cancelled early-season games with Georgia Tech and Memphis loom large, however. It would be a shame if those contests, which were cancelled because of hurricanes, keep them out.

--Normally I am not a fan of hyper-excited CFB announcer Gus Johnson, who treats a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 11 like victory in the Cold War. But his schtick was perfect on the call for the Bedlam shootout. Oklahoma won 62-52 in the defense-optional game. Johnson’s exuberance was appropriate in this game, including his incessant hype job on Sooners QB Baker Mayfield, who has vaulted to the top of the Heisman race.

--On Mayfield as an NFL prospect: he’s growing on me and disproving the arm strength knock by the week. But I cannot shake the comparison my friend Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout laid on him earlier this fall. He’s Jeff Garcia 2.0. Some teams will be okay with that, others will not. Short, unconventional Big 12 quarterbacks don’t exactly have a strong track record of NFL success, either. He’s going to be a very divisive evaluation this winter. I’m inclined to like him for a veteran team with a stable organization coming off an unexpected down season. Read: Cincinnati or the Chargers.

--One player who keeps popping on my radar is Texas DT Poona Ford. Generously listed at 6 feet and 305 (he might be the 305), Ford consistently flashes the ability to disengage from blockers and control leverage at the line. He’s not a dynamic pocket collapser like other short DTs (Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Jurell Casey), but he’s a player who will make pass rushers around him better. Very smart football player. The current projections peg Ford, a senior, as a 5th or 6th round pick. I’m going to value him a lot higher than that. He was a major problem for TCU, which has one of the nation’s better and more experienced offensive lines.

--Props to my alma mater, Ohio University! The Bobcats pounded hated rival Miami 45-28 in a weeknight MACtion tilt to stay atop the MAC East. The next two games are huge for the Bobcats, hosting West leader Toledo on Wednesday night and then at Akron the following Tuesday (yeah, I know…). If the Cats win out behind nifty QB Nathan Rourke, they’re poised for the most prestigious bowl game in program history. OU has scored at least 40 points in four of its last five. In my 6 years in Athens I’m not sure we ever topped 30…

$.10—This week was an emotionally draining one. As many readers know, aside from my duties here at RealGM, I am the managing editor of the Browns Wire and Texans Wire for USA Today’s online properties. I’m also a longtime Detroit Lions fan. Those three teams gave me one hell of a roller coaster ride this week.

Well, not really the full roller coaster. It was all full-speed downhill for all three teams. My Lions were the better team last Sunday night against the Steelers, but lost because the red zone offense decided to dress as Charlie Brown’s holy ghost for Halloween. That’s okay. I’ve been a Lions fan long enough to never expect good fortune wen opportunity presents itself.

The Browns' trade debacle was tough to cover. It remains tough to cover because I know more about the internal situation than I can report, and it pains me to see the chaos going on. I’m someone who believes that analytics have their place in the NFL decision-making process, but one of the big drawbacks is that they’re often not user-friendly for “football guys”. Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta are taking that to new extremes in Cleveland. They don’t seem to understand that the rest of the league desperately wants them to fail, which would maintain the tired status quo. They’re leading the revolution by being as uncharismatic and unlikeable as possible, even with the people sympathetic to their cause. That bothers me.

So does Josh Gordon’s reinstatement. I’d rather not rehash it, so here’s what I wrote about it for Browns Wire.

Nothing was worse than covering the Texans this past week. I’m not a passionate Texans fan but my son is, and my years living in Houston endeared the team to me too. Between the asinine comment from Bob McNair (which I covered last week) and then having the stunning shock of dealing with losing Deshaun Watson, it’s been tough. McNair’s divisive comments bring out the crazy in the comment sections and that invariably bleeds onto me, the person who wrote what the mouth-breathers, racists, trolls and flamethrowing ignoramuses spout off. When those same idiots—who come from both way to my left and my right—used Watson’s injury to:

A.) Justify karmic retribution against the Texans players protesting McNair’s comments


B.) Aggressively promote Colin Kaepernick to Houston

I was Poland in September of 1939, getting invaded on both sides by warriors who wrongly violated my sovereignty.

I can take the criticism for the most part. It’s part of this line of work, writing things you know many folks will take umbrage with. I pride myself on being able to see all sides of a story and try to disseminate it as fair and balanced as I can. In today’s hyper-partisan shoutfest that qualifies as mainstream news, the art of presenting both sides or nuance of a devil’s advocate position are lost. That was never more evident to me than this past week. Frankly, it hurt me to see so much ignorance, so much irrational and blind hatred, so many people who so willingly refuse to step back and have an independent thought.

Be better, my fellow Americans. We all agree on one thing: our Congressional leaders suck because they’re bought and paid for by narrow-minded special interests and have nothing but their own oft-corrupt agendas to sell. Yet we as a society are consciously choosing to emulate their deliberately sclerotic ways. The “My Cousin Vinny” platform of “everything that guy says is bullsh**” has pervaded down from our completely ineffective leaders into our everyday lives. Our fellow Americans are not the enemy. Hate is the enemy.

Stop letting that enemy win.