$.01--There is going all-in on winning in a given season and then there’s what the Los Angeles Rams have done in 2021. Sean McVay’s Rams have pushed more chips into the Super Bowl pot than any team could ever buy. 

The latest chip is a shiny one. Odell Beckham Jr. joined the Rams this week after being dumped in a failed chemistry experiment in Cleveland. Beckham chose the Rams after basking in the recruitment spotlight for a bit, making sure he got the top sales pitch from each interested team. The Packers, Saints and Raiders were all allegedly interested to varying degrees, probably none of which equals as high as Beckham would want anyone to believe. 

This acquisition doesn’t cost the Rams too much. Beckham can earn up to $4.25 million but is guaranteed just $1.25 million for the remaining nine games when he signed. Unlike the moves to land EDGE Von Miller last week or QB Matthew Stafford in the offseason, the Rams didn't sacrifice any future draft picks to sign OBJ. It’s a savvy move to buy another weapon, a receiver who can be a trump card for Stafford if the standard deck isn’t working. 

It turned out to be a prescient investment. In Beckham’s first day in Los Angeles, starting WR Robert Woods tore an ACL in practice. Conspiracy theories involving Odell Beckham Sr. aside (the memes are fantastic!), it highlights exactly why GM Les Snead and coach McVay are smart to keep pushing every chip they can grab into the pot to win this season’s Super Bowl. As long as they don’t demand him to be the reason they win, Beckham can absolutely help the Rams achieve it. 

$.02--Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden isn’t taking his dismissal from the team or the circumstances that led to it lightly. Gruden filed a 21-page lawsuit against the NFL this week, alleging he is the fall guy and a distractionary tool by the league to deflect attention away from far more damaging information in the investigation into the Washington Football Team. 

You might recall Gruden was fired for some old emails sent to then-WFT GM Bruce Allen while Gruden was working for ESPN. Those emails featured politically and socially incorrect language that insults nearly every American in some manner. Those inflammatory emails came to light during the NFL’s investigation of some serious and endemic criminal behavior on the part of WFT owner Daniel Snyder and the organization. 

In the words of the lawsuit, the NFL and Commissioner Goodell:

“intentionally singled out Gruden to make him appear as the solitary bad actor at a time when Defendants were facing intense public scrutiny over the mismanagement of the Washington Football Team investigation.”

In most cases, this would seem like a quest for a monetary settlement. But Gruden’s status is different. He’s made it clear he wants more of the league’s investigation into the WFT and the league itself put under the microscope. The discovery process of the lawsuit could be terribly damaging to the league and Goodell himself. As the figurehead who protects the shield better than any mafioso “cleaner” could ever hope to operate, Goodell hoped to bury the WFT bodies quietly. But Gruden hung one of those bodies out of the helicopter, Scarface style.  

What happens next? If Gruden chooses to push it, he should at least win back some of his reputation. He can be the man who blows up the weirdly effective cover-up of (allegedly) major wrongdoings by the WFT sanctioned from the very top. That could spell the end of Snyder’s run as owner and possibly shame the league’s other owners into making Goodell the fall guy for doing exactly what they pay him millions per year to do: keep the public spotlight off their indiscretions. 

No one should shed any tears for Gruden. This lawsuit doesn’t change the fact he said things in those emails that cannot be said on a company email in this day and age. But I’ll feel better about Gruden’s legacy if he helps expose Goodell’s reckless cleaning job that protects a very bad man in Snyder and far too many of his complicit enablers around NFL ownership. 

$.03--Part of the football world got back on its axis this week when the Carolina Panthers brought back former MVP QB Cam Newton. With Sam Darnold both injured and playing terrible, bringing Newton back restores both football cosmic balance and hope for the middling Panthers. 

Newton hadn’t played all season and only worked in one practice with an all-new regime in his old stomping grounds. P.J. Walker earned the start versus the Arizona Cardinals in place of Darnold, and he played acceptably outside of a bad heat-seeking missile that found Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson. But Newton, as he is wont to do and as the Panthers want him to do, stole the show in his limited appearance.

Newton completed three of his four passes in red zone duty, netting eight yards and a TD. Cam also ran in a touchdown on one of his three carries, screaming “I’m back” after scoring on his first carry. The spoonful of sugar worked wonderfully for the Panthers in a 34-10 rout of the banged-up Cardinals, who played without QB Kyler Murray and WR Deandre Hopkins (among others). It was as fun to witness as Newton’s exotic wardrobe choices for his stadium entrances and postgame pressers. 

