The NFL delayed some games due to COVID-19 outbreaks, which led to this week’s cents being delayed by a day.

$.01--The COVID-19 developments around the NFL dominated the week in pro football. It was impossible to ignore the many different tentacles of the pandemic and how it wrapped around so many facets of the NFL in Week 15.

The week’s slate isn’t over yet. It won’t be until Tuesday night because two games were moved from Sunday to the irregular day because of rampant COVID outbreaks amongst the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team. The Cleveland Browns were supposed to host the Raiders on Friday, but with over 20 players testing positive during the week and the daily tally not slowing down, the NFL acquiesced to common sense and player safety and moved that game to Monday afternoon.

Alas, the positive tests just keep coming around the league. Several prominent players wound up on their teams’ reserve/COVID-19 lists on Monday even after the NFL altered its testing protocols not to test asymptomatic, vaccinated players other than “strategic, targeted spot testing.”

To this point, there have been zero documented cases of any active NFL players requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 complications during the 2021 season. A vast majority of the players who have tested positive in the latest surge--over 200 in the last few days--are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. In the Browns case, every single player and coach was vaccinated and none experienced any symptoms beyond those of a common cold.

It’s a highly complex, politically-charged issue on handling those cases. Information about the virus and the new variants changes almost hourly, it seems. Having a steadfast policy based on outdated information is a bad idea, and I’m glad the NFL recognized that. I don’t pretend to have the answers or simultaneous degrees in labor law, viral pathology and medicine like so many social media accounts pretend to boast. But it seems to me that incentivizing vaccination is a smart idea, and the mixed messaging coming from the NFL (and other places) doesn’t do that.

If the point of the vaccine is to prevent illness from infection, and the evidence indicates that it’s working quite well at that, why continue to undermine the vaccine by treating any positive test as a failure on the players’ and teams’ part? Like it or not, much of America (and the world) has progressed beyond the mindset that testing positive means imminent death or long-term health impact. Those of us who are vaccinated should have confidence in its efficacy to keep us from those dire consequences. If the vaccine isn’t effective, why in the world would anyone get it? But that’s the mixed messaging that’s going on in society and the NFL. It’s not working. Again, I don’t claim to know the right answers, but the ones we’re using now are not.

$.02--The Green Bay Packers seized the No. 1 seed and the lead for the coveted bye in the NFC postseason with a huge, nail-biting win over the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s a game that ended controversially, though not in the usual manner of controversy surrounding either the Packers or the Ravens with officials. No, this one is about Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh and his decision to win or lose the game with a late 2-pt. conversion.

Some deeper context is necessary to flesh out the full ramifications of the decision. The Ravens closed to within one point by scoring their second touchdown in the final five minutes of the game. Rather than ride the momentum and play for overtime at home, with the benefit of the best kicker in NFL history on his side, Harbaugh opted to go for the win. Granted he had backup QB Tyler Huntley at the controls, but going for the win meant putting the ball in his hands to try and make one play.

The play that was called was the bigger issue than the decision to end the game right then and there. Harbaugh, or Ravens OC Greg Roman, dialed up a sprint rollout to the right that left only two real options for Huntley. He forced a bad throw to a heavily covered Mark Andrews that was easily defended. The Packers had Huntley controlled from running it in, provided they could tackle him. But there was another option on the play that Huntley clearly never considered but was one that regular starter Lamar Jackson would surely have noticed. Top WR Marquise Brown dragged wide open across the back side of the sprintout, an easy throw for the win. An inexperienced Huntley just didn’t see it.

The analytics strongly suggest that Harbaugh made the right decision to try. But that simply isn’t enough. The circumstances of the game must factor in as well. The straight analytics ignore that it’s a greenhorn backup QB. It doesn’t consider that Justin Tucker is right there and capable of winning games from as far as 66 yards with his Hall of Fame leg. On the flip side, it also ignores that Aaron Rodgers is surging to another MVP award on the other side, and he’s one of the best in NFL history at engineering soul-stealing wins in big games.

Early in the game, Harbaugh eschewed a gimmie short FG to chase a touchdown and it failed. The analytics trumpeted that as a smart decision at the time, but the hindsight of losing by one point must change the prism of that failed execution. If Harbaugh does it the “football guy” way, the Ravens win the game on the Huntley TD run with less than 50 seconds to play.

Then there’s the play called. It was a poor choice from Harbaugh, and it’s the second time in a month his decision to try and play for the win has landed his Ravens in the loss column. In their Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a heavily pressured Jackson just missed Andrews on a play-action pass to the right. Both of the failed plays are those that look really good in practice against air but don’t translate so well to an actual defense that throws variables into the mix.

