$.01--The late Sunday afternoon window promised some intriguing matchups and boy did it deliver! New Orleans hosted the undefeated Rams in the featured national game.

Los Angeles must now be referred to as “previously undefeated” after the Saints ran away with a fun 45-35 home win. This game had a little of everything offensively, with nearly 1,000 combined yards of offense, touchdowns for both teams on the first four possessions, no punts in the first half and two QBs adeptly spraying the ball all over the field to a variety of dangerous weapons. 

Jared Goff was great, but Drew Brees was just a little better. On a day where neither QB was sacked, Goff made the only real mistake in not seeing Saints LB Alex Anzalone dropping into coverage. His key interception stopped the Rams for a third straight empty possession. New Orleans turned all three into touchdowns and seized a lead they would not give back. 

An impressive second half rally by the Rams knotted the game at 35, but the Saints still had reserve fuel in the tank to drive away with the win. In the process, they solidified themselves as equal with the Rams in both the loss column and the viability of being considered the NFC’s top team.

For the Rams, a loss felt inevitable at some point. The surviving members of the 1972 Dolphins unashamedly remind everyone how difficult it is to go undefeated when the final unblemished team falls. They get no time to dwell on what could have been; the Seahawks and Chiefs await before LA get a bye week. We’ll learn a lot about these Rams in those two games and how they handle the bump in the road in New Orleans. 

$.02--As the epic Saints/Rams battle was waging on the southern coast, the Seahawks and Chargers played an instant classic of their own in the Pacific Northwest. 

These are the games recent history has taught us the Chargers will blow. And they tried, between Caleb Sturgis missing two extra points and a field goal and some interesting clock management choices. After scoring TDs on the first two possessions, the Chargers offense managed just one other score. So when Michael Davis was flagged (rightly) for defensive pass interference in the end zone on what would have been the game’s final play, giving Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense one last try, it seemed inevitable the Chargers were discovering yet another new and humiliating way to steal defeat from the locked jaws of victory.

When Wilson stepped up through the parted pocket and unleashed the fastball to the back of the end zone, it sure seemed like the Chargers had done it. But safety Jahleel Addae got a finger on the ball and deflected it just enough to prevent David Moore from making the catch. The LA defense making plays like that, or Desmond King’s huge pick-6 on a terrible Russell Wilson decision is not characteristic of what we know of the Chargers of the Philip Rivers era.

Maybe, just maybe, these are not the Chargers we’ve come to know and love in a relationship equal parts pity and schadenfreude. At 6-2 and getting there with their best defensive player, Joey Bosa, still not playing, this Chargers team looks formidable at the season’s halfway point.

$.03--The Cleveland Browns executed the first coaching change of the season last Monday, firing both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the aftermath of a lifeless loss to the Steelers and constant discord. It was an arranged marriage destined for a hasty and messy divorce more than tying the knot with the stripper you met six hours ago at a buddy’s bachelor party.

Replacing Jackson is Gregg Williams. Yeah, that Gregg Williams of Bountygate fame and irrepressible cursing on Hard Knocks. Williams being the relative bedrock of football sanity on the Browns tells you all you need to know about the dysfunction under Jackson. The Browns showed some real signs of life and progress under the profane defensive madman in his debut, a 37-21 home loss to the Chiefs.

Cleveland lost to Kansas City more because the Chiefs are a damn good football team than anything self-inflicted or coaching-related. That has not been the case with the Browns’ most recent losses, and that absolutely counts as a positive. There is still ample room for improvement with the Browns, notably on the tackling and receiving fronts, but the home team was game. The Chiefs were just a lot better at a lot of things.

These Chiefs will be like that for a multitude of foes. Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt and the dynamic Kansas City offense are the hot knife through the butter no matter who rolls against them. At 8-1 they remain the class of the AFC and draw the Cardinals and Raiders in two of their next 3 games, with the Rams (and a bye week) sandwiched in between. 

$.04--Jackson’s winless season in Cleveland in 2017 has a worthy challenger for the worst-coached team in NFL history in Jon Gruden’s 2018 Oakland Raiders.

Thursday night’s effort (using that term loosely) by Gruden’s Raiders in their 34-3 loss to a heretofore awful San Francisco 49ers team might be the lowest point of the post-Al Davis era for the storied silver and black. Players quite obviously quit on Gruden, notably pass rusher Bruce Irvin--who the team promptly cut on Saturday less than a week after nobody would trade for him.

The 49ers accomplished the humiliating blowout with emergency starting QB Nick Mullens, a player most fans did not realize even existed. The Raiders defense straddled the line between apathetic and pathetic in turning the former Southern Miss star into Steve Young for a night. Mullens went 16-of-22 and threw three TDs in his NFL debut. He was not sacked. He might not have smelled the breath of any Raiders defender all night. 

