Countdown to the “Impossible”: Breaking the 2 Hour Barrier

Impossible is a word we throw around a bit too often. How often have you heard a cheesy movie villain, having been foiled, scream out, “That’s impossible!” as his well-laid plans fall to shreds? Even in the real world, many times people have said things could not be done, and then been proven wrong.

Sail west? Impossible – until Christopher Columbus did it.

Walk on the moon? Impossible – until Neil Armstrong did it.

That math homework you have due tomorrow? That may actually be impossible after all.

Sports have lent us a few of these moments as well, where we mistook improbability for impossibility and were dumbfounded by truly amazing achievements, such as Michael Phelps winning 8 gold medals in Beijing, or Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 at 5,000-1 odds at the start of the season. Some people have even said the Cubs breaking their 108-year curse, or Tiger winning another golf tournament, could never happen, and don’t they look foolish now?

There have even been times in history where science–science–said a feat could not be accomplished, which brings me to my obscure sport of preference: distance running. For all the times you probably ran the mile in grade school gym class, huffing along wishing you could run faster just to make the pain stop, you probably never thought that at one point in history, scientists declared that a human could not possibly run faster than four minutes for a mile. Based on their calculations of human lung capacity and pain tolerance, no man could maintain the pace needed to run four consecutive laps at a sub-60 second clip. It was a feat deemed impossible.

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Sir Roger Bannister, finishing the world’s first sub-4 mile, 1954

The knight that saved us from this horror? Sir Roger Bannister – an actual knight! In 1954, he made the impossible happen by running 3:59.4 for the full 5,280 feet and etched himself in history, which is why the Queen knighted him in 1975.  And just like you often see, if someone else can do it, so can you. Within 6 weeks of Sir Roger setting the record, it was broken again, and everyone was  striving to reach the now-attainable mark.  On February 14th, 2015, 19 runners broke 4 minutes on the same day – my friend from Duke was the slowest of the bunch, but still, he gets to tell everyone that he did what once was deemed impossible. And believe me, he does tell everyone.

Why does this matter now? Because the next impossibility in running is oh-so-close to being blown away: the 2-hour marathon. People in the running community have had their sights set on this for a while now, thinking it would be the next barrier to go, but that does not take away from the sheer madness of running 26.2 miles in under 120 minutes.

If you’re reading this and not a running nerd like I am, and I know just about all of you aren’t, here’s some context. To run exactly 2:00:00 for a marathon, you need to maintain an average pace of 4:34.8/mile. There are very few people on this planet who could run that pace for 26.2 seconds, let alone miles. Makes that gym class mile sound a lot easier, huh?

But people believed the impossible could happen. A few of them happened to work at Nike, so they set up a challenge back in 2017.  They brought three of the best marathoners in the world at that time – Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersenay Tadese – to a flat track with a pace car going the exact pace for the entire time, gave them prototype shoes lighter and more advanced than any road racing shoe ever before created, and let them do their thing. But even in the perfect circumstances of that day, they fell short, albeit barely – Kipchoge ran the distance in 2 hours and 25 seconds.

So why now, suddenly, do I think the feat can actually be achieved? Because last weekend in Berlin, Kipchoge reset the world record to 2:01:47 – an average of 4:38.8/mile, or 4 seconds away from the barrier pace. Without a pacer, without a perfectly flat track, and without the best in the world by his side for every step. In the middle of a sanctioned road race (even if the Nike crew had in fact broken 2, the IAAF, track and field’s governing body, would not have counted it because it was not a sanctioned event), the gap to the magical number was shaven down an additional 78 seconds, which is astonishing.

The fact that it was proven in race that mankind still can reach beyond what they were once deemed physically incapable of means that the will, and the talent, is there for someone to make a push for it. And as shoe technology and training methods continue to advance at blistering speed, I truly believe that it is no longer a question of if, but when, man will break the two-hour mark.

But when indeed was a question I asked myself. So, backed by Wikipedia, Excel, and a quick refresher in econometrics, here’s my best guess:

As you can see, the curve of the record does eventually break the barrier, meaning that at our current trajectory, the world record will be broken on exactly February 7th, 2040… or something in that ballpark.

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While not mathematically sound, just seeing that graph excites me about the future of the sport. People said it could not be done. Science deemed the task impossible. And yet, right there in the data, is a very powerful thing: hope. Because that faint glimmer of hope is what kick-started all of the impossible moments in history. Hope leads to determination, and determination leads to hard work, and those three together can accomplish anything.

So what will I be doing in 2040? Hopefully watching the impossible happen all over again.

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Could Earl Thomas be the Solution to the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell Problem?

