It's A Wild, Wild, Wildcard Weekend For The NFL

Eight teams compete to stay alive, and on Monday night, the Oregon Ducks will finally take on Auburn and its Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton to determine who the real college champion is after all. NPR's Scott Simon talks with NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman about this weekend's NFL wildcard playoff games and college football's Bowl Championship Series game on Monday.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: It's the wild, wild wildcard weekend in the NFL. Eight teams compete to stay alive. And, of course, Monday night, playing for all the Tostitos in the championship bowl, finally the Oregon Ducks take on Auburn and its Heisman winning quarterback Cam Newton to determine who the real college champion is after all these weeks. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us from out West.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: We're both very busy people. And, of course, the number two Bears have earned that bye and are relaxing this weekend. All getting pedicures, I'm sure. See who they'll play next weekend at home. So guide some of what we ought to pay attention to this weekend. Let's start with the AFC. What should we watch?

GOLDMAN: We've got a great game between the New York Jets at the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts kind of the studious, disciplined team. And of course the blabbermouth Jets, largely because of head coach Rex Ryan. But the Jets say they love the way Rex Ryan runs his mouth off, because it takes the attention away from them.

But I don't know if they have the...

SIMON: You don't play with the coach's mouth though. OK?

GOLDMAN: No, you don't. And you play with a team. And I'm not sure their team has what it takes to back up the talk. Their pass rush hasn't been that effective. Their veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson has been slowing down, as running backs do when they get into their 30s.

And Indianapolis, after a rough regular season with a ton of key injuries, seems to be rounding into form. They've won four straight games. Their running game is back. And that'll force the Jets to pay attention to the Colts runners. They can't just key on quarterback Peyton Manning, which makes Manning that much more effective. So I think you've got to give the Colts with the great Peyton Manning the edge here.

SIMON: And the NFC?

GOLDMAN: Well, the NFC, two interesting games. Today you've got New Orleans at Seattle. And don't be fooled by what seems like a lopsided matchup. The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions. The Seahawks got into the playoffs with a stinky 7-9 regular season record. They won(ph) - first to win their division with a losing record.

But the Saints running back core is banged up. Drew Brees will have to throw a lot, which he does very well, quarterback Drew Brees. But he's been throwing a lot of interceptions. And Seattle plays very well at home with a raucous home crowd. You know, beware a team that has nothing to lose and is being written off because of that bad regular season record.

And then tomorrow night, Scott, we've got Green Bay at Philadelphia. Can the Packers defense stop Michael Vick, quarterback Michael Vick for the Eagles, who's had the best season of his career? It'll be very interesting to see.

SIMON: And finally, of course, Oregon versus Auburn on Monday. I mean, two teams who think they're better than Texas Christian. But I guess we won't be able to prove that.

GOLDMAN: That's right. The current postseason system of college football doesn't allow for a playoff, meaning undefeated TCU can't get in on the action. Now, that said, you've got a really good matchup between number one ranked Auburn and number two Oregon - two high powered offenses. People are expecting lots and lots of points scored in this game Monday night. So I think one of the real keys to this game will be which defense can at least temporarily slow down the opponent's offense.

SIMON: Tell me about the storyline. We have the matchup of two African-American quarterbacks.

GOLDMAN: I guess what's noteworthy is that no one's really making a big deal about Cam Newton being the Auburn starting quarterback and Darron Thomas being the Oregon starting quarterback - two African-American athletes. Used to be where you didn't see a lot of African Americans playing in this position. A lot of people said it was racism. A lot of people said that it was because people didn't believe blacks could lead a team. That's changed, obviously.

The great African-American quarterback Warren Moon said it wasn't always racism in the past when coaches shifted black players from the quarterback position to, say, defensive back or running back. They wanted the best athletes in those positions.

Now there's a premium on the quarterback position. You want your best athletes there - players who can run and throw and do everything, like the guys we're going to see tomorrow night in the championship game.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

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