The loss dropped the Ravens out of first place in the AFC North, while the win clinched the NFC North for Green Bay. There’s now a very real chance the Ravens miss the postseason because of two poor 2-pt. conversions and the decisions from their venerable head coach.

$.03--The Urban Meyer fiasco mercifully came to an end in Jacksonville. Even though it lasted just 13 games, there was more than enough reason to call the hasty ending “overdue.”

The straw that broke Meyer’s back was the revelation he kicked Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo during a training camp practice over the summer. On the heels of a two-month period where he called his handpicked assistant coaches losers, got a public lapdance from a co-ed while blowing off his team to spend time with his family and lost 6 of 7 games while producing the NFL’s worst offense, it took an unemployed kicker to finally topple Meyer.

The Meyer reign in Jacksonville will forever be looked upon with the same sort of “why!?!” disdain as Bobby Petrino’s epic disaster in Atlanta, Cleveland not firing Hue Jackson after going winless or lighting up a cigarette in bed after taking four Ambiens. Why did anyone think it was a good idea? How did such an obvious mistake still get made?

Let’s spin it forward. Meyer is now available just after the college coaching cycle has spun to a stop for 2022. But in about 11 months, some university president is going to ignore the mountain of well-known evidence that Meyer is not a good human being, not a trustworthy person, will leave everything worse than how he found it, and still jump at the chance to give him tens of millions of dollars to take over a college football program. That’s what winning at all costs means. The cost should not be worth it, but we all know it’s going to happen.

As for what Meyer left behind, the Jaguars got blasted by the 2-win Texans, 30-16, and are now in command of the No. 1 overall pick. It would make the second year in a row they finish as the NFL’s worst team.

$.04--Saturday night’s matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots calls to mind one of my favorite songs of the 1990s: Prison Sex by Tool. The Colts channeled Maynard James Keenan chanting the powerful taunt right back at Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Do unto you now

What has been done to me

Do unto you now

What has been done

Prior to their bye week in Week 14, the Patriots managed to blast the Buffalo Bills by running the ball almost exclusively. New England won despite passing the ball just 3 times on a brutal Monday night with steady winds of at least 25 MPH and an annoying drizzle in the 36-degree weather. Surely the Colts, playing at home in a dome, wouldn’t use the exact same tactic against the Patriots that New England did to win.

But that’s exactly what head coach Frank Reich dialed up. Indianapolis ran early and often, with QB Carson Wentz completing just 3 of his 6 passes in the first half. But the Patriots kept taking it. Every thrust from Jonathan Taylor proved why riding the NFL’s leading rusher relentlessly was an effective plan to slam the door on the Patriots’ 7-game winning streak.

Got your hands bound, your head down

And your eyes closed

You look so precious now 

Taylor blistered the Patriots for 170 yards on 29 carries in the Colts’ 27-17 win. A blocked punt recovered for a TD certainly helped the home team, as did a bad night (two ugly INTs) from Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones. The strategy that the Patriots expertly deployed two weeks ago wound up benign the perfect gameplan to use against them. Wentz finished with a line indicative of a terrible loss: 5-for-12, 57 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. But it was plenty good to vanquish the mistake-prone Patriots.

I've come round full circle

And with that outcome, the Colts threw the already complex AFC playoff race into complete disarray. With every week, the AFC’s salad gets tossed just a little more.

$.05--Any Given Sunday, Week 15 edition

Any Given Sunday came to Ford Field in Detroit in Week 15. And the home fans got to witness a fantastic show.

The Lions stunned the world by beating the visiting Arizona Cardinals, 30-12. Crazily enough, it wasn't a fluke victory either. The Lions were the better team in all phases of the game, from quarterback to defense to head coach.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The effort and the will have been there all season for Dan Campbell's Lions. And in Week 15, the ball finally bounced their way enough for Detroit to pull off the monumental upset. In the process, the Lions made some history.

Detroit became the first team to enter a game as a double-digit home underdog to win the game by double digits, and also the first team with less than 2 wins (Detroit was 1-11-1) to beat a team with 10 or more wins (Arizona was 10-3) by at least 10 points.

The Lions desperately needed this kind of win. More to the point, Campbell needed the win. Despite his relative popularity for his animated press conferences and genuine personality, the mounting losses and questionable in-game choices were starting to wear on Lions fans and some in the Detroit mediasphere. Kneecapping a good Cardinals team despite being without several key starters on both sides of the ball is a testament that the building Campbell and the Lions are trying to erect is capable of getting off the ground floor.