The first and third-most talked about contract disputes (Khalil Mack is safely at number two) in the NFL this year have dragged on into the regular season. If you are a football fan, you no doubt know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will not sign his franchise tag tender. You likely also know the Seahawks are locked in a heated dispute with safety Earl Thomas. Both are elite level players responsible for a lot of the success these two teams have had in recent years, but both seem equally intent on playing elsewhere in order to get a bigger paycheck. Speculation about where each could land continues to roll on, but it is possible Seattle and Pittsburgh could solve the other’s problem.

So far this year, Pittsburgh has been burned in the secondary. The Steelers have allowed the fifth most passing yards and are tied with the Saints for the most passing touchdowns given up. For Seattle, this team has stated it would like to get back to running the ball more. Unfortunately, the Seahawks rank 25th in rushing yards and have the third worst yards per carry average in the league. Even with a bevy of options in the backfield, no one has managed to really take control.

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Bell has missed 15 games over the past three seasons with the Steelers. (Wikimedia Commons)

The truth is, the Steelers no longer need Bell. He would still be an upgrade over James Connor, but the second year back from the University of Pittsburgh ranks eight in yards from scrimmage so far this year. The need to patch up the secondary is a big one. Earl Thomas would be a huge upgrade over Sean Davis. Pro Football Focus ranks Davis as the 41st safety in the league. Thomas tops the list.

For Seattle, they have a number of young backs, but the chance to add Le’Veon Bell and potentially reduce the number of hits Russell Wilson takes would be massive. Bell had the second most yards from scrimmage in the league last year. His ability as a pass blocker and pass catcher would take a ton of pressure off Wilson. Even though Seattle has a couple of young running backs, none of them will ever come close to playing at the same level as Bell as he enters his prime.

Financially, there is some interesting movement here. Bell is going to want a massive extension. Todd Gurley set the market in a lot of ways for running backs when he negotiated his extension with the Rams. CBS Sports reported back in July Bell wanted roughly $17 million per year in the deal, turning down a massive five-year $70-million offer from Pittsburgh. Seattle might be willing to go a little higher to land him. Using Spotrac, I put together a contract that pays Le’Veon an average of $15.1 million per year in the form of a 5-year $75.5-million deal. That is still short of his asking price, but it tops the Steelers’ last offer.

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Thomas has 28 career interceptions, including three this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas wants to be paid as well. Eric Berry is the highest paid safety in the league out in Kansas City. The Steelers already have a Bell-sized opening in their cap number, so absorbing Thomas’ cap hit this season would be no big deal. Signing Thomas to something like a 4-year $48 million contract should appease him. It would put him in the same category as Berry and Tyrann Mathieu in terms of average salary.

These are just some rough numbers I ran, but both seem like realistic contracts for each of them to sign. Bell and Thomas both desperately need a change of scenery. It checks a lot of boxes for both teams, filling a need, sending the player to the opposite conference to avoid playing them again and moving on from a player that clearly no longer wants to be part of the organization.

Evaluating the USMNT a Year Later

One year ago I wrote about the US Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) World Cup Qualifying cycle. At the time it was as much an emotional exercise as it was an intellectual one. Here I am revisiting the piece and seeing how my opinions have changed. Additions from this year are in italics. So, here goes nothing!

The USMNT 2018 World Cup Qualifying Cycle: A Post-Mortem

In theater, after the actors have taken their final bow, the members of the cast and crew will sometimes come together and discuss what went well and what did not. This process, is called a “post-mortem”; once the show is done and dusted, it must be laid to rest.

In this article, I hope to do the same for the USMNT 2018 WCQ cycle. Honestly, I am writing this in the hopes that I can help other people understand how we got here and what comes next. Additionally, I believe that I writing this will be therapeutic for me on some level. Without further ado…

THE PAST: Who can we blame?
After something unexpected like this, everyone wants to start pointing fingers. However, no single person can be blamed for this lost World Cup cycle. Here are a few people who played a major role.

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Klinsmann has the second-highest winning percentage of any U.S. manager, trailing only Bruce Arean. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jurgen Klinsmann– Klinsmann was the head coach at the start of this 2018 WCQ cycle before he was fired for losing the first two games of qualifying. One game was home to Mexico, while the other was away to Costa Rica; neither of those games are easy games but losing both of them was unacceptable. Plus, there were plenty of problems on this team before those two losses.

I personally disliked many of Klinsmann’s quirks, but let me focus on things which affected this qualifying cycle. He believed in creating competition at every position. In an attempt to produce that ideal, he gave many different players minutes at crucial positions. What this caused was an overall lack of consistency, and lack of chemistry. Before the 2016 Copa America, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron had barely played together as a center-back pairing with Michael Bradley in front of them as a defensive midfielder. That was a foundational piece of the team at that tournament. Years of this little consistency gave Bruce Arena less to work with when he took over at the beginning of 2017.

