Welcome to the War Room, where Yahoo Sports’ football minds gather every week to kick around the topics of the moment. Today, we’re talking (yes) protests and the West divisions. Got an idea for the War Room? Hit us up right here. Onward!
1. So last weekend was an interesting experience, to say the least, given the protests throughout the NFL. What do you expect to see this weekend protest-wise?
It’s Wednesday, so we have at least 85 hours for Trump to tweet before the 1 p.m. games on Sunday, which means literally anything can happen. In all seriousness though, I expect somewhat of the same response from players during the national anthem. This past Sundaywas a turning point for the league on this issue and I don’t think we’ll see players changing their tune anytime soon. What will be different though, is you will probably not see owners taking part in protests with their teams. Shad Khan, Dan Snyder, and Jerry Jones should be applauded for taking a visible stand, but it was probably a one-time thing.
I’m looking for more of the same when it comes to anthem protests. Some players will sit. Others will kneel. Others will stand. Others will raise fists. Others will lock arms. Some owners may — and should — join them to show support for their players. I’m interested to see what the teams who didn’t even come onto the field last week do, especially in light of the Alejandro Villanueva situation. One thing I think we will see less of, though, is the questioning in the locker room post-game. Might some outspoken players continue to use their position as a platform? Sure. But it won’t be the story this week as it was last week.
I expect to see the word ‘unity’ used a lot more. This is the NFL’s fun little way of rebranding an important civil rights moment into positive PR for the league. It is meant purely to pull the conversation away from what the protest is about — racial inequality and police brutality — and avoid uncomfortable conversations. Talking about important, controversial issues doesn’t help the league make money. Selling t-shirts that say ‘Unity’ certainly does. And all without having to make any semblance of a statement on an important issue that has plenty of gray area to begin with.
It’s simple, but I expect fewer demonstrations this week, but more than we saw before last week (of course, there are still some days to go, and Donald Trump could say something else to force even more players into a decision about the anthem). I think a lot of coaches feel as Mike Tomlin does: “I’m opposed to both factions to be quite honest with you. I’m an advocate for players. I’m an advocate for those that simply want to do their jobs.” Football coaches detest any outside distractions, and I’d bet heavily they want nothing more than to get back to their football tunnel vision. But it’s not that easy for the players. I still think many will want to get back to the normal routine, but it’s not like this story will go away anytime soon.
We’ll see fewer protests, but hopefully more on-the-ground work. The protesters, and the teams, have awareness now; it’s up to them to move the ball down the field (sports metaphor!) and begin creating useful long-term structures for real change. One of the cheap, easy criticisms of the protest movement is that there’s nothing backing it up; not that protesters need to satisfy all critics, since that’s impossible, but some tangible efforts to reach out to communities in the wake of these protests would go a long way to building some bridges between the many raging factions here.
Aw, who am I kidding? People are pissed, and they’re going to stay pissed no matter what the protesters do. And the moment they stop getting pissed, someone’s going to come along to fire them right up again.
Shalise Manza Young
Now that the NFL has co-opted and gentrified the protests into a shallow show of kumbaya, part of me hopes it stops. After this weekend, the real point of the protests, the reason why Colin Kaepernick decided to sit in the first place – the continued execution of unarmed citizens by police who don’t face consequences and pervasive racial injustice and inequality – has been completely lost. The entire point of protest is to make the unaffected uncomfortable, and hopefully to make them think. But with President Trump fanning the flames of racial animus, there’s little to no hope of that happening. Last weekend proved yet again to those of us in this country with brown and black skin that our legitimate concerns don’t really matter and if we’ve been “lucky” enough to earn a sizeable paycheck, no matter the hours and strife and sweat and sacrifice we’ve made to earn it, we should just shut up and be happy about it.
I actually anticipate fewer anthem demonstrations during Week 4. Then again, as long as the president continues his barrage of ridiculous tweets, he may continue to ignite more protests. As the season progresses though, players will want to solely focus on playing. It’s what makes the great players so great. Guys want to play football as Mike Tomlin noted. That’s the bottom line.