Without knowing if Newton, whose body has declined since his Charlotte heyday, works out or not, at least the Panthers acknowledged that Darnold isn’t the answer. It’s an expensive mistake, as my friend Trevor Sikkema from Pro Football Focus noted: 

“Panthers traded second, fourth, and sixth-round picks to rent Sam Darnold for nine games of below .500 play just to sign Cam back midseason for more money than he got from the Patriots.”

If Cam can keep the spark lit, the Panthers have a chance to stick around the NFC playoffs. Having a healthy Christian McCaffrey certainly helps too. When they had both on Sunday, they blew out the NFC’s No. 1 seed and moved into the No. 7 and final plaoyff spot in the process. 

$.04--Any Given Sunday, Week 10 edition

The upsets started before the weekend even began. Thursday night saw the Miami Dolphins blow past the Baltimore Ravens, 22-10, in a game where the visiting Ravens were anywhere between 7.5 and 9-point favorites.  

Miami’s defense suffocated Baltimore’s offense. The Ravens had a run of 10 straight drives where they didn’t attain more than one first down in any of them. The Dolphins managed to do it by deploying their safeties as undersized pass rushers instead of asking them to chase targets in space. Starting safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones each blitzed more in this game than any other safety has in any game since at least 2016. It worked brilliantly. 

Lamar Jackson just couldn’t find any daylight as a runner or a passer. The Dolphins LBs and CBs deserve credit for tackling well on the passes Jackson did complete, too. The game’s first touchdown came from Miami CB Xavien Howard returning a fumble for a TD. The unusual defensive look held the Ravens below 14 points for the first time in over 50 games, with Baltimore netting just two plays over 20 yards all night. Jackson leads a big-play offense that doesn’t grind out long drives well. Most weeks they don’t have to… 

Tua Tagovailoa also deserves some credit. Coming off the bench to replace hyper-cautious Jacoby Brissett, Tua guided the Dolphins to two fourth-quarter scoring drives to stun the shell-shocked Ravens. Tagovailoa managed to do this despite playing with a broken finger on his left (throwing) hand. He wasn’t perfect but he was certainly better than Brissett. It was the third game in the last four where Tua has played impressively, and this time the embattled second-year QB got the win to show for it.  

The 3-7 Dolphins kept the postseason lights on, however dim they might appear. Knocking off the Ravens just four days after struggling mightily to squeak past the lowly Texans could be the catalyst coach Brian Flores needs to get the team believing in itself--and him--again. If Tua keeps playing the way he has lately, they do have the talent to compete. 

$.05--It doesn’t necessarily qualify as an upset, but the Detroit Lions avoiding losing in Pittsburgh. That’s worthy of some sort of Any Given Sunday-ness. 

The Lions and Steelers played to a 16-16 tie. It was a game that left fans of both teams reaching for the nearest bottle of anything that might erase the pain of watching some truly awful football. It was so unbelievably bad that we were subjected to an extra quarter of it as punishment for some unnamed sins.  At least the social media battle was (somewhat) entertaining as fans--and analysts--of the two teams took turns seizing the lead in the argument over which team’s quarterback was worse. 

There were no winners in that battle between Jared Goff and Mason Rudolph. At least Rudolph had the contextual excuse of not knowing he would start until Big Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out late Saturday after contracting COVID-19. Between the terrible passing prowess of the QBs, brutal field conditions on what looked like a driving range on a wet municipal golf course and rainy, cold weather, it was one of the worst displays of passing offense in memory. At the two-minute warning, Goff and Rudolph had combined for 192 total passing yards on 52 attempts. Goff didn’t complete a pass that traveled more than 4 yards down the field in regulation time. Rudolph had 9 of his passes defended by the Lions secondary, which was playing CBs 11 and 12 on the season depth chart by the end of the game. 

With the tie, the Lions are spared the indignity of another 0-for season. At 0-8-1, that’s little consolation. Ties are so unsatisfying, but they are indeed better than a loss. If there’s one positive for fans of each team, this game should have convinced team management that the QBs who started this game cannot be the answer long-term for anyone trying to field a winner. 

$.06--Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers returned from their respective maladies to face off on Sunday in Green Bay. Rodgers shook off the COVID controversy that dominated the airwaves last week and unsteadily but surely guided his Packers to a 17-0 win over the visiting Seahawks to seize the NFC’s top spot. 

Rodgers missed a couple of throws and tossed an uncharacteristic interception, but overall No. 12 played pretty well for not practicing in two weeks. There were no signs of animosity between Rodgers and his teammates or coaches, which has to be welcome news in Green Bay. A strong run game featuring two TD runs by A.J. Dillon helped elevate a pedestrian--by his standards--outing for Rodgers. 