There were also a number of players who Jurgen inexplicably would not call up to the national team. Jorge Villafana, Dax McCarty, Benny Feilhaber, and Sacha Kljestan (to name a few) could each have had another 20+ caps under their belts throughout this cycle if they were called up when they should have been. Meanwhile the likes of Julian Greene, Michael Orozco, and Mix Diskerud consistently received call-ups and panned out into next to nothing. When Arena took over, he brought in a few of these shunned players but they had to quickly acclimate to team.

Both of the above issues, lack of consistency and exclusion of useful players, may not seem super important but I firmly believe that both of them eroded the maximum potential of the core players on this USMNT.

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Bruce Arena managed the U.S. at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but missed qualification in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons)

Bruce Arena– He was brought in to steady the ship and ensure that the US would qualify for the World Cup. He failed. To be fair, as mentioned above, Arena was handed some tough cards to play with; two games played and both were losses. He had to get the results of ten games in eight games. As difficult asthe job was, it was not impossible.
Up until September, we looked good. We were undefeated and it looked like we would be fine. The loss to Costa Rica in September was tough to swallow but not damning. The US could survive that. We could not survive a loss to Trinidad & Tobago (T&T). Playing a line-up on short rest, in poor conditions, in a practically must-win game turned out to be pretty costly. Oddly, this was uncharacteristic of Arena. He rotated his squad between the home and away games of every other international break so far. I think he owns a lot of the blame for the loss to T&T and that loss is ultimately what eliminated the US. At the very least, in post-game interviews he owned that responsibility. I think people have been putting more blame on Arena than anyone else. That’s probably fair, but he’s not the only one to be blamed.

Sunil Gulati (I honestly forgot about this guy)- Gulati is the president of US Soccer Federation (USSF) and appointed both Jurgen and Bruce. First, it is strange for a national team head coach to last more than one World Cup cycle. Despite that, Sunil Gulati re-signed Klinsmann before the 2014 World Cup draw of pools even occurred. Then to keep him on after losing the 2015 Gold Cup in the semi-finals to Jamaica, and missing out on the 2017 Confederations Cup only to fire him after losing two WCQ matches really put the US in a pickle. Had Klinsmann been fired earlier, or not re-signed in the first place, the national team could have sailed a straighter course.

Then, picking Bruce Arena as a stop-gap seemed like the most logical choice at the time. And it probably was the best choice given the tough scenario. But Sunil Gulati put himself in that difficult position by waiting so long to fire Klinsmann. You reap what you sow.

The Players– As important as the above is, the team’s fate was decided on the field. And to be honest, it looked like the US were playing a preseason friendly for most of the final game that solidified their elimination. They knew what was at stake, and yet there was a decided lack of urgency to the team from the start. Despite this being the most talented and skilled USMNT ever, Alexi Lalas was right when he said that the US players were missing the grit of the old national teams. I still standby this sentiment.

Others– I will not entertain any arguments that US players playing in MLS is to blame for this. Even if it does own some level of blame in an indirect way it is negligible compared to what is stated above. In fact, besides Mexico, every other team in CONCACAF have a substantial number of national team players playing in MLS. If anything, MLS made the US’s qualifying more difficult because it has boosted programs like Panama and Honduras, not because it has deteriorated the play of American players.

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Christian Pulisic is the face of the youth movement giving hope to fans of U.S. men’s soccer. (Wikimedia Commons)

Conversely, I understand the desire to use the US academy system as a scapegoat. However, players “in their prime” are the players who should have carried this team to the World Cup. Those are players ages 23 – 28ish. Those players did not show up as much as we needed them to and so we had to rely on the old-guard (Dempsey and Howard). But those “in their prime” players were in US academies approximately 10 years ago. If you believe that the US academy system has not changed since Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore came out of it you are sorely mistaken. The youngsters like Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Erik Palmer-Brown, Andrew Carleton, etc. are of a different breed of USMNT player. I am not saying that the US academy system is perfect, but it is improving and will continue to improve as time goes on.

Lastly, I will admit that I am not old enough to know this, but it feels like there are more young talented players coming out of the US than ever before. The key then, is continuing to develop those players once they join the senior team and mold them into a cohesive unit. That will be the job of the next head coach. Speaking of which …

THE PRESENT: What are the immediate next steps for US Soccer?

Changes- I would not be surprised if Bruce Arena resigns before this article is even posted online (He did). Sunil Gulati will almost certainly be out of a job as well but I do not know whether that will be of his own accord, or how quickly that will occur. USSF will definitely need to find replacements for them, but that process needs to be well thought-out, which may take some time. Plus, as much as it may not feel like it, USSF has some time, especially for the head coach position. Many head coaches looking to coach a national team may not be available until after the World Cup next summer.

