1. Sports and politics have always been linked
For those who want sports to be simply a diversion from our troubling times, who think that
politics have no place in sport, remember Tommy Smith and John Carlos, whose upraised
fists shook the 1968 Olympics to the core and helped galvanize the civil rights movement.
Remember Jessie Owens, remember Muhammed Ali, remember Billie Jean King,
remember Kathrine Switzer, the list goes on and on. Sports have helped move the wheel
of social justice forward, even if the pace has been slow. Sports and politics have been
intertwined since the very beginning, when the first Olympic games were held in ancient
Greece as a temporary break from ceaseless warring between kingdoms. That was an
attempt to use sport to find common ground. Maybe we should look to the ancient Greeks
and see our sporting contests as a chance to mend, to help create a dialogue that’s
productive, instead of continuing to grow an ever deepening divide.
Understanding others with differing viewpoints can be difficult when something that seems
like it should be common ground becomes the crux of a conflict, but we owe it to ourselves
as Americans to take the time to work towards understanding. One simple
misunderstanding seems to be at the root of much of the public division over the
president’s comments and NFL’s collective response to his vulgarities this week. Colin
Kaepernick and the rest of the players who have taken on his protest are not, nor have
they ever been, protesting the flag itself, the anthem itself, or America in general. The
protest of kneeling during the anthem was created very specifically to draw attention to,
and foster conversation about, systemic racial inequality and unchecked police brutality
towards people of color in this country.
The president has openly defended the free speech rights of violent, confederate and Nazi
flag waving racists, while vulgarly calling for the suppression of a peaceful, silent and well-
intentioned protest. The NFL, to its credit, has chosen to support the rights of all of its
players, resulting in a wide array of unified and varied protests, as well as public rebukes
of the president’s call for suppression by almost every team owner, many of whom
supported Trump during his campaign.
If these protests offend you, you can simply change the channel. You can speak out
about it in any way you see fit, as is your right as an American. What you shouldn’t do,
however, is jump behind the president’s call for suppression of constitutionally protected
free speech. It’s the First Amendment for a reason.
With that out of the way, there were actually some pretty amazing games this weekend, so
here we go.
2. Baltimore should call Colin Kaepernick now
The Ravens are in a tough spot after an absolute shellacking by the Jaguars in London.
Granted, London is essentially a home game for Jacksonville, but still. The Ravens looked
outmatched, and perhaps more importantly, Joe Flacco didn’t look right, throwing for only
28 yards on 18 attempts and two picks before getting benched. Ryan Mallett didn’t look
bad in a small sample size, but few would make the mistake of thinking him a fit starter for
a contending team. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh’s brother saw the spark of potential
in Kaepernick, and was rewarded with several years of playoff contention and a trip to the
Super Bowl for his efforts. The Niners have been adrift since Jim Harbaugh’s departure
and it isn’t much of a mystery why. With a suddenly struggling Steelers team making the
AFC North look like a very winnable division and the whole of the NFL in support of the
protest for which Kaepernick had seemingly been blackballed, this is the time for John
Harbaugh to talk to Ozzie Newsome and to make that call.
3. Parity might be back
In total, seven of this weekend’s games went to the wire, or overtime and were decided by
a touchdown or less. It’s hard to place a lesson on that aside from the fact that almost all
teams have flaws this year, and as they say in boxing, styles make fights. Even the top
contenders in both divisions look beatable, it should make for a wild ride and some
seriously competitive divisional races.
4. The Packers Injury Curse is real
OK, maybe it’s not a curse. But seriously, can these guys catch a break? This is a team
that has the talent to end their season with a win on the league’s biggest stage, but as we
all know, the greatest ability is AVAILability. Players up and down the roster on both sides
of the ball are dinged up, with Jordy Nelson playing hurt in a somewhat limited role against
the Bengals and Randall Cobb sitting out. The Bengals jumped out to a 21-7 lead at the
half, thanks in part to the first non-stinker from Andy Dalton, but the Packers had enough
in the tank to force overtime and squeak out a win. They are 2-1 and tied for the divisional
lead, but I’m not sure they can get through the NFC North gauntlet if they don’t get some
5. The Lions might be relevant
Yeah, that NFC North gauntlet I just mentioned…these guys are it. The Bears are
pretenders, despite that win over the suddenly toothless Steelers. The Vikings are playing
a waiting game at the quarterback position, that’s never a good sign. The Lions, however,
have a legitimate shot to dethrone the Packers. Despite taking a loss to a very strong
Falcons team on Sunday, the Lions gave them all they could handle and more. The game
ended on a wild touchdown-not- touchdown-review- runoff that made for some super
awkward TV and some really, really pissed off Detroit fans. Was it right? (Yeesh) Yes.
