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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

NFL Power Poll

Let's call it the circle of trust. In the NFL, it's a relatively small club, right? Who do you trust?
You want to trust Aaron Rodgers, who skill-wise may be the best to ever play quarterback. But the Packers are fractured and Rodgers seems more locker room bully than rallying leader. You want to trust Drew Brees, but that New Orleans defense is staggeringly bad. You want to trust Minnesota and a defense that through five weeks was the class of the league. Same with Denver in the AFC, but each team will need a meaningful drive in a meaningful game in the next couple of months, and do we want to believe that Sam Bradford and Trevor Siemian, respectively, are going to deliver in meaningful ways.

The circle of trust extends to the dregs as well, as there are a couple of teams that dip their toes in the Moccasin Bend-like stinky waters of the bottom circle of the NFL. But right when you get ready to push Miami or Carolina or a few others off the edge, here they come with an impressive effort. 

The league is crafted on parity, and when you see the final entries in the top five and the bottom of the league rankings, it because clear that the league has exactly what it longs for. Parity. Of course that also can translate to mediocrity.

Trust 

1. New England (7-1). The Patriots are easily the most trustworthy team in the NFL and they make a strong push to be on the current Rushmore of the most trustworthy sports franchises in all of sports. Patriots, Alabama, UConn women's hoops and San Antonio are so trustworthy you can leave you keys in your car with your wallet in sight in the front seat.

2. Dallas (7-1). The divide in trust between the Patriots and the rest of the league is wide, but Dallas is among the one or three teams cutting into that gap. With the top-two contenders for offensive rookie of the year in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are dynamic with the ball, ranking in the top five in yards and points. Defensively they are improving, but the next three weeks — at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore and vs. Washington on Thanksgiving — will be telling.
3. Oakland (7-2). The Raiders are excellent on offense and have star power defensively with Khalil Mack. We want to trust the Raiders; we really want to, because they are fun to watch and have a litany of likable young stars. But there's a real chance they are just a younger, better and more-balanced version of the Saints with better uniforms.

4. Atlanta (6-3). The Falcons have the best single offensive option in the league right now when Matt Ryan looks for Julio Jones. It's something that redefines games and makes every opponent look to double Jones at every turn. That has opened up Atlanta's playbook and possibilities. As the young defense becomes more experienced and more trustworthy, this is a team that, in terms of trust, we could eventually ask them to watch our dog.

5. Seattle (5-2-1). The Seahawks may be the most complete team in the league, New England included. Remember Seattle has looked subpar at times, but defensive end Michael Bennett, one of the most disruptive and unheralded players in the league, and quarterback Russell Wilson have been banged up. Still, they are finding a way to win and remember that if they find a way to have home-field advantage come January, look out. In fact, this side of the Patriots, Seattle at home is the most trustworthy thing in the NFL.

Distrust

28. Los Angeles (3-5). We actually expected more from these Rams, and maybe that's on us. In truth, is there any thing other than to expect a 4-4 or 5-3 finish so that the Rams and Jeff Fisher find a way to hover around that .500 mark? Heck, this bunch is the face of the NFL corporate structure in a lot of ways. Maybe this is too low, but the fact that Case Keenum is 28th in the league in passer rating and top-overall pick Jared Goff still can't on the field is troubling. And far from trustworthy.

29. Chicago (2-6). Not unlike the Browns, the Bears get kind of a pass right now after all the sporting joy that was the glorious World Series, especially in Chicago. It's kind of sweet actually, the Cubs taking care of the Bears. It's a sporting circle of life. 

30. Jacksonville (2-6). For all the 'pressure' that comes with the role of coaching a major college football or NFL team, are we overselling the it a little bit? I mean Jeff Fisher of the really bad and really broken Rams has had a job for most of the last 25 years despite running perpetually on the .500 wheel. And in Jacksonville, the Jags have paid Gus Bradley well more than $10 million to go 14-42 through 3 1/2 years. Man, that's a .250 winning percentage for Pete's sake. That's not pressure; that's a gravy train.   

31. San Francisco (1-7). Bad roster. Bad mood. Bad quarterback play. Potential coaching movement. National spotlight because of off-the-field protests. Yep, in the ways of the NFL beat writer, the 49ers are the worst team to cover in the league. 

32. Cleveland (0-9). Actually, the Browns can make an argument that they are the most trustworthy team in the league, even more so than New England. The Browns are like that friend we all had in high school who was 30 minutes late for everything. When you are 30 minutes late for everything as an adult, your called parents. In high school, you were that dude. So, eventually, everyone adjusted and simply told that dude everything starts 45 minutes earlier than it actually did. Then, through no success or skill of his own, that dude then becomes the most punctual guy in the group. That's the way we can trust the Cleveland Browns.       

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Wisconsin wide receiver Jazz Peavy (11) catches a pass in front of Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/DavidBanks)

Wisconsin athletes claim racism

We talked a little about this last week, when the knucklehead at the Wisconsin football game on Oct. 29 was dressed as President Barack Obama with the awful decision of having noose around his neck.

The response from Wisconsin authorities is coming under fire. Said costume clown was not ejected from the game, rather he was asked to remove the noose and allowed to stay. Now, several of the black athletes for the Badgers football and basketball team want what they call a racist culture at the school and want change. The school has since pulled the season tickets from the two fans involved in the incident.

Here's a statement from basketball star Nigel Hayes, according to news reports, saying players "are loved during competition but then subjected to racial discrimination in our everyday lives too."

