The NFL preason has finally come to an end, but the biggest takeaway was not the hard-fought position battles or demoralizing injuries. Instead, it was one man's decision to sit.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick risked a lot when he decided to sit during the national anthem and his actions forced Americans to focus on patriotism and whether social issues should be a part of sports.
Just three years ago, Kaepernick was one play away from leading the 49ers over the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. This offseason, he was fighting to keep his job. He is behind Blaine Gabbert on the depth chart, a quarterback some deemed the worst in the league when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The preseason gives players an opportunity to make their respective team, and Kaepernick needed to prove himself.
Kaepernick has created a conversation because of his platform that the NFL and the 49ers provide him, and there was a chance that he could lose that platform if he played poorly during the preseason. Kaepernick was willing to put that on the line in order to voice his message.
He took a big risk by doing something almost unheard of, but he did it because he felt he needed to use his voice. His risk earned my respect.
Everyone has different priorities, and Kaepernick felt that trying to improve society was more important than his job and the game he was playing. Some people prioritize things differently. Social issues should be a part of sports if they are important enough to the athlete. Kaepernick put what he saw as the mistreatment of the African-Americans ahead on his list of priorities in front of football, and I have no issue with that.
Kaepernick and the athletes that have joined him in not standing for the anthem really made me question my purpose for standing for our flag. As a gay teenager, I live in fear of not having the same equal rights as my straight counterparts. Recently, whenever I was asked to stand for our anthem, I would stand, remove my cap, and think about how grateful I am to be an American.
There are many things about this country that make me grateful to be an American. Now, when I stand for the anthem, I will continue to stand, remove my cap, and think about how grateful I am. But I won't forget about the people who are denied equal rights, and I will think about what I can do as an American citizen to improve my society. Thank you Mr. Kaepernick for starting this conversation.
Here are some Week 1 things you should know:
Game of the Week
Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
For the first time since 1970, a Super Bowl rematch will open the season. As lackluster as last year's Super Bowl may have been, there are several storylines going into this match. Cam Newton and the Panthers head to Denver to seek revenge on the team that ended their historic season last year, while Trevor Siemian gets to make a name for himself in his first NFL start.
Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick, was the third-string quarterback for most of last season for the Broncos and only took one snap last season. This season, he is the the defending champion's answer at quarterback, after Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler left for Houston. He is an unproven commodity, but with Denver's strong defense, led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, the Broncos will contend in any game this year.
Carolina is returning most of their starters, but they lost one of their breakout stars from last year, Josh Norman. Norman's loss will hurt the secondary, but their front seven may be able to rattle Siemian enough to halt their offense.
This is a difficult game to predict. The Panthers are one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL, and the Broncos are hungry for a repeat. The Super Bowl champions have hosted 11 of the last 12 season kickoff games, and the defending champions have won 10 of those 11 games. The Broncos' offense is concerning, but I think the defense will guide them through a Week 1 win.
Broncos 24, Panthers 17
Upset of the Week
Oakland Raiders over New Orleans Saints
The Saints are a slight home favorite, but I have the rising Raiders taking the Week 1 victory. Oakland signed several key free agents, and are looking to be one of the most improved teams in the league.
New Orleans did little to improve its second-worst defense from last season. They drafted DT Sheldon Rankins in the first round, but he suffered an injury early in the preseason. The Saints offense is always a force to be reckoned with, especially with Drew Brees under center. It's no wonder the Saints signed him to another contract extension this week, keeping him in the Big Easy until the end of 2017. The difference between the Super Bowl-bound Saints and the present-day Saints is their defense. They don't need to be stellar, but they need to at least be plausible, and this team can't even reach that distinction.
On the other hand, Oakland is building a team that can contend. Quarterback Derek Carr is a candidate for a breakout year and they enter this season as one of the most balanced teams. The hurdle is that they are in the AFC West, arguably this season's toughest division, but they should take advantage in Week 1 facing a beatable team in a road game.