Wilson returned a couple of weeks ahead of schedule thanks to an insanely aggressive rehabilitation for his surgically repaired finger. His performance called to mind Jeff Goldblum’s (as Dr. Ian Malcolm) statement in Jurassic Park. It seems Wilson and the Seahawks were so preoccupied with whether or not Wilson could return that they didn’t stop to consider if he should. Based on his play, Seattle had a better chance to win with backup Geno Smith under center than Wilson. Two end-zone interceptions were terrible throws and bad decisions by Wilson, and they weren’t his only ones. 

The Packers defense deserves credit for making Wilson look bad, no doubt about it. A stat line of 20-for-40, 161 yards, 2 INTs in a shutout loss doesn’t happen without some impressive defense, and Green Bay treated the home fans to quite a show when Seattle had the ball. 

Back to Wilson and the Seahawks. They’re now 3-6 and will still rank in the bottom 3 in total defense once Week 10 concludes. They have lost more than 6 games in a season just once in the last 10 years under Pete Carroll, with Wilson as the QB the entire time. Based on how they’er playing, this will be the first losing season for one of the best head coaching/QB combos of the century. How Seattle handles that under the constraints of paying Wilson, aging LB Bobby Wagner and 37-year-old LT Duane Brown (on a void year) a combined $69M in cap obligations will be very interesting. The window might be closing quickly for Carroll & Co.  

$.07-- If you watched the Monday Night Football matchup between the Bears and Steelers in Week 9, you probably took note of the officiating. Referee Tony Corrente and his crew made a massive impact on the outcome with a series of pro-Pittsburgh judgment calls. The outrage on social media was immediate and wide-ranging. 

It turns out the NFL noticed, too. And while they didn’t do anything radical, the league did quietly acknowledge that the Bears were on the wrong end of the officiating hose in the loss.  

Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported on Sunday morning that the NFL knows Corrente and his crew made several critical officiating errors in the Steelers win, all in Pittsburgh’s favor. Interestingly, the one controversial penalty most fans care about the most is about the only one Corrente got right. The NFL defended Corrente’s flag on Bears DE Cassius Marsh for taunting after a key late sack, and based on the wording of the rule (new this year) it was indeed a valid penalty. I think it’s going too far in the No Fun League direction, but if you’re going to have a rule on the books, you need to enforce it.  

Which is why so many of the other calls look so bad. At least two Steelers quite obviously lined up offsides on the final FG attempt by the Bears, but no call. A phantom penalty on Chicago OL James Daniels wiped out a TD that would have lifted the Bears to victory. There was a late hit on Bears QB Justin Fields that is so frequently called that the officials often have the flag out before contact even happens, but in plain sight of Corrente--he’s literally looking right at Fields--he decided that it wasn’t a foul.  

It came on the same week when a study determined that the Steelers benefit more from officiating than any other team. Chicago fans, scratch that, all NFL fans should demand more accountability for such obvious bias. People will lose jobs because of it. My first recommendation: utilize the technology that’s been available for over a decade and have the spot determined by RF transmission and tiny sensors in the ball. Having two officials dedicated to taking their eyes off the players and on the ball so they can hope to get it within a yard of where the play actually ends--and fail at that at least 10 times per game--doesn’t help anyone. It’s an easily implemented solution to a problem that doesn’t need to exist. The same technology used by the league to track player speed and exact positioning can be put into the footballs almost overnight. 

That’s just one solution the NFL needs to look at. Having spoken with former VP of Officiating Dean Blandino as well as a couple of active officials in the past couple of years, there is definite paralysis-by-overanalysis for the guys in the zebra uniforms. The NFL is demanding too much from them with all the intricate tediums of the bloated, oft-antiquated rule book. Doing that would help better ascertain if the issue with bad performances like Corrente’s on Monday night is incompetence or something more nefarious. If the fans stop trusting that the game is on the level, the NFL will have an irreversible problem. 

$.08--NFL quickies

--Mac Jones and the New England Patriots absolutely smoked the Cleveland Browns in the most unexpected blowout of Week 10. Cleveland scored first on a masterful drive and then New England scored the next 45. Jones made some outstanding throws all over the field, leading the Patriots to success on every drive but one. It seems a lot of the national focus is on the Browns and their rollercoaster ride of a season, but don’t let that obscure just how well Jones performed or how well the Patriots defense executed the plan from Bill Belichick, who’s still got “it” as a defensive mastermind. 

