How I saw Week 5 of the NFL:
Pink is everywhere in the league this month as all 32 teams celebrate Beast Cancer Awareness Month with the "Crucial Catch" campaigns. On Sunday, you saw players and coaches wearing pink hats, mouth pieces, wristbands, cleats, gloves, shoe laces and shirts, along with a pink ribbon being painted on fields.
All these clothing items are for sale, though it is estimated that only 8% of proceeds go to actual breast cancer research. Nonetheless, I have no problem with raising awareness for women to get regularly screened for breast cancer, having had my mom and a close friend get the disease.
But the league should also use the month for two other important issues -- domestic violence and bullying. October also happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month and after the Ray Rice and other incidents recently, addressing the issue has never been more timely for the league. It is estimated that every nine seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten, so this is a huge problem.
The league should have a coordinated campaign like "Crucial Catch" to raise awareness among its male fans, who still comprise the bulk of NFL fans. Breast cancer is a disease that overwhelmingly affects women, yet domestic violence affects everyone. I don't think NFL players are more prone to beat the women in their life than the rest of the population, but every incident is much higher profile and the league's response is much more scrutinized. A league-wide effort to highlight the issue on game days -- when people are paying the most attention -- would go a long way to showing the league is serious.
Another issue that gets the spotlight in October is bullying, with Oct. 16 designated as "Spirit Day," designed to focus on bullying, especially of LGBT youth. The NFL is among sports leagues that have signed on to recognize the day, but there is still nothing specific for games. Last year, the NFL Network crew doing the game that fell on Spirit Day wore some purple, but it was all rather muted. More powerful would be players wearing purple gloves and wristbands and doing PSA's against bullying. Young men -- who are most often the bullies -- look up to players and it might make some think twice.
Breast cancer awareness is an easy issue for the league to tackle. There is no pro-breast cancer lobby, so it's not a political issue. Unlike domestic violence and bullying, there are not uncomfortable social and gender issues that would make the league squeamish about being advocates (the league tries to avoid anything controversial). The NFL feels comfortable with pink, so I don't expect these other two issues to be addressed with the same focus.
Around the league after virtually all (Seattle plays tonight) teams have played four games, a quarter of the season:
--There are no unbeaten teams left, which is about the earliest I can remember this happening in years. The two unbeatens coming into the week -- Arizona and Cincinnati -- lost by a combined 84-37. The Cardinals saw Peyton Manning throw four touchdowns in a 41-20 loss to the Broncos. The Bengals got thrashed by the Patriots, 43-17, showing Cincinnati it still not ready for prime time and New England is far from dead.
This shows there are no dominant teams in a league where 13 of the 32 teams have two losses. Buffalo is 3-2 and benched its starting quarterback, yet the Bills are tied for the first in the AFC East with the Patriots and the two play next week. There was panic in Green Bay and Indianapolis after 1-2 and 0-2 starts respectively for the Packers and Colts, but both teams are now 3-2 and appear the class of their weak divisions.
Denver finally kicked into gear against the Cardinals and linebacker Von Miller had his second straight dominant game, a sign he is recovered from knee surgery. The Broncos (3-1) are still the AFC's most talented team, but right now they are chasing the 4-1 Chargers, who are playing great. These might be the AFC's two best teams, but one of them can do no better than a wild card.
As usual, injuries will be the great leveler, so a lot will change in the final 12 games for each team. But outside of winless Jacksonville and Oakland and quarterbackless St. Louis, Tennessee, Tampa and the Jets, fans can still hope their team can be in the playoff conversation.
This is true even in Cleveland, where the 2-2 Browns are five points from being unbeaten. They also staged the biggest rally by a road team in history Sunday coming from 28-3 down to beat Tennessee, 29-28. All four Browns games have been exciting, reminding me of the 1980 Cardiac Kids. "I did tell them after the game they got to stop doing it,'' rookie Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. ''I have an EKG scheduled for tomorrow because my heart can't take many more of these.'' The Browns are suddenly a lot of fun to watch.
--I drafted Calvin Johnson as my No. 1 fantasy player and the Lions star receiver has 1 point in the last two games thanks to a bum ankle. A bad ankle is deadly for a receiver, so Detroit would be smart to sit him until he is 100%. It would also cause all his fantasy owners a bad case of indigestion.
--If you are hiring, soon-to-be-ex-Lions kicker Alex Henery will be looking for a job. He shanked all three field goals in Detroit's 17-14 loss to Buffalo and is 1 for 5 this season. He replaced the Lions starting kicker, who also stunk. Unless the Lions are clueless (always a possibility), they'll sign ex-Broncos kicker Matt Prater by Tuesday.
--Weird, slightly homophobic comment of the week: NBC showed the highlights of the Panthers' 31-24 win over the Bears that featured Panthers tight end Greg Olsen kissing a coach on the cheek on the sideline. "I wouldn't kiss you, Dan," analyst and former player Rodney Harrison said to host Dan Patrick. Ironically, Tony Dungy, who has real problems with gay people, was sitting between Harrison and Patrick and wisely said nothing. It was weird that Harrison felt a need to say that. It was like he was uncomfortable enough that he felt the need to say something.
--Hot player of the week: Zach Ertz, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles. Let's see: He's 6-5, 250 and a total stud. And a pretty good tight end. Is he trying to tell us something with his hand placement here?
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