One of the biggest story lines in the NFL came to pass Saturday when free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, best known for his protests against police brutality, took to the field for an NFL-arranged workout.
Kaepernick showed his stuff for two hours to assess his “football readiness” and officials from multiple NFL teams attended the session in Atlanta, Georgia. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the league since the 2016 season — the same season the athlete-turned-activist first protested during the playing of the national anthem.
Whether Kaepernick lands on a team remains to be seen. But there’s plenty of action to keep an eye on this NFL Sunday, everything from a battle of AFC heavyweights to a rematch of the 2017 Super Bowl.
Here are three things to watch for this NFL Sunday.
1. Texans head to Baltimore to face Ravens in potential playoff preview
Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson are leading the quarterback movement of the future. That’s no surprise for college football fans, who saw a then-sophomore Jackson beat out Watson for the 2016 Heisman Trophy. However, most probably didn’t see the two achieving success so quickly.
Watson, now a third-year veteran, made up for losing that Heisman by accumulating professional accolades. The Clemson graduate was named to the All-Rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America in 2017 and followed that up by being named to the Pro Bowl in 2018.
Jackson hasn’t received that sort of recognition yet. However, his play has been the talk of the league, and even quarterbacks on the opposing sideline are taking notice.
When speaking to reporters, Watson went out of his way to praise Jackson, highlighting the fact they’ve had a relationship since their time at Clemson and Louisville. “Since college days, I’ve always been friends with him. He’s a guy that’s been doing everything all the naysayers said he couldn’t do. His career is very, very bright, and he’s going to continue to do great things,” Watson said.
Both Watson and Jackson are piloting top-flight teams who are hoping for better results than the previous season. With the Texans falling to the Chargers and the Ravens to the Colts, both teams will look to go further than the wild-card round in this year’s playoffs. Speaking of playoffs, this matchup will likely have implications on the race, with each squad sitting atop their respective AFC divisions. And since both teams feature middle of the road defenses, this game could be a quarterback duel between two of the game’s brightest young stars.
Watch: Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
2. Patriots on the road for 2017 Super Bowl rematch against the Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles are a prime example of how difficult it is to remain an elite team. After winning the Super Bowl in 2017, the team had a worse record in 2018 and didn’t make it out of the divisional round of the playoffs. This year, their playoff chances are in question with a 5-4 record. And on Sunday, the Eagles face a franchise that has built its name around consistently great football.
On the opposing sideline is the New England Patriots, a model of sustained success for the past two decades. For example, after falling to the Eagles in the 2017 finale, the Patriots came back to win the 2018 Super Bowl over the Los Angeles Rams.
If you’re counting, that’s six titles for quarterback Tom Brady and his head coach Bill Belichick spanning from 2001 to last year. Brady told Patriots.com’s Scott Zolak: “Every year is a little bit of a different path, but certainly here, we have very high expectations … we’re ready to attack the second half of the year and see if we can put together our best football.”
The Eagles are hoping to play their best football as well, and they get the benefit of coming off a bye week. Said quarterback Carson Wentz: “A bye, it’s always a couple things … mentally and physically, stepping away and getting right.”
But beyond that, Wentz says the week off is about identifying strengths: “It also gives you the ability to reflect on what you’re good at.” That is key for an Eagles squad who suffered blowout losses to likely playoff squads in the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. For Wentz, what the Eagles are good at is running the ball, saying: “our identity starts up front (with the offensive lineman).” They’ll face a good litmus test when playing the Patriots, ranked 11th in run defense.
Watch: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
3. Lions hope to knock Cowboys from atop NFC East
Speaking of Colin Kaepernick, the Detroit Lions had a team rep at the quarterback’s workout Saturday. It’s not a bad idea for Detroit. The team is currently without franchise signal-caller Matt Stafford. He’s out with fractures in his back. They are currently running out former Florida Gator Jeff Driskel, who played well as a back-up last year in Cincinnati but is largely an unknown NFL quantity. That’s not to say Driskel doesn’t have the backing of his coach, as Matt Patricia said: “His poise … his understanding of what we needed to do in the game plan … it was really good.”
One team that doesn’t need a quarterback is the Dallas Cowboys. That’s because they have the former Rookie of the Year and a two-time Pro Bowler in Dak Prescott. Prescott is the leader of a high-powered offense, and only Phillips Rivers has more passing yards than the former Mississippi State Bulldog. With Prescott and top-ten running back Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield, one might think Dallas would have a better record than 5-4. The trouble for America’s team is closing out tight games, as three of their four losses have come by four points or less.
The two squads are at opposite points in their season. The Lions, hoping to improve on 2018’s 6-10 record, lost some close games early and are at the bottom of their division without their starting quarterback. The Cowboys are still tied with Philadelphia atop the c and aren’t overly concerned with the rest of the season. Tight end Jason Witten says: “It’s a confident group…we still believe in each other.” However, Witten noted the need to be accountable for their play: “You can’t take all the praise when it goes well … and not take criticism when it doesn’t go so well. It’s the Dallas Cowboys … expectations are going to be high.”
Watch: Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys at 1 p.m. ET on Fox