It also leads to this rather astonishing factoid: Over the last six weeks, the Detroit Lions (2-3-1) have a better record than the Baltimore Ravens (2-4).

$.06--This week was the early signing period for college football. High school standouts from around the country officially committed to play college ball and declared where they were heading, many with considerable fanfare.

Because nothing can come without controversy or argument these days, one of the nation’s top recruits made major waves when he chose an unconventional path. Travis Hunter, a consensus top-5 prospect, flipped his earlier commitment to Florida State and instead will play his college ball at Jackson State for head coach Deion Sanders. Jackson State is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) that plays at the FCS level.

It seems a whole lot of folks are angry at Hunter for his decision. How could someone “throw away their future” to play for an HBCU, was a common refrain among the recruiting nudniks and mouthbreathing fanatics who base their lives on the football programs of colleges they did not attend. In their derision, many unwittingly--or perhaps intentionally--took shots at HBCU education and football culture. The shameful manner in which far too many who should know better referred to Jackson State, HBCUs and/or Sanders says a lot about how much the power structure of the status quo is firmly entrenched and skewed against both change and young Black people. Good for Hunter for listening to his heart. It’s his life, not yours.

On a local and personal level, one of the best HS football players I’ve ever seen made his decision official. Zeeland East linebacker Tag Bonnema signed with Western Michigan, where he’ll play with his older brother, Boone. I know the Bonnema family a little, they’re great people. I know Tag some from helping coach our school’s travel basketball team back when he was in 5th and 6th grade. My son throws with Tag in track and field, where Tag is also phenomenal. Seeing the humble pride in the Bonnema family, the honor our community feels about a good young man getting some well-deserved recognition, it’s impacted the way I feel about the signing scene.

We sometimes (far too often) forget that it is about the young student-athletes. Callers to talk radio shows, podcasters and message board sycophants seem to only care about the number of stars a player has or how their preferred college ranks in their conference. I wish the focus was more on the players and the stories behind their signing. Dreams were made real for thousands of proud young men. That needs to be what the signing days are all about.

$.07--Hi, my name is Jeff. And I have a problem. A college bowl game problem.

It’s not easy to admit my addiction. Bowl games are as passe as 80s hair metal or Roger Moore-era Bond movies (both of which I’m also addicted). But if there’s a bowl game on, you’d better believe I’m watching it.

I can’t help myself. I know they’re just exhibition games, most of which are sparsely attended and often missing the top NFL prospects, who now choose to sit them out rather than risk injury. My college alma mater, Ohio University, didn’t even make a bowl this year. Doesn’t matter.

I’m all-in on binging bowls. Friday brought the Bahamas Bowl and the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl, with the bonus of a MAC school in each contest. Both turned into fantastic, compelling football games too. Gimmie a couch, a small mountain of chicken wings and an IV drip of bowl action to get the weekend started!

Are there too many bowls? Maybe. I tend to agree when I see them all announced and look at the matchup of 6-6 teams in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. But you’d better believe I watched as much of Old Dominion vs. Tulsa as I could on Monday afternoon. I’ve got a fever and the only cure is more college bowl action.

I know I’m not alone. Sure, it’s not cool to like all the bowls between random teams that wouldn’t stay within 40 points of the teams playing in the CFB playoff. But there are legions of folks for whom the holidays are emptier without bowl games. Drink them in and smile, my fellow football heathens. Our season of joy has arrived. Get your fix while you can!

$.08--NFL Quickies

--One of the victims of the recent horrific school murder spree in Oxford, Michigan, Tate Myre has earned an honor from the NFL. Myre has been named the NFL Way to Play High School Award winner for Week 14. In Myre’s honor, the Oxford football program will receive a $5,000 equipment grant from USA Football, and Nike will provide new uniforms. Myre was a standout football player who was also given a commitment spot by Michigan State in another classy move.

--Hated to see Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin go down with a torn ACL in the Sunday night matchup with the Saints. Godwin got submarine tackled and everyone knew it was bad instantly. Hard to blame the defenders for tackling low when the NFL routinely flags and fines them for anything close to the head, but these sorts of nasty injuries are an unfortunate byproduct. It’s a potentially devastating blow for Godwin, a pending free agent who played 2021 on a franchise tag and was looking to score his big payday this offseason.