USSF PresidentCarlos Cordeiro won the USSF election in Febuary. My prior speculation on this isn’t really interesting now. Jury is still out on whether Cordeiro was the right choice.

Head Coach- For the head coaching job, that will depend a lot on who is available and what the new USSF President wants. I think they will be looking for someone 1. Who is familiar with the US system/MLS 2. With national team coaching experience 3. Who has a record of developing youth. As of right now, Tata Martino of Atlanta United checks all of those boxes. Other candidates who check some of them are Peter Vermes of Sporting Kansas City, and Oscar Pareja of FC Dallas. Still, all of those names are within MLS. It is very possible that USSF look far and wide for the next head coach. A dark horse candidate that no one is talking about because he is relatively unproven is Patrick Viera (formerly) of NYCFC. He has done a very good job of getting the most out of his youth (see: Jack Harrison recently playing for the English U-21s)

For now, Dave Sarachan is the interim Head Coach. He’s done fine for an interim head coach. Since the end of the spring I’ve been rooting for Gregg Berhalter to win the position. I plan on writing a whole different column about that next week. Stay tuned.

THE FUTURE: What does the USMNT have to do to get back on track?

Owning CONCACAF- I think Matt Doyle phrased it well on “Club & Country: After the Whistle” when he said that the US needs to “start beating up on CONCACAF teams again”. The US need to be the best team on this continent before we can do anything major on the world stage. Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, has expressed similar sentiments about MLS. MLS needs to be the best league in CONCACAF before it can be compared to other leagues around the world. This is a natural progression for the league to take, and I agree with the Armchair Analyst himself that it is a progression for the US as well. (If you’re interested in soccer in the US, then Matt Doyle is a must-read)

Integrating Youth- In addition to re-becoming the shark which eats CONCACAF minnows, the US have to get better at incorporating youth into the national team. This is a separate process from developing youth in our academies. I am referring to making the leap from our youth teams to our full senior national team. For example, Matt Miazga is 22 (now 23) years old and starting in the Dutch League. Yet the most action he has seen for the senior team was one Gold Cup appearance this summer and some other cameos. At this point, he should be somewhat integrated into our center back rotation. I think Bobby Wood also integrated slowly onto this team. At this point he is in the rotation at striker but it feels like it came a year or two too late.

Dave Sarachan has laid a great foundation for this in recent friendlies. The rise of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, et al. bodes well for the USMNT.

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Clint Dempsey retired from international soccer in 2018, finishing his career third in caps and tied first in scoring. (Wikimedia Commons)

Saying Goodbye- Part of our problem with integrating youth is that we struggle to move on from older players. This problem will likely evaporate for a year or two as our oldest players retire (Thanks Clint Dempsey!).

With that, we have to say goodbye to some USMNT legends once and for all. Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and DeMarcus Beasley will never play a competitive match again for the USMNT. These guys won’t see more than one or two more caps as celebrations of their careers (Clint didn’t even get that).

Additionally, say goodbye to the roles of players aged 27-30 on this team. Michael Bradley will be on the cusp of 35 by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. The young end of this cohort include Jozy Altidore and Darlington Nagbe who will be 31 in 2022, but also include Gonzalez and Besler who will both be 34 by then. I do not expect the US to abandon these players completely. However, when do we let go of players of this age group? I have a feeling the 2019 Gold Cup may be the last hurrah for many of them.

Seeing how well Miazga and Brooks paired together in recent friendlies, I do not see a reason to call any older center-backs. I still think Jozy and Nagbe could be useful for this team, especially over the next two years. After that I really hope some youth beat them out for their positions. After recent reports of Bradley’s ‘alpha dog’ mentality, I honestly think his presence will only be a hindrance.

Looking Forward- And with that I will leave everyone with some hope that it will get better from here. Christian Pulisic, the wonder-boy himself, the most talented player is US history, is only 20 years old. He played in that elimination game and you can bet he will never forget it. The most expensive player is US history (who was injured for the last few qualifiers), John Brooks, is 25 years old. The US U-20 team made it to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup this summer without Pulisic and Shalke midfielder Weston McKennie and other notable absences. Their only loss was to the team that ended up getting second place. 19 year old Tyler Adams scored his first USMNT goal against Mexico. The future is bright.

After another year, I have some idea on who should be key players going forward. At this point, I would definitely put Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Brooks, Miazga, Yedlin, and Steffen on the field for a must win game. The other four starting positions are still up for grabs, which is fine for now. Our next competitive game is in the summer of 2019 and it’s the Gold Cup. Don’t get me wrong, I want to win the Gold Cup, but if we’re still working out a kink or two I won’t cry about it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we worry about that we should worry about who the head coach is going to be. Come back next week to hear my thoughts on the head coach search!