There is a reason New Orleans is favored, even it is a small margin. The Superdome will be loud on Sunday, and there aren't many homefield advantages better than Who Dat Nation. However, the Raiders are simply a better team than the Saints, and that's why they will win Week 1.
Raiders 26, Saints 21
Fantasy Start of the Week
Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams
With Le'Veon Bell suspended to begin the season for the second year in a row, Williams gets another chance to help some fantasy owners out. He won't be able to get you consistent fantasy points all season, so he might not cost as much in daily formats, and he won't warrant as high of a pick in drafts. He can both run and catch against a suspect Washington Redskins defense on Monday night. He was a proven commodity last year and he should start off the year on the right foot with a great opportunity and a favorable matchup.
Fantasy Sit of the Week
Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls
As a Rawls owner, I would like to warn all my fellow Rawls owners: DO NOT START. I drafted Rawls because he had an outstanding rookie year and I felt that if he had a full offseason of certainty that he would make the team under his belt, he would thrive. However, he sits behind Christine Michael on the depth chart. This time last year, Seattle traded Michael to the Cowboys and Rawls made the team as the last running back. Michael was cut by Dallas and Washington before signing back with the Seahawks after Rawls got injured. Michael has been given oodles of chances, and he hasn't rang the bell. If history repeats itself, look for Rawls to take back his rightful job as the starter. However, for Week 1, bench him and be patient. His time will come and Rawls owners will rejoice once again.
Fantasy Pick-up of the Week
Chiefs RB Spencer Ware
With Jamaal Charles questionable to play against the Chargers, Spencer Ware is next in line for carries. His matchup against San Diego is extremely favorable. The Chiefs will continue to be a very run-heavy team, and while Charles is still dealing with the ramifications of his ACL injury last season, Ware will produce. If he hasn't already been taken in your league, he could be a great spot start or even a low buy in a daily league. I expect Ware to find the end zone on Sunday, and getting big points from an under-the-radar player is one of the best feelings an owner can experience.
Lock of the Week
Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers
There are several possible candidates for Week 1, and any game can go any way. However, the most confidence I have in a team this week is Kansas City at home against the Chargers.
San Diego's biggest defensive offseason acquisition came in draft pick Joey Bosa, and he held out all camp long, giving him virtually zero chance to play on Sunday. Their offense is solid, however, with Phillip Rivers returning under center for his eleventh season. And Ken Whisenhunt is returning as the offensive coordinator, the position he held in 2013 when San Diego last made the playoffs.
Kansas City will likely be without Charles on Sunday, but the team went 10-0 without their star running back last season, including two wins against San Diego. The defense is also one of the best in the league, boasting Pro Bowlers at all three levels on defense. Kansas City is one of the most balanced teams in the league, and they are my pick to win the tough AFC West. They should start this season off with a win.
It's hard to pick a lock/survivor pick for 32 teams you have never seen before. Just because the Panthers were 15-1 last season does not mean they will be solid this season, and just because the Browns were terrible last year, does not mean they won't be this year. (Actually, they probably will. They're the Browns.) If I had any tips for picking a lock this week, it would be to pick a home team favored to win at home against a somewhat weak team. Week 1 is the hardest week to pick, but if you can pick past this week, it gets easier as it goes.
Buzzer's Best Bet
Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski will make one pick each week against the spread.
Patriots +6 at Cardinals.
This will be the first meaningful game the Patriots have played without Tom Brady at quarterback since 2008. Jimmy Garoppolo will lead the Pats offense for the four games of Brady's suspension and draws a tough assignment at Arizona against a Cardinals team that has Super Bowl aspirations. It's too much to ask of a guy in his first start. Cardinals 24, Patriots 13.
Hot Player of the Week
Jets WR Eric Decker
I don't think I have to explain myself for this one. Great receiver, great body, and he likes puppies!
Jeremy Brener is a student at the University of Central Florida who writes a weekly NFL column for Outsports. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and followed on Twitter.