This week get an abbreviated set of cents due to travel and family obligations. Next week will be back to a full dime. 

$.01--Congrats to the Cleveland Browns for their first win streak since 2014! The Browns soundly thumped their Ohio rivals with a 35-20 win in Cincinnati. It marks the first time Cleveland has won consecutive games since Week 10 of the 2014 season.

Since that time, the Browns had gone 8-56-1 under three different coaches, the same number of GMs and 10 different starting quarterbacks. They found their keeper QB in Baker Mayfield, and this game was great evidence of why. Mayfield came out smoking hot in leading the Browns to a 28-0 lead. He was confident and poised in the pocket, consistently working his progressions and manipulating the angles to invariably choose the best receiving option. 

The last of those failed coaches before current interim head man Gregg Williams was on the sideline for the Bengals, and boy did the Browns players take out their frustrations on Hue Jackson. Their disdain for Jackson, who went 3-36-1 in two-plus seasons as Cleveland’s head coach, was never more obvious than this massive shade thrown by safety Damarious Randall:

After the game, Mayfield launched more shade at Jackson. So did safety Jabrill Peppers. The Cleveland fans, who outnumbered the Bengals faithful in Paul Brown Stadium after the 1st quarter, happily devoured it all.

The Browns are now 2-1 since Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired. Under Williams and young interim OC Freddie Kitchens, Mayfield and fellow rookie RB Nick Chubb have been superlative. The players seem inspired and confident in both themselves and one another, a foreign concept for that franchise. Now 4-6-1 on the season, you have to wonder where the Browns would be if they had pulled the plug from Jackson’s life support earlier. Cleveland looks like one of the six best teams in the AFC since he’s been gone. 

The Bengals were in that category earlier in the season, but since the 4-1 start they’ve won just once, giving up at least three TDs in every game. Marvin Lewis has survived bad seasons before, but his decision to turn his terrible defense over to old friend Jackson--an offensive coach--might be his death knell in Cincinnati.

$.02--Two teams soaring up in the standings stayed hot over the weekend. The Dallas Cowboys now lead the NFC East, while the Indianapolis Colts have gone from being the AFC’s 15 seed (of 16 teams) to knocking on the playoff door in a month.

Dallas took over the top with a terrific Thanksgiving performance, knocking down Washington, 33-21. That marked the third win a row for the Cowboys after a sputtering 3-4 start. Adding WR Amari Cooper at the trade deadline has been the catalyst. 

Cooper was fantastic on Thanksgiving, catching eight passes for 180 yards and 2 TDs, including a 90-yard backbreaker. But his impact extends beyond the stats. He’s made defenses respect Dak Prescott and the passing game and restored order to the rest of the receiving pecking order. It might not be sustainable long-term, but for now, it’s provided the exact lift the Cowboys needed. 

The Dallas defense is more than good enough to win games when the offense can score more than 17. In fact, that’s the line of demarcation. When Dallas tops that figure, they have not lost. They have not won on the underside.

Meanwhile in the AFC, the Colts beat the Dolphins 27-24 for their fifth victory in a row. The 1-5 start seems a distant memory. Behind a great offensive line, Andrew Luck has reemerged as a very good starting QB. He’s doing a lot more despite throwing a lot less. Luck has completed at least 70 percent of his passes all five weeks and has been sacked just once the entire streak (by Cameron Wake in this game). A comfortable Luck doesn’t turn the ball over; he’s gone from a 16-8 TD/INT rate the first six weeks to 17-3 since. And two of those picks came on consecutive offensive plays at the end of the first half by Dolphins CB Xavien Howard, with a Dolphins fumble sandwiched on the play in between.

This is the MVP-caliber Luck the Colts expected every year but haven’t seen in some time. Since Anthony Castonzo came back better than ever to pair with superb rookie Quenton Nelson up front, Indianapolis is flying high. Getting plays all over the field from rookie LB Darius Leonard has helped, too. This win leapfrogged them over the fading Dolphins, now 5-6 after a 3-0 start.