The grand Gruden experiment is off to a much worse start than even the biggest skeptics--and I was definitely one--could have imagined. The Buffalo Bills are awful but they at least try hard and look engaged. Same with the Cardinals and even (occasionally) the Giants. But there is zero life in the eyes of any of the players. Not on the field, not on the sidelines, not in postgame interviews. Raiders fans deserve better than that, even from a team fleeing Oakland for the second time in 40 years. In Gruden they trusted and he turned the team into the football equivalent of Enron. 

$.05--The Arizona Cardinals waived Sam Bradford on Saturday, ending the latest chapter in one of the weirdest career arcs in NFL history. 

Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, the last year of the big-time bonus babies. His initial 6-year, $78 million deal featured $50M guaranteed. Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick the next year. His first contract paid out just $36.6M with a signing bonus less than Bradford’s average annual salary. 

That investment bought the Rams a record of 18-30-1, a 58.6 completion percentage and three separate season-ending injuries. Somehow they were able to flip Bradford--still hurt at the time--to the Eagles. Philadelphia gave him $36M for two years but dealt him after just 14 starts in 2015. For some reason, the Minnesota Vikings traded the draft picks that became Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat to the Eagles and assumed his contract. 

Minnesota paid some $25M for 17 starts, including his best statistical year of 2016. But Bradford got hurt again in just two games in ‘17, paving the way for the much cheaper, much less-heralded Case Keenum to play even better than Bradford ever had in leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.

Arizona overlooked the ridiculously lengthy injury history (3 knee surgeries, 5 separate shoulder issues, 3 separate ankle issues dating back to his Oklahoma days) and gave him $20 million to replace the death spiral that was Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and the rotting carcass of Carson Palmer. He was worse than all of them and benched after 3 starts for Josh Rosen. The Cardinals paid him $10M upfront. 

Bradford has earned just over $130 million since 2010. That’s over $1M for every game he’s played. He’s never had a winning season as a starter, never taken a team to the playoffs. At his best, Sam Bradford might have been the 10th-best QB in the league, and he wasn’t at that peak for more than about 8 games in 2016.

The league has to know this now. If he somehow finagles another $15 million out of a QB-desperate team, good for him. Pray it’s not your team he hoodwinks.

$.06--Don’t look now but the NFC South is quickly getting very interesting. It’s easy to see the Saints flying high at 7-1 and atop the division, but there are two teams chasing them with legit playoff aspirations as well. The Panthers and Falcons are both proving worthy of greater attention.

Carolina is now 6-2 after putting away the NFC South’s weak stepsister, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 42-28. Despite getting almost no national attention other than for Cam Newton, the Panthers are quietly one of the NFL’s most balanced all-around teams. This game was a great example. Christian McCaffrey was expertly deployed as an offensive weapon. He racked up 79 yards on the ground and 78 in the air, scoring two TDs. Newton was efficient and mistake-free, besting Ryan Fitzpatrick’s peak-and-valley style for the Bucs.

Atlanta has overcome an early rash of injuries and won three in a row. Sunday’s 38-14 romp in Washington is easily the most impressive. The Falcons converted their first 8 third-down conversions in racking up almost 500 yards of offense against what had been a pretty solid Washington defense. Julio Jones finally caught a touchdown and the red zone offense perked up. Atlanta’s defense nicely capitalized on the Washington OL turning into the Spinal Tap drum section, too.

The 4-4 Falcons have rocketed up to being the No. 7 seed in the NFC. Three weeks ago they took the field as the No. 15 seed. There is no reason they cannot keep up the surge.

$.07--Saturday night brought us Alabama vs. LSU in a game that was heavily promoted as the first real challenge to the Crimson Tide’s supremacy. The No. 1 team rolled into Baton Rouge to face the No. 3 Bayou Bengals in primetime in what was supposed to be a challenge. 

Alabama 29, LSU 0. It wasn’t that close, either.

LSU didn’t play poorly, at least not on defense. Their playmakers did a lot of positive things. LSU’s defense made Tua Tagovailoa look human for most of the first half. The raucous crowd gave the home team a lot of early energy and buzz and created problems for Nick Saban’s team. 

They just weren’t even close to matching the plethora of talent on the opposing sideline. LSU had negative rushing yards through three quarters. Alabama hit the 500-yard mark on offense before LSU got to 100. The Tigers broached scoring territory twice, missing a field goal and having a late surge foiled when Joe Burrow’s pass got picked in the end zone.

LSU is a very good football team. Based on what I’ve seen throughout the season, they’re better than any Big 12, Big 10 or PAC-12 team. And Alabama beat them the way the original US Olympic Dream Team in basketball thumped Angola.