NFL Power Rankings 2018: Week 3

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1. Los Angeles Rams: 3-0 (Last Week: 1)
The first battle for Los Angeles since 1994 ends in favor of the Rams. Jared Goff played a great game, save a redzone interception. The special teams bailed him out by blocking the ensuing punt and recovering for a touchdowns. There were some key injuries though. With a short week ahead and going on the road, week 4 will be very telling for Los Angeles.

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2. Kansas City Chiefs: 3-0 (Last Week: 4)
Records continue to fall as Patrick Mahomes continues to ball in Kansas City. The Chiefs have dominated teams through the first three weeks of the season. All three of their wins have been solid. The Chargers, Steelers and 49ers were all considered to be among the better teams in the league this year. The secondary might be terrible, but no one has even come close to slowing down Andy Reid’s high-powered offense.

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3. Philadelphia Eagles: 2-1 (Last Week: 6)
Carson Wentz was back and managed to knock off some rust. It was a bit of an ugly win for the Eagles, but a win nonetheless. Philly should be getting healthier over the next few weeks as the trio of Alshon Jeffrey, Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi all set to return soon. With their MVP-caliber quarterback back in action, we could see the Eagles return to the form that led them to the Super Bowl in the near future.

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4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-1 (Last Week: 2)
And this is where the parity in the NFL kicks in once again. After the Jaguars beat the Patriots, they were riding high atop the AFC. Then they crashed back down to Earth with a loss to the short-handed Titans. Jacksonville faced a lot of the issues it struggled with in the past as the defense played lights out, but the offense struggled to score points. The Jets are on the schedule next, which should be a win, but the Jags lost to New York last year and with how this NFL season is going, nothing is for certain.

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5. Minnesota Vikings: 1-1-1 (Last Week 3)
In other results that continue to make no sense, Minnesota laid an egg against Buffalo. The offensive line forgot how to block and Kirk Cousins was responsible for three turnovers. The Bills deserve a lot of credit for winning, but the Vikings played like it was the NFC Championship game. With a short week, Minnesota desperately needs to turn things around quickly heading to Los Angeles for a matchup with the Rams.

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6. New England Patriots: 1-2 (Last Week: 5)
Take your hand off the panic button. It was not a good week for New England. There is no question this team is not as good as it was a year ago. The Patriots still have a lot to figure out, but they are still the best team in the AFC East and one of the top three teams in the AFC. A win over the currently undefeated Dolphins would do a lot to silence doubters.

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7. Chicago Bears: 2-1 (Last Week: 9)
I will be honest, after the performance the Bears put on against the Cardinals, I don’t feel great about having them at seventh. However, who would you put ahead of them? This defense has been among the best in the league. It hasn’t really beaten anyone significant yet, but will get a chance to prove itself against Tampa Bay and Miami in its next two games. Also, trust in Matt Nagy. He seems like he is going to figure out what ails the offense before too long.

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8. Baltimore Ravens: 2-1 (Last Week: 14)
One week after being embarrassed by Andy Dalton, the Ravens bounced back. Bend but don’t break proved to be the solution for Balitmore’s defense en route to an important win over Denver. It seems odd to call a week 3 game important, but it was a victory over another AFC team that could be the difference in what seems like it will be a tough AFC North.

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9. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1-1-1 (Last Week: 12)
That second half did not do much to comfort anyone and Pittsburgh looks as undisciplined as ever, but it picked up a win, and a road win at that. Ben Roethlisberger picked up right where he left off against Kansas City. Unfortunately, the secondary reverted to its woeful ways after halftime. Still, four forced turnovers is a good place to start for the Steelers. If they can avoid committing as many penalties, wins should become easier to come by.

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10. Carolina Panthers: 2-1 (Last Week: 18)
I will admit, heading into the season, I was very skeptical of this Panthers team. Most of my concerns were with the offense though and after three weeks, a lot of them have been alleviated. Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey work well together on the ground and Carolina can create just enough passing downfield to keep the defense honest. After intercepting Andy Dalton four times as well, it seems like this team is only getting better as the season rolls on.

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Even though the Falcons beat the Panthers in week 2, Atlanta has lost some big pieces in the meantime. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Andy Levitre, Devonta Freeman, Riccardo Allen and Takk McKinnley all find themselves on the injury report, and some of them aren’t coming back. The offense seems to be hitting its stride, scoring over 30 points each of the last two weeks, but if the defense cannot get healthy, it might not matter for the Falcons.