We wrote about this last week, and there are a handful of things that are never funny or appropriate, and the use of a noose in any way in matters of race is among those. Here's more from Hayes:

"It is painful that someone in our community would show up to an athletic event with a mask of our sitting president, who happens to look a lot like us, with a noose around his neck," the statement continued. "That moment was like a punch in the face to not only student-athletes of color but also current students, faculty and alumni of color. This incident was yet another blow and reminder that there are people in this community that may not value diverse populations." 

OK. 

Racism is bad and there are racists in this country. That's sad. Just like crime is bad and there are criminals in this country. Or whatever social problem there is.

A lot of the basis of these racially offensive occurrences around the country start with stereotypes and lumping folks into one collective group. Sadly, as a nation we are seeing that too often and often times we see it wrapped in the worst behavior of a group and paint that with the broadest of brushes.

But isn't that, in reverse, kind of the charge of racism against a whole school and/or fan base because some doofus showed up with tow many Old Styles in his system and did something hateful and stupid?

Just thinking out loud.

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President Barack Obama waves on stage with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Election Day

It's here. The most anticipated — and most dreaded — presidential election of our lifetime.

Yay. And ah crap.

The numbers are close to what has been expected for the last couple weeks.

According to this story the Fox News poll shows Donald Trump gaining ground, but it gives the edge to Hillary Clinton in the all-important Electoral College. And before you dismiss a Fox poll, know that the numbers — in the vote totals and the state-by-state electoral count — mirror the most-recent poll released by NPR. (Say what? NPR and Fox coming to a similar conclusion on politics? Maybe there's hope for finding common ground yet.)

Each poll has Clinton with 274 electoral votes, with her winning all the states that are considered a Democrat lean or stronger. Trump has 215 votes according to the numbers of states that are considered Republican leans or stronger.

So for Trump to win, he will need to sweep the battle ground states and flip at least one state that is considered a Democrat-leaning state. The best chance for that could be Nevada, which is the only 'quote-unquote' toss-up state in which Clinton is surging.

Arizona, Iowa and Utah have recently gone from toss-up to GOP lean, according to the polls. North Carolina went from Democrat lean to toss-up and Nevada went from the middle to leaning Democrat.

Here's a great poll breakdown of the 11 states that are considered to be at least somewhat in play from politico.comhttp://www.politico.com/2016-election/swing-states. In those states, Clinton holds the aggregate edge in the polling numbers in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Trump leads in Iowa and Ohio, and it is literally a dead heat in Florida.

So there you have it. the latest primer on the greatest political spectacle ever. This race will be studied for generations, and it will most likely prove to be one of two things: It either will be viewed as borderline unbelievable all-things considered on each side with all of the controversy and vitriol. Or it will be, whether Trump wins or loses, viewed in the history books as the first real example where the parties and the politicians were shaken by a real outsider.

In truth, if four years from now we find a sane Trump — a successful leader of industry or society without the baggage and damage and without all the carnage — then all this craziness could be the first step into taking back our political process from the antiquated two-party system that serves as the biggest and most profitable dualopoly in this country.

Think of it this way: It's easy for every life-long politician to eschew and dismiss Trump because Trump made it easy for them. The tapes and the awful language and the silliness and the inappropriateness. When your supporters are always making excuses, Donald, you failed as a candidate.

But the idea — taking back political leadership from the career politicians — is worth cultivating and exploring. It just needs a champion. Not a Trump card.      

This and that

— Here's a fun story about two Australian hack golfers who talked their way onto the only golf course in North Korea and into a tournament. Let's just say after posting scores of 120 and 126, everyone knew they were not the 'Australian Team' that they had billed themselves to be. 

— We meant to post this Monday, but oh well. Mark Cuban pulled the credentials of two ESPN.com NBA writers who live in Dallas because they were moved to more of a national beat than the day-in, day-out coverage of the Mavs. Cuban said Monday that he pulled the credentials in protest to the growing number of automated game stories being used by news outlets everywhere. Interesting stuff. And scary — especially for those of us, you know, in the industry. 

— OK, apparently, Steph Curry was more than a little ticked about not making a 3 pointer for the first time in roughly two years. After going bagel-for-3 from deep Friday against the Lakers, Curry buried 13 3s last night against New Orleans. Ouch.

— Here are the finalists for all the major baseball season awards in each league. The single craziest stat in that is Mike Trout has a real chance to finish in the top two of the AL MVP race for the fifth consecutive year. Mike Trout is 25 years old. Buckets.

— Another NFL prime time game and another officiating blunder. The last 15 seconds before halftime as the Bills tried to line-up for a field goal and the ensuing chaos was bad. At some point, the league is going to have to start disciplining these dudes. Seriously, Antonio Brown can't twerk twice after a TD without a fine but an NFL official can botch an entire series and nothing? That's our best effort on this?

Today's questions

It's a Tuesday, which means time for a little true or false.

True or false, Hillary Clinton will be elected president tonight. True or false, the New England Patriots are the most trustworthy team in all of pro sports. True or false, the OKC Thunder, who are 6-1 and off to their best start since leaving Seattle, are going to make the playoffs. True or false, there will be surprise tonight in the college football playoff rankings.

And remember the quid pro quo. You are welcomed to answer any or all of our Tuesday true or falses, but remember to leave one of your own.

And if you need a Rushmore, well, let's go here: In honor of the Vlad the Impaler, who was born on this 585 years ago, let's do a Rushmore of the most intimidating nicknames of sports stars of all time. Like Bambi is probably not making it. Eddie 'Meat Clever' Weaver has a much better chance. (Side note: How vicious was Vlad the Impaler, the former Romanian prince who came by that name honestly? Well, Vlad's patronymic name was Dracula. Yes, as in that Dracula, concocted by author Bram Stoker, who was also born on this day back in 1847.)

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