These two are a good lesson in writing off a season because of a disappointing start. Based on how they’ve played of late, the NFL gets a suddenly attractive Colts-Cowboys matchup in Week 15 between two teams aiming at playoff seeding instead of draft slotting. Six weeks ago, few would have believed that would be true of either Dallas or Indianapolis.

$.03--Houston Texans owner Bob McNair passed away on Friday. He was 81 and had been battling health issues for months.

To say McNair brings up mixed feelings is like saying Donald Trump is a polarizing figure. It’s difficult to separate the good from the bad with McNair.

On the one hand, McNair is responsible for the very existence of the Texans. His ability to produce actual cash and willingness to spend it, to the tune of nearly a billion dollars, convinced the NFL to return to Houston instead of Los Angeles back in 2002. McNair was a hands-on owner who cared deeply about his team’s success, often a fixture at practices and never hesitating to spend whatever was needed to sign players. He gave hundreds of millions to charities and projects to help the Houston area, including the expansion of the elephant exhibit at the Houston Zoo which my daughter loved so dearly when we lived in the area. He did so many great things to make lives better. 

So it’s hard to reconcile that McNair with his irascible presence in some negative lights. McNair famously stood hard against the players and their national anthem protest movement, calling his employees “inmates”. He dealt holdout LT Duane Brown, an outspoken supporter of the protest movement, away with middle finger proudly in the air. His hardline position in some NFL negotiations was often in defiant opposition to what other owners felt was progress for the league. McNair donated tens of millions to polarizing conservative causes and political figures. That’s his right and his money to spend, but it didn’t sit well with many. McNair clearly didn’t care about that. Again, that’s his right and prerogative but makes for some difficult public relations at times.

The Texans play on Monday night and will honor McNair with a special helmet decal. It will be interesting to see how the team responds. 

$.04--The San Francisco 49ers cut their losses with second-year LB Reuben Foster on Sunday, hours after their 2017 first-rounder and top tackler was arrested yet again for domestic violence. Foster reportedly got into another incident with a former girlfriend in the Tampa area the night before the 49ers were set to play the Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium. 

Reports indicate Foster and his erstwhile companion got into an argument and the 245-pound linebacker smacked a cell phone from her hand and opened a laceration on her collarbone and open-hand slapped her in the face. He had been arrested earlier this year on similar charges, though the victim at that time later recanted her story in an effort to save his career. Foster was still charged. The NFL suspended him for two games at the beginning of the season. 

Flashback to the Combine before the 2017 draft. Foster was thrown out of Indianapolis after getting into a fight with a doctor during the medical evaluation. He also failed his drug test in Indy. The former Alabama LB also added an additional marijuana possession charge this past offseason. 

The 49ers have had enough, and rightly so. While the details of the latest incident might seem relatively minor, it’s the broader context which justifies dumping the promising player. Foster could not separate himself from an obviously adverse situation. Again. It’s embarrassing for GM John Lynch to cut him. It’s even more embarrassing he had to in the first place, and that’s on both Foster and the 49ers for ignoring obvious flags.

Oh yeah, the game. San Francisco lost 27-9 to a Bucs team that had lost 7 of 8. Now Lynch and the Niners hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft...for now. Here’s hoping they do a little more homework on their pick this time around. 

$.05--NFL quickies

In light of the fewer cents, you get more quickies this week…

--Philip Rivers set the NFL record for most consecutive completions to start a game when he started 23-for-23 in the Chargers blowout win over the weak Cardinals. That broke the record, held by Mark Brunell. Rivers wasn’t done, tying Ryan Tannehill’s record of 25 in a row. Rivers is the first to do that in a single game. He wound up 28-for-29 in LA’s 45-10 win.

--Meanwhile in Jets land…

--Poor logistics in Buffalo when both Leonard Fournette and Sheldon Rankins were ejected for fighting. The fisticuffs nearly continued as the two left the the same the same tunnel. I’ll never understand why you punch someone in the head who is wearing a helmet, either. Nice win for the Bills, who now have a better record than the Jaguars. You’d have won a lot of money if betting on that prior to the season. 