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12. Green Bay Packers: 1-1-1 (Last Week: 7)
Sure it was a road game, but that was not the performance we are used to seeing from the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the offense mustered only 17 points. The defense was gashed by countless big plays. The Packers have not looked like a great team through three weeks. There are only so many times Rodgers can tell everyone to relax.

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13. Miami Dolphins: 3-0 (Last Week: 17)
It is hard to know what to make of the Dolphins quite yet. They trailed at home against Oakland, but scored 21 points in the second half to pull off the comeback. Ryan Tannehill has played extremely well through the first three weeks of the season, but the running game disappeared against the Raiders. Despite being 3-0, Miami has yet to really secure a statement win. Beating the Patriots this week would certainly qualify.

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14. Washington: 2-1 (Last Week: 19)
The parity in the NFL is reaching an interesting point. One week after falling flat against Indianapolis, Washington nearly doubled up Green Bay. The rushing attack came up huge as Adrian Peterson feasted on the Packers defense. Alex Smith put up solid numbers, but only completed 12 passes. It was a huge improvement, but there is still room to grow.

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15. New Orleans Saints: 2-1 (Last Week: 22)
This seems a lot more like the Saints team we know. Drew Brees turned back the clocks with a vintage performance, setting the NFL record for career completions in the process. New Orleans might have the most dangerous offense in football outside of Kansas City when it gets going. Mark Ingram is only two weeks away from returning as well. Now, if someone could just teach them to play defense.

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16. Cincinnati Bengals: 2-1 (Last Week: 10)
One week after tossing four touchdown passes, Andy Dalton threw four interceptions. The lack of consistency make the Bengals a tough team to trust, but they were missing Joe Mixon and A.J. Green left the game with an injury as well. Cincy still leads the suddenly very competitive AFC North, but faces a tough test with a trip to Atlanta on the horizon.

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17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-1 (Last Week: 11)
It might seem like a bit of a steep drop, but this was exactly what every Buccaneers fan feared would happen. Tampa Bay’s offense committed four turnovers in the first half, including a pick-six by Ryan Fitzpatrick. It battled back in the second half, and the defense actually pitched a shutout, but the damage was already done. If not for some shaky kicking by Chris Boswell, this game might have even been a bit further out of reach when Tampa started to make its late push. Jameis Winston returns this week as well, potentially throwing this team into chaos about who should start at quarterback.

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18. Denver Broncos: 2-1 (Last Week: 15)
A lot of the concerns about this Broncos team came to light in the loss to the Ravens. Case Keenum was rather pedestrian throwing for under 200 yards with no touchdowns and the running game could not bail Denver out. This is still a team more than capable of competing for a playoff spot, but with a trip to Arrowhead upcoming, the offense needs to get into gear.

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19. Los Angeles Chargers: 1-2 (Last Week: 16)
It is easy to look at the scoreline and think the Chargers were a step below the Rams, but Anthony Lynn’s squad put up a good fight. If not for a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, this game would’ve been a whole lot closer. Last year’s first round pick Mike Williams flashed some of his potential and the ground game looked solid. If Los Angeles can use the rushing attack early to control the tempo, the Chargers should start winning more games.

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20. Tennessee Titans: 2-1 (Last Week: 23)
Thankfully for the Titans, style points are worth nothing in the NFL. The thing holding Tennessee back from being higher on this list is the battered situation of its quarterback group. Marcus Mariota can barely grip a football and Blaine Gabbert took a nasty shot to the head. The Titans will probably need to score a few more points with the defending champs coming to town.

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21. Indianapolis Colts: 1-2 (Last Week: 21)
The defense came to play. The offense was almost nowhere to be found. Indy managed just 209 yards of total offense for a pathetic 3.7 yards per play. The sad truth is that Andrew Luck might never truly be the same quarterback he was back in 2015 before all these injuries piled up. The evidence was never clearer than watching Jacoby Brissett come off the bench to attempt the potential game-winning Hail Mary pass.

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22. Seattle Seahawks: 1-2 (Last Week: 27)
All I’m going to say is the Seahawks better pay Earl Thomas soon. The veteran safety intercepted two passes against Dallas and made life a lot easier for the Seattle offense. Chris Carson cracked the hundred-yard mark, but it took him 32 carries. Overall, this was a massive improvement for the Seahawks, but the jump was from dreadful to below average. This team still has a lot to prove.

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23. Dallas Cowboys: 1-2 (Last Week: 20)
Turnovers killed the Cowboys as the offense sputtered once again on the road. Dallas is sticking to its gameplan as Ezekiel Elliott is tied for the league lead in rushing yards through the first three weeks. However, the poor play in the secondary and the inability to generate a downfield passing threat are huge red flags. This team is missing Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.

