The Atlanta Falcons’ Wild Card win in Los Angeles against the Rams this past weekend secured them a trip to Philadelphia to face the top-seeded Eagles this Saturday — and they’re favorites.
Despite Philadelphia being the NFL’s best team for much of the season, oddsmakers have them as an underdog against the sixth-seeded Falcons. It’s the first time a No. 1 seed has started the playoffs as an underdog in NFL history.
In the weeks that followed, Shazier’s defensive teammates wrestled with his injury and what he meant to them. Heyward, a first-round pick in 2011, had watched the defense’s makeup start to change in ’14, when he welcomed Shazier, a fellow Ohio State product. A team defined by its best defensive players had won Super Bowls after the ’05 and ’08 seasons (and then lost one after the ’10 campaign), but by Shazier’s second season almost all of those players had retired. The subsequent Steelers teams came to be known for their offensive firepower, but “when we [drafted] Ryan,” Heyward says, “it felt like a turn back the other way, the start of a new nucleus.”
Along with Shazier, Pittsburgh added Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round in 2014, then Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round of ’15. Heyward, meanwhile, inked a six-year extension worth almost $60 million, and while the juggernaut offense hogged headlines, the two Buckeyes worked in devastating tandem: Heyward cleared space in the interior for Shazier to make tackles, and Shazier blanketed short routes, allowing Heyward time to chase QBs.
Ulriksen added, “This is 49er country, and my mom and I have been going back and forth — she’s upset that players have brought politics into sports, but I say, ‘How would you feel if you had to show up at work every day and salute a country that treats black people like second-class citizens?’
“I’m glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political,” he said. “I’m sure that if King were around today, he’d be disappointed at the slow pace of progress: two steps forward, 20 steps back. Or 10 yards back, as the metaphor may be.”
Kaepernick started his movement last season with the goal of raising awareness of the oppression people of color in the United States face. He started sitting for the national anthem, before ultimately deciding taking a knee would be the better stance, after talking with former NFL player and Army Ranger Nate Boyer.
Since then, NFL players joined Kaepernick in his protest, including Bennett. The Seahawks defensive end has long been outspoken on the topic, but started sitting for the national anthem in the 2017 season.