Question 2: Go West! Some of the most compelling early-season stories, pro and con, are out west. Which teams intrigue/disappoint you from the AFC and NFC West?
The Kansas City offense isn’t just good, it’s elite. Alex Smith is actually winning football games, and is actually fun to watch. I’m really disappointed in Seattle. The Jimmy Graham experiment has been an utter failure. He has just 81 yards in three games and is being used as a decoy and blocker instead of as a receiver. During Graham’s four seasons as the primary tight end with the Saints, he averaged 138 targets per season. In his two years with the Seahawks, he’s averaged 84. Better yet, he has scored just 8 combined touchdowns as a Seahawk. He never once scored fewer than 9 as the main starter in New Orleans. –Schultz
The AFC West might be the toughest division in the NFL this year, and whoever makes it out come January will definitely be battle-tested, though perhaps bruised as well. Well, three of the teams are strong. The poor Los Angeles Chargers have become not just one of the NFL’s sad franchises, they’re the red-headed stepchildren of their own new city. Off to an 0-3 start (after going 9-23 over the last two seasons) and once again dealing with injuries to key players, things don’t promise to get any easier in the near future: this week, L.A. hosts a strong Eagles team, and they also play in Oakland and New England before its bye. The Chargers are wasting the final years of Philip Rivers’ career. At least he got a sweet new ride out of the deal. –Young
I’m pretty interested by the Seahawks. They’re 1-2 with three disappointing games. The offense showed signs of life in the second half against Tennessee and we’ll see if that carries over, but this is not the Super Bowl contender we expected. Some of that is due to a tough early schedule, but it’s also hard to use that excuse when one of their sluggish games was at home against the 49ers. The Seahawks play in a division that isn’t scaring anyone so I assume they’ll end up in the playoffs, but I have no idea at this point how good they really are this season. –Schwab
Give me more Jared Goff. I don’t know how good the Rams will end up being this year, but they’ve got a mighty fun guy at quarterback who is starting to show some real progress. Only in his sophomore season,Goff has already made major improvements to his game. Compare his 118.2 QB rating through Week 3 this year to his numbers last season, when he only had one QBR over 100 in any game. No one is saying Goff can lead the Rams to the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs, just yet. But his rise has begun and it’s been incredibly entertaining to watch. –Schuster
From the AFC West, I’m intrigued by the Broncos. When they didn’t make a move for a quarterback this offseason and Trevor Siemian won the job over Paxton Lynch once again, a lot of people figured their season would play out much like last season: a strong defense keeps them in games and wins them quite a few, but not enough to survive in a very strong division. Then Siemian came out and played very well against the Chargers and the Cowboys, and those notions were no longer. Heck, people who watched the Broncos destroy the Cowboys might have crowned them AFC West favorites. But in a brutal loss to the Bills last weekend — maybe a letdown game after the big win over Dallas? — those same issues from last year emerged with Siemian tossing two costly interceptions and the running game never getting going. A Week 4 win over the Raiders, who also turned in a Week 3 dud, would get the Broncos back on track and move them to 2-0 in their division. A loss would put more heat on Siemian and the organization as a whole. –Pereles
The biggest surprise for me has to be the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition to crushing the Patriots in Week 1, Andy Reid’s team has beaten a pretty good Eagles team at home and the division rival Chargers on the road, the latter two of those victories coming without All-Pro safety Eric Berry who was lost for the season with an Achilles tear. I fully expected the Chiefs to take a step back this season, especially considering they lost Spencer Ware to a knee injury in August and Alex Smith lost one of this best targets in Jeremy Maclin in free agency. Instead, rookie Kareem Hunt has looked like Priest Holmes and Smith is doing his best Tom Brady impression. Kansas City is for real, and the entire AFC, not just the West, should be scared. –Sulla
That’ll do it for this week! Got a suggestion for next week’s War Room? Hit us up via email. Enjoy Week 4’s games!
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.