$.08--NFL quickies

--The Patriots beat the Packers 31-17 on Sunday night in a game heavily hyped as the battle for the title of the GOAT between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady...often by the same people who preach at you that QB Wins are not a real thing...by arguing the number of titles does matter for Brady and simultaneously doesn’t for Rodgers because his supporting cast this year is weak...even though Brady's candidacy for GOAT is built completely around how he carries middling supporting casts to titles. Yes, it’s as exhausting as that preceding run-on sentence...

--The issues in Baltimore between Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson are killing the Ravens. Flacco’s flippant disregard for the first-round challenger to his position cost John Harbaugh’s team an easy TD in the Ravens’ 7-point loss to archrival Pittsburgh. The tension between the two is palpable through the screen from afar. The Ravens have dropped 4 of 5 to fall to 4-5 and the whispers of Harbaugh’s job being in jeopardy are only going to get louder. The QB situation they’ve willingly created is predictably untenable. 

--Houston won its 6th game in a row when Denver’s Brandon McManus missed the potential game-winning FG as time expired. The 51-yarder went wide right, his second miss of the game. The Texans winning an ugly defensive struggle is a new one for Bill O’Brien’s team this year, one which portends well as they elevate 3 games above any AFC South foe despite starting 0-3.

--My Lions played perhaps the worst effort I’ve seen from a Detroit team since the Matthew Stafford era began 10 years ago in getting destroyed in Minnesota, 24-9. The Lions managed just 209 total yards on offense as Stafford got sacked 10 times. I’ll write extensively about this one at Lions Wire, but one major takeaway: Jim Bob Cooter has to go as offensive coordinator.

--For anyone who spent any modicum of time with Jamarcus Russell this is not a surprise whatsoever…

 $.09--College/Draft quickies

--I only caught the final 25 or so minutes of action in the Texas/West Virginia game but you’d better believe I’ll go back and watch the whole game as soon as I can. What a thrilling finish capped by Will Grier’s amazing TD strike on what seemed like a broken play to give the Mountaineers the win. The back-and-forth Big 12 gunfight was one of the most entertaining watches all year. It even got my 13-year-old son away from the XBox to watch an amazing ending.

--Clemson 77, Louisville 16. To (mis)quote Shaquille O’Neal’s infamous rap, “Hey Bobby (Petrino) tell me how my ass tastes.” The Louisville coach, not a popular figure with either his peers or the media, just might have the worst defense in the country. The Cardinals have given up 56 or more points in 3 of the last 4 weeks. A lot of foes enjoyed watching the No. 2 Tigers run it up. Louisville has the worst point differential of any Power 5 team at minus-173.

--Want to know why Florida State has fallen from the upper-tier programs? My friend Joe Marino offered a telling stat:

--Michigan destroyed Penn State, 42-7, in the most impressive win of the Jim Harbaugh era. The Wolverines defense rightly gets a lot of credit for suffocating Trace McSorley, but the prodigious offense was what really caught my eye. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones has played great since his dumb penalty in the win over Maryland, and it has elevated both QB Shea Patterson (at his best on Saturday) and the confidence of the rest of the unit in itself. The Wolverines are the best team in the Big Ten this year. 

--Congrats to UTEP for beating Rice. The Miners victory means every FBS-level team has won a game in 2018. UTEP improves to 1-8 and drops the Owls to 1-9. Conference USA is also the home of 1-8 Western Kentucky and 2-7 Old Dominion, where one of those Monarch wins is over WKU. Relegation, anyone? 

--My Ohio Bobcats scored one of the most dominating wins in program history, and I was fortunate enough to be in Kalamazoo for the Thursday night MACtion. The Bobcats have awakened and still control their own destiny in the MAC East, but beating Buffalo will be a serious challenge.

--Dropping down a level to high school, congrats to the Zeeland East Chix for running away from archrival Zeeland West and capturing the elusive district title here in Michigan. Coach Derek Pennington has done a great job winning with a thin roster that includes starting two freshmen--both of whom should become sought-after recruits in due time.

$.10--Our long national nightmare ends this Tuesday. Election Day means the end of the incessant, irrepressible and completely irrelevant political ads! 

This is something we can all agree upon as Americans of any political persuasion. The overbearing omnipresence of the crass political class with their shameless negativity and personal attacks is the worst part of our democracy. I know I’m not alone in proudly declaring that not one political advertisement I’ve seen in years has ever encouraged me to vote for the candidate or cause behind it. In fact, I’m often pushed in the other direction by the galling and appalling misrepresentation or flat-out declarations of war on the opposing side.

So on Tuesday, please vote. Vote for the candidate you believe best represents you and those you care about. Vote for or against the issues, levies, propositions as you see fit. Don’t do it because a slickly produced advertisement told you how to think. Certainly don’t do it because a celebrity or athlete or even another politician told you so.

I’m looking forward to being able to watch the local broadcast channels and tune into the local terrestrial radio stations -- including the one which contractually employs me -- once again. The political ads have driven me away.