--Drew Brees might set the NFL record for passing accuracy, does so using guys even the most hardcore draftniks need to look up, has the Saints at 10-1, and somehow still doesn’t get mentioned by a lot of folks in the first handful of names mentioned in the MVP conversation. That needs to change.

--My Lions fell to 4-7 with another uninspiring loss, this one to a national audience as the Thanksgiving kickoff game. Anyone who follows along with my radio work, podcasts or writing over at Lions Wire knows this already, but just to reinforce: Detroit must move on from offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. This was the fourth game this year where the opponent (in this case the 1st place Bears) admitted they knew what plays were coming based on down/distance, personnel package and alignment. Nobody likes a stale Cooter… 

--In Minnesota’s Sunday night win over Green Bay, there was another incident which the NFL must do something about. Veteran Packers DB Tramon Williams got walloped hard on a punt return. He got up and showed respect to the Viking who flattened him, and then proceeded to get slapped hard in the helmet by a teammate. The same thing happened with Adam Shaheen and the Bears last Sunday night. For the love of God stop hitting your own teammates on the head in celebration!

--Didn’t see one snap of it, but the Eagles comeback win over the Giants might have saved the injury-ravaged Eagles’ season. At 5-6 they’re just one game back in the league’s weakest division. Had they lost, the defending champs would have been tied with the Giants in last place in said division. 

--Ravens OLB Matt Judon recorded a sack on three straight plays against Derek Carr and the Raiders. One of those was a strip-sack taken to the house by Terrell Suggs, who despite being 82 years old and with bad hamstrings still outsprinted several Raiders into the end zone. That is just the second time in NFL history one player has notched sacks on 3 straight plays. Judon has quietly emerged as a pretty solid all-around player now into his third season from Grand Valley State.

--Sticking with the Ravens, I haven’t seen more than highlights of their romp over the Raiders yet but I don’t know how that offense can go back to Joe Flacco at QB after the dimensions Lamar Jackson has shown in his two weeks as the injury replacement.

Bonus cent: C’mon now, you don’t think I’m going to ignore what Ohio State did to Michigan… 

I’ll admit to being shocked that Ohio State won the game. Hanging 62 on what had been the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, one with three likely top-50 draft picks this spring and loads of quality depth all around seems unfathomable, but that’s what the Buckeyes did. 

All the talk focuses on the coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, and how the former continues to get humiliated by the latter to the great consternation of everyone in both states. And given how both coaches have posited themselves as the faces of the programs, it probably should be that way.

I don’t know what you can do if you’re Michigan. Harbaugh has elevated the profile of the program back to among the national elite, but his odd style and coaching misgivings that he brought along with him (nobody tilts at windmills better than Jim Harbaugh) have failed to get the on-field product equal to the hype. But they’re also not capable of finding anyone else who can bring that sort of hype or recruiting juice or appeal to fellow Wolverine alums. The Wolverines have become consistently good, but also consistently not good enough to hang with the national elite they believe they should be. You can’t pull the plug on that, but losing every meaningful game every year cannot persist either. 

It’s those big games where Meyer shines, and as much as I find him personally reprehensible, he continues to author some epic highlight games for Ohio State. His ongoing health issues and growing criticism of how he handled the off-field messes might force him out one way or another. You can bet the Michigan faithful won’t mind one bit.

As for the College Football Playoff chances, no team that lost to Purdue (which beat Indiana to get bowl eligible Saturday) and nearly lost to Maryland (a 5-7 team Michigan beat by 21) belongs in the top-4. They might not beat Northwestern in the B1G Championship game. Oklahoma has been more consistently better this year, if it comes to that. But the threesome of Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are all locks. If Georgia gives the Crimson Tide a real game in the SEC championship--and I suspect they will--I’m open to an argument the Bulldogs could belong over either of them.