--Sticking with that game, the Saints shut out Tom Brady and the Buccaneers with a stellar game plan and excellent execution from the New Orleans defense. It’s rare to see Brady get taken off his game so hard, but the Saints pulled it off. A flummoxed, frustrated Brady could only throw his tablet in disgust. Important win for the Saints and a worst-case scenario loss for Tampa Bay, which continues to have mounting key injuries like Godwin’s.

--The Giants brought QB Daniel Jones’ season to an end with a neck injury. Now New York must decide what to do wtih his 5th-year option. Jones has played well periodically but certainly not often enough or consistently enough to commit to for the long-term. If there’s a regime change coming in New York, and there might be, deciding what to do with Jones will be a huge first decision for the newcomers.

--Las Vegas stayed alive in the AFC playoff race by beating Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and a whole lot of backups in Browns uniforms. Daniel Carlson’s FG as time expired moved both teams to 7-7.

How crazy is the AFC playoff race? Had the Browns won the game, they would have been the No. 4 seed and in first place in the AFC North. The loss dropped them to 12th in the conference and last place in the North division.

$.09--College/Draft quickies

--Congrats to Ferris State, the D-II national champs! The Bulldogs continued their romp in the playoffs, blowing out Valdosta State 58-17 for the first national title in school history. Ferris is always good under head coach Tony Annese, but this was the first time the program broke through. Their rivalry with Grand Valley State is every bit as fierce as the Michigan/Michigan State battle in the state, just on a smaller scale. Both schools are in the greater Grand Rapids area.

--Find teammates like this one. UTEP lost in the New Mexico Bowl, but WR Justin Garrett will forever be a winner for acts like this:

--Not to pile on Urban Meyer too much, but these are the sort of anecdotes that were well-known even before the Jaguars hired him: 

--It’s still pretty early in the evaluation process but I’m processing through some preliminary thoughts on a lot of players. And one guy who keeps getting touted and I just don’t see “it” that others do is LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. He’s routinely projected in the top 10 but his on-field play in the last two years is consistently nowhere close to that level. Beware the early bloomer and the desperate need to cling onto those guys too long. Stingley was one of the best freshman CBs ever and the athletic tools are obvious, but at some point he’ll need to play like he did in 2019 again. He’s not sniffed that level since. I’m not saying he’s the CB version of Christian Hackenberg, but the career path is definitely concerning.

--Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award as voted on by the FWAA. He earned my vote by guiding the Bearcats to the CFP in an unbeaten season. There were quite a few really good coaching performances this year too.

--Not football, but congratulations to the Wisconsin Badgers for winning the NCAA women’s volleyball national title. It was a 5-set thriller against Nebraska in Saturday night’s final capped off by Dana Rettke slamming a ball down the line to give Wisconsin its first title in program history. Fantastic match that had an impartial Team Risdon at rapt attention throughout the final.

$.10--Sports wagering is quickly becoming legal across the country. Betting in person and via an app has been legal here in Michigan for a little while now, and it’s spreading quickly to other states.

One of the ways you can instantly tell if there is legallized sports wagering where you live is by watching any sporting event on TV. There’s a very good chance that at least one-third of the ads you will see during any live sporting event broadcast will be from sports books. As I’m writing this, I’m watching the Sunday night football game and I decided to keep track of the commercials.

It’s now just after halftime and I’ve seen 11 ads for Caesar’s sportsbook since the final segment of the pregame show. Seventeen. I like JB Smoove but not that much. There were four ads for a local tribal casino that recently opened up a sportsbook. The BetMGM app also hit us four times.

It’s even worse on radio. My weekly guest spots on two different radio stations are sponsored by sportsbooks…if you consider that sponsoring my appearances doesn’t equate to actual compensation in my pocket. It’s inescapable. And that concerns me a little.

When I was younger, I used to wager on sports from time to time. Nothing big and certainly nothing legal. When your barber has two phones and a small spiral notebook in his pocket at all times, it’s pretty easy to get some action on, after all. I generally won more than I lost, almost exclusively betting on season win total over/unders (amateur tip: bet the under on every New York-based team in every sport, every year and you’ll NEVER lose money). But I saw how easy it would be to let it spiral out of control. I know a couple of folks for whom it did get out of control, and it did not end well for them.

So when you hear the speed-reading rendition of the disclaimer at the end of those ads, do pay it some mind. It’s become very easy for the vulnerable to feed their addictions and potentially ruin their lives. I’m decidedly pro-legalization of gambling, but that doesn’t mean it comes without risk. Be careful, friends.