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24. New York Giants: 1-2 (Last Week: 25)
Pat Shurmer deserves a lot of praise for his handling of this game. He kept the Giants moving the ball efficiently on the ground and kept Eli Manning about as clean as possible considering the talent level on the offense line and on the Texans’ defensive front. Heading home with a win is crucial for this team, but the defense will need to turn it up a notch with the Saints coming to visit.

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25. Detroit Lions: 1-2 (Last Week: 28)
Wow. This does not make up for how poorly the Lions played to open the season, but it means a lot for how Detroit fans view Matt Patricia. The Lions finally had a 100-yard rusher as rookie Kerryon Johnson crossed the century mark. Matt Stafford was solid if unspectacular. The secondary played some of the best football I’ve seen in Detroit in a long time. The win means a lot, but it will mean a lot more if the Lions can go into Dallas and build on the positives.

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26. Cleveland Browns: 1-1-1 (Last Week: 29)
LeBron who? OK, that’s definitely pushing it, but it felt a bit like Cleveland found its new king on Thursday night as Baker Mayfield came off the bench to lead a second-half comeback and end the Browns’ 19-game losing streak. There is no looking back now and the extra prep the team got heading into a matchup with Oakland could have the Browns on the cusp of a winning record for the first time since November of 2014.

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27. New York Jets: 1-2 (Last Week: 24)
Just in case anyone had forgotten, the Jets reminded the whole league they are still a rebuilding team after losing in Cleveland. It was part of a tough schedule to open the season travel wise as New York played it’s third game in 10 days. Still, Sam Darnold showed he is a rookie with a lot to learn and the defense still cannot generate a pass rush without blitzing. It could be a long season for the Jets.

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28. Houston Texans: 0-3 (Last Week: 26)
For a team as talented as the Texans supposedly are, it is unbelievable they are one of just three teams in the league without a win. The pass rush showed up against New York, as did the passing game, but Houston still came up short. Bill O’Brien has to figure out what is holding this team back and fast. Dropping to 0-4 with a loss to the Colts would end its season.

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29. Buffalo Bills: 1-2 (Last Week: 31)
I’m not going to claim for even a second that I saw this coming, but I did think the Bills looked a lot better in week 2. They looked even better thrashing Minnesota at home with a 27-6 victory. Josh Allen showed why he was a top-10 pick in the draft and Buffalo found a way to move the ball on the ground even without LeSean McCoy. This team is still far from contending, but it might be a bit more competitive than most initially thought.

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30. San Francisco 49ers: 1-2 (Last Week: 13)
And with that, the 49ers hopes for a successful season end. Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL, meaning he is done for the year. San Francisco is already at 1-2 and started 1-10 last year before Garoppolo took over as quarterback. On the bright side, a high draft pick for a team that already has a franchise quarterback can be a very valuable asset.

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31. Oakland Raiders: 0-3 (Last Week: 30)
John Gruden said in an interview that he wouldn’t take the Raiders money if he wasn’t successful. It is time to start handing it back over. Oakland is arguably the worst team in the league. The major difference separating it from Arizona is the fact it is not starting a rookie quarterback. Oakland is being outscored by about 10 points per game and owns the worst turnover ratio in the league. The Raiders do have an easy schedule remaining, but need to drastically improve for this not to seem like a season that set the franchise back several years.

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32. Arizona Cardinals: 0-3 (Last Week: 32)
Well, all of the rookie quarterbacks taken in the top-10 are now in control of the starting role. Josh Rosen will likely join Baker Mayfield in making his first NFL start in week 4. It was a rough start for Rosen as he threw two interceptions to close the game. One was called back for an offsides penalty, but Rosen still took a sack to eventually end the contest. Even though it was a close game, Arizona still looks like the worst team in the NFL.

Colin Kaepernick Succeeded

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Kaepernick was the starting quarterback for San Francisco in the Super Bowl back in 2013 against Baltimore. (Wikimedia Commons)

Like it or not, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick succeeded when he started taking a knee during the national anthem. He also shed some light on the NFL’s clear lack of a moral compass.

It has been almost two years since the start of the controversial protest. In that time, the meaning, message and significance of Kaepernick’s actions have become part of national news and debate. That alone means he has accomplished a lot.

Kaepernick has explicitly stated his protest is about police brutality and racial inequality, two major issues that face our country today. Regardless of which side of the conversation you stand on, you cannot deny that the conversation is happening.

Without trying to get too political here, I want to focus more on the overall impact of Kaepernick’s protest. It has raised awareness across the country about important issues. It is because of him that these conversations are being had. Washington Post writer Kent Babb quoted an NFL owner in September of 2017 as saying, “The thing that he’s done probably more effectively than any team community relations staff or owner or coach could do for other players is [point out] that they do have the ability to affect the national dialogue.”