--I didn’t see any of it other than the highlights (lowlights) but strong consideration for the Any Given Sunday went to Washington defeating Tampa Bay, 29-19. In a game where WFT pass-rushing standout Chase Young left early with a non-contact knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season, no less. Even Tom Brady has bad days, it seems…

--The Tennessee Titans rolled to 8-2 by hanging on for deal life in a 23-21 win over the New Orleans Saints. Even without Derrick Henry, the Titans remain the AFC’s only team with more than 6 wins. They’re doing it with defense and largely error-free play from QB Ryan Tannehill. Trevor Siemian nearly beat him, but his 2-pt. conversion pass failed with just over a minute to go. 

--Remember when the New York Jets shocked the Bengals in Week 8? In the two games since, the Jets have lost 45-30 (Colts in Week 9) and 45-17 (Bills on Sunday). They have given up 40.5 points per game in their last five. Then again, when QB Mike White throws 4 INTs, it’s hard to put all the blame on Robert Saleh’s defense either. 

--Keep an eye on the Colts, who have won four of five. The degree of difficulty to Indianapolis’ schedule has been ridiculously easy in that span, but they’re at least consistently winning the games they are supposed to. Not many other teams in the AFC can say that right now…

$.09--College/Draft quickies

--It’s bad in Texas and only getting worse. The Longhorns lost their fifth game in a row, their longest losing streak since the 1950s. That it was at the hands of Kansas makes it that much more painful for the Texas faithful. Kansas hadn’t won a conference road game since my 13-year-old daughter was three weeks old. 

--Baylor pulled the plug on Oklahoma’s unbeaten season, an outcome that proves the CFP rankings are absolutely pointless until the final week. I said it last week, I’ll say it again--stop feeding that meaningless beast. It won’t go away until you (the collective you) ignore it. 

--Mike Leach continues to work the magic for Mississippi State. Leach’s Bulldogs were down 28-3 at Auburn before ripping off 40 straight points. MSU prevailed 43-34 in a game that didn’t feature a turnover until the final Auburn drive. Expect to see some NFL draftnik attention to Bulldogs QB Will Rogers, a ballsy true sophomore who isn’t eligible until the 2023 draft.

--This week was a big one on the collegiate award balloting front. I turned in All-American rosters as well as semifinalist votes on 6 different awards. I am not a Heisman voter, but if I did have a vote it would still go to Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker. Easiest voting choice was Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum as one of the finalists for the Outland Trophy. Spoiler alert: Linderbaum will get my vote for the actual award too. He’s a legit top-20 overall draft prospect in April. 

--Not college but high school from northern Ohio, where the weather changed hard this week. Props to this young kicker!

--The FCS level never gets enough love. This is the final play of a rivalry game, one that is every bit as heated as Alabama/Auburn or UCLA/USC, just with a lot less people. Check out the ending of the South Dakota/South Dakota State game:

--For the draft crowd, I broke down the Matt Corral vs. Malik Willis matchup from last week over at Lions Wire. I’ll have one of those for the Sam Howell vs. Kenny Pickett game there this week. I’ll say this as a general overview: I think the sentiment that this QB draft class isn’t good is overblown and somewhat lazy groupthink. Just because the top offseason candidates have largely fizzled (Howell being one of them) doesn’t mean there aren’t legit NFL starters available. Likely no future All-Pros, however…

$.10--This week brought Veteran’s Day on the calendar. It’s an outstanding occasion to celebrate those who served, particularly for those of us who couldn’t. We cannot thank our veterans enough.  

But this year’s Veteran’s Day, as well as a couple of interactions this week with veterans who I’ve called friends for over 25 years, struck me a little different. Both men, one a Marine and one from the Army, expressed weirdly similar sentiments despite not knowing one another. 

They both talked about how they wish Americans would have been more supportive of them while they served. Both complained about living conditions while stationed domestically and how the country as a whole simply didn’t give a crap about those kinds of issues. My Marine friend (hi Mark!) talked quite a bit about how he and those he served with were tired of being used as “tokens in political theater”. And he made it clear this was a nonpartisan criticism. He’s a Trump supporter, one who often regurgitates OAN and other right-wing mouthpieces, but he (very cautiously as we enjoyed breakfast in public) expressed how disappointed he was in the Trump administration’s treatment and exploitative use of veterans to further their agenda. He quickly (and much more loudly) leveled even harsher criticism at the current Biden administration. I listened attentively as I nursed my coffee uneasily, wondering if I have done anything like that unintentionally.  

I’m not a veteran and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to have served. But I know it’s something that separates vets from lifelong civilians. It’s important to recognize that and to honor that service without patronizing it. The lesson I got from this Veteran’s Day is to show more honor and respect to those who are serving while they’re still actively serving. I will try to do that, to remember that thanking someone for their service to our great country is something you can do while they’re still in uniform and on days other than November 11th. I want “thank you for your service” to be more sincere and frequently offered to those who deserve our gratitude and respect for serving. I hope you do, too.