The NFL correctly reversed the call on the field. They then correctly issued the ten second
runoff that was required because the clock wouldn’t have stopped if the call on the field
had been correct in the first place. The problem is that the ten second runoff ended the
game in a situation where the Lions were trailing and didn’t have a timeout. I can’t see
many games ending on this exact confluence of events. If it keeps happening, perhaps it’s
worth some discussion by the competition committee. For now, I’ll just remind Detroit fans
that you’re in the division race and that football is a game of inches.
6. The Jaguars should probably move to London
I think we can agree that this Jags team has a bit of the Jekyll and Hyde vibe to them.
Who are these guys? Are they the team that Marcus Mariota picked apart in week two?
Or are they the group that exposed the previously undefeated Ravens in week three?
Honestly, I don’t know. I think they are probably mediocre in the long run, but will have
flashes of excitement, particularly on defense. Blake Bortles isn’t as good as the Raven’s
D made him look. One thing can’t be denied though, The Jags have been good in jolly old
England of late, having won there for the past three years. Seeing how they won a total of
eight games in 2015 and 2016 combined, they might be keen to make the switch.
7. DeShaun Watson looks legit in Houston
It’s well known that rookie QB’s don’t do so well against the Patriots in Foxboro under Bill
Belichick. In fact, after Sunday, the Patriots are a perfect 9-0 under the Hoodie in such
contests. But here’s the thing. Watson and the Texans gave the Pats’ nation a scare on
Sunday, putting up points in bunches and forcing Tom Brady to lead a touchdown drive in
the final seconds to move to 2-1. Why was this game so different from the others, when
the Patriots have had few struggles shutting down rookie QB’s? In a word, composure.
Watson knew when to hang in the pocket and let plays develop, knew when to run for
maximum damage and knew how to make smart decisions. He used his mobility well
against a slower Pats defense that relies on coverage to produce QB pressure. Watson
handled that pressure just fine. His Texans can contend for the AFC South if they can win
a few divisional games.
8. Kareem Hunt is for real in KC
Remember when I said that Kareem Hunt probably wouldn’t be the rookie of the year?
Yeah. Mea Culpa. He’s currently the league’s leading rusher overall and seems to be a
threat to crack open a game at any moment. He’s not an overly big guy, so time will tell if
he can handle the load, but if he can handle the reps all season long, he sure looks like a
difference maker in Kansas City.
9. I have no idea who will win the NFC East
Seriously. If you have a crystal ball and can tell me, please let me know. The Giants and
Eagles battled to an overtime that was won by Philly. This leaves them at 0-3, while the
entire rest of the division sits at 2-1 following a thorough takedown of the Raiders by
Washington and a Monday Night takedown of Arizona by the Cowboys. The waters are
muddy, and frankly, the Giants might still be the best team of the bunch. The Cowboys
looked more like themselves and the appeals process is keeping their primary offensive
weapon on the field for now. Washington beat a tough, tough Raiders team with sturdy
defense that rattled Derek Carr with four sacks and held him to 19 of 31 passing with a TD
and two INT’s. Oakland just didn’t have an answer and maybe their defense is still too
porous to be legit contenders. So Washington is on the rise, maybe. Are THEY better
than we think?
Honestly, I didn’t learn anything here. I’m more confused than ever.
10. Brandin Cooks is Brady’s new favorite target
If that doesn’t scare AFC defensive coordinators, it should. After a few games of so-so
chemistry and limited targets, Brady has fallen into rhythm with his newly acquired target
Brandin Cooks, who broke out with 2 TD’s and 131 yards on only 5 total catches. What
caught my attention was that on the final play of the game, with a win hanging in the
balance, Brady trusted Cooks to go up and get that ball. Brady wouldn’t have thrown that
pass to Hogan or Mitchell. Edelman and Amendola are too short to go get balls thrown
like that. Cooks might just have been the perfect upgrade the Pats needed at WR. If
Brady feels in sync with him, it’ll reduce the load on injury prone favorites Danny
Amendola and Gronkowski, plus stretching the field and opening up the middle to open up
the flat for check downs to an array of dangerous scat-backs. Do you cover Gronk with no
safety over the top? Or do we allow Cooks to run free with only one corner covering. This
sort of thing keeps people up at night. It’s a good thing for the Patriots too, because they’ll
likely need to score a historic number of points to contend in the AFC this year with their
soft look defense.
Got a burning question? Disagree with me? Want more proof? Want to know my
thoughts on your rookie that I didn’t mention? Hit me in the comments and I’ll answer
the week’s best question (or questions) in next week’s edition.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.