National dialogue has certainly been impacted. A small group of players across the NFL joined in with the protest. Fans boycotted the league because it could not curb the behavior. The president tweeted about it regularly, attacking commissioner Roger Goodell for not stopping the behavior.

Several other NFL players formed the Players Coalition, working for social change. They credited Kaepernick for starting a movement. Back in May, that group partnered with the NFL to dedicate about $90 million to battling social inequality.

For Kaepernick, it is more than just a protest. In 2017, he donated $1 million to various charities across the country. Greg Bishop and Ben Baskin do an excellent job profiling the choices he made in making these contributions and break down where the money went.

Then of course there is the Nike ad. The fact that Nike was willing to take this risk says a lot about the state of the NFL right now. The league had no idea this campaign was coming and it is meant to inspire. It has sparked protest from those who view any association with Kaepernick as disrespectful to the military, but the message from the ad is actually quite inspiring, encouraging kids to chase their dreams.

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Kaepernick has thrown for 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 69 career games. (Wikimedia Commons).

There are still drawbacks. The message is often times misconstrued and the debate can quickly turn into personal attacks of someone’s character. Many feel that Kaepernick is ignorant in his action, especially with the Nike ad slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Perhaps that mantra is a little too on the nose when one of the main critiques of his protest is that it disrespects the military, people who genuinely sacrifice their lives for our freedom. In my opinion, Nike probably went a bit too far. Kaepernick sacrificed his NFL career for his protest, but the idea of “sacrificing everything” is better-suited to describe members of the armed forces.

At the same time, Kaepernick has sacrificed a lot of his own personal gains in order to continue this protest. Without the controversy that surrounds him, he would certainly be on an NFL roster, making several millions of dollars. And yes, he would be on an NFL roster if he had never knelled during the national anthem. Robert Griffin III is currently a member of the Baltimore Ravens. The last time the two of them played in the regular season, Kaepernick put up far better numbers, throwing 16 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions in 12 games. Griffin managed a meager two touchdowns and three interceptions in five appearances. Kaepernick also had more passing yards and rushing yards per game and the two had identical completion percentages. Simply stated, Kaep was the better player. Yet, it is RG3 who finds himself on an NFL roster.

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Griffin is currently the third quarterback on the Ravens’ roster.

I’m not saying Kaepernick should be starting anywhere, but he is good enough to be a backup quarterback. He has plenty of experience and was on a team that reached the Super Bowl in 2013. I mean Nathan Peterman has a job! That guy has thrown two touchdown and seven interceptions, and owns a career completion percentage of 43! The point is, Kaepernick would most certainly be on an NFL roster if not for the anthem protest.

You can dispute how much of a sacrifice this really is, but when you look at the number of NFL players that hold out or complain about not being paid enough money, Kaepernick is holding himself to a higher standard.

The fact he isn’t on a roster, but Mychal Kendricks has a roster spot is possibly the most disappointing part of this whole issue. Kendricks was indicted and charged with insider trading at the beginning of this month. He now faces 25 years in prison for his crimes. After the news broke regarding the charges, the Cleveland Browns released him. Just a few weeks later, he is now starting for the Seattle Seahawks.

Kendricks’ presence juxtaposed to Kaepernick’s absence illustrates the hypocrisy of the NFL. The fact that a convicted criminal is on a roster ahead of a man standing up for social change is disgusting. You might not like what Kaepernick kneels for or the message he is promoting, but he is not a criminal. He is acting upon a constitutional right to peacefully protest. The willingness of NFL owners to sign players who are criminals just reminds everyone the league is a business and willing to look the other way as long as the negative publicity does not effect the bottom line. It also underlines the reality that off-the-field issues can be over looked, though it continues to prevent Kaepernick from being in an NFL jersey.

Editor’s note: Since I first published this, there were signs that this controversy is no longer going to bar players from being in the league. Former 49ers safety Eric Reid signed with the Carolina Panthers on Thursday. Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick in taking a knee during the national anthem back in 2016. This does not solve everything, but it is progress. Reid, much like Kaepernick, deserves to be on an NFL roster.

People on both sides of the issue have been offended or hurt by the words spoken and actions taken. Unfortunately, that is often how change comes about. It requires patience and perseverance.

And Kaepernick has proven that he will be patient in his pursuit of change. Two years later, he still does not have an NFL contract. He rarely makes public appearances. He continues to embark on philanthropic missions.

Love him or hate him, Kaepernick has started a movement, he has sparked a conversation and he has forever changed how athletes will view their platform. On those grounds, his protest has definitely been a success.