Trump is crowing, but NFL players still have upper hand in anthem flap

The NFL’s debate over players kneeling for the national anthem in protest of racial inequality has taken a surprising turn.

Believe it or not, the players may have the upper hand now that the NFL seems desperate to end the kneeling. The league apparently feels it is hurting or may start hurting their bottom line.

The NFL has a long history of winning its battles with the players, notably locking them out in 2011 to get a deal that favored the owners and kept commissioner Roger Goodell’s power intact.

But the NFL hasn’t seemed to know how to deal with the protests and made things worse Tuesday when Goodell sent a memo to the owners about next week’s meeting and then published the memo to make it public.

The memo was confusing, but the sentence that caught everyone’s attention was, “We believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem.’’

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Taking a look back at the NFL’s Week 5

Five observations on the fifth weekend of the 2017 NFL season:

1. It was a weekend of close games as 10 of the 14 contests were decided by six points or less, the highest percentage of close games in 25 years.

But close games alone aren’t the answer to the NFL’s TV ratings problems.

Although the New England Patriots-Tampa Bay Bucs got a good rating Thursday night – a 26 percent hike over last year’s San Francisco 49ers-Arizona Cardinals games in Week 5 — the increases didn’t carry over for the rest of the weekend.

The Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys game was the highest rating game of the weekend, but the Sunday night Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans game and Monday night’s Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears contest were the lowest-rated games of the season in those slots.

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Sadly, Watt’s greatness is being lost to injuries

We may now be left only with the memories of what J.J. Watt once was.

And another reminder that NFL players are always just one play away from losing the skills that made them what they were.

We may remember Watt as a defensive Gale Sayers or Terrell Davis, two Hall of Famers who were like meteors in their careers. They flashed so brightly and then were struck down cruelly by devastating injuries.

For five years, Watt was in a league of his own. Three Defensive MVP awards. Two 20-sack seasons. The Houston Texans star was so versatile he caught three touchdown passes in 2014.

And he became an icon in Houston and across the nation, the kind of star the NFL desperately needs as it copes with declining TV ratings.

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Five things to watch: NFL Week 5

Five things I’ll be looking at in the fifth week of the 2017 NFL season:

1. Can the Rams keep on rolling?

The Los Angeles Rams, coming off a victory over the Dallas Cowboys last week, have been a surprise team this year. But Jared Goff and Todd Gurley haven’t faced a defense the caliber of Seattle’s.

On the other hand the Rams have won four of six games against Seattle the last three seasons. A victory over the Seahawks would give the 3-1 Rams a two-game lead over the Seahawks and raise more questions about whether the Seahawks’ window is closing after they were a yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl victories three years ago.

2. Can the Cowboys awaken from their surprising slumber?

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Steelers are winning, but Brown tantrum hints at trouble

The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves with an interesting dilemma Sunday.

They are nine-point favorites over the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are the worst team in the league against the run and the best against the pass.

So it figures their game plan would feature Le’Veon Bell, who finally got into a groove last week against Baltimore when he ran 35 times for 144 yards and caught four passes for 42 yards.

But things are complicated because it is also the first game since Antonio Brown had a temper tantrum last week when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t throw to him when he felt he was wide open.

Brown flipped over a Gatorade bucket and angrily brushed off offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

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