8 Teams Meet This Weekend In Super Bowl Playoffs

There are a number of key match-ups — including the New York Jets versus the New England Patriots. While that's the most talked about game, the AFC game between the Ravens and Steelers is expected to be very tough.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hey, the second weekend of the NFL playoffs is upon us, which means that NPR's Mike Pesca is upon us, too.

Mike, good morning.

MIKE PESCA: Sorry to be upon you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Get off of me.

PESCA: Move if it hurts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Four games this weekend, including the Patriots and the New York Jets. What makes that a marquis game for a lot of people?

PESCA: Well, I think a lot of people might complain. Of course, you guys in the Northeast always think this is the most important game and they'll point to the fact that ESPN is basically equidistant from Boston and New York.

But I really think that the football eyes are watching this one, because of the very thing that makes the NFL the most popular league - in fact, the most popular media franchise in America - and that's story.

The Jets have kind of grafted a story, an overall arc on the season. They began in preseason with that HBO show "Hard Knocks." America got to learn about the Jets and its coach, Rex Ryan.

And Rex Ryan, if - for people who haven't maybe thought about it that much or people don't like him, they put him in a certain category: the tough guy, loudmouth, slob coach, of which there is a venerable tradition.

But I don't think Rex Ryan is that. I mean, he's brash and he's aggressive. But in press conferences, in his public statements, he does things differently than coaches have always done it. He predicts that they're going to win the Super Bowl. In the NFL, you're supposed to downplay those things. He - after last game against the Patriots where the Jets lost 45-3, he went out back and buried a game ball, as if to symbolize that one's done. Let's move on.

And his opposite number, the coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick, the perfect word for him is cipher. The man has never said anything revealing in his life.

So it's such a contrast. And this week, Ryan had a totally different tact. And he always has a tact. He said: Our teams are equal. We lost by 42 points because of me. And it's all on me. And I'm not exactly sure what he's doing, but he's doing something - I think trying to alleviate pressure from his players. But there's something weird and interesting with Rex Ryan.

INSKEEP: Yeah, well, it's interesting. The Jets themselves have been rather brash this week. The cornerback, Antonio Cromartie - I'm just going to read this bit of wire copy here: Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an expletive on Tuesday.

I hear that, and I get this image of a guy saying: You, sir, are an expletive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: In any event, a little bit of trash talking going on, the way that this (unintelligible).

PESCA: Yes. And then with a white glove across Tom Brady's beautiful brow.

But no. And it makes no sense. Tom Brady is just the best quarterback. And others who know him say that he's actually a consummate professional. And why tweak the guy who could hurt you the most? And in terms of strategy, that's what the Jets have to avoid.

They beat Peyton Manning's Colts last week by neutralizing the quarterback, usually by controlling the ball, by dropping back into coverage, so not blitzing too much. Maybe they'll do the same against Brady. It's the absolute key to the game.

INSKEEP: Just got a minute here to get through three games very quickly. One of them is Pittsburgh versus Baltimore.

PESCA: This is - these two are division rivals. In fact, all the teams in the playoffs have played each other before. The last four games have all been decided by four points. There's no reason to think this won't be tough, this won't be hard-hitting and this won't be close. These are usually great games.

INSKEEP: What about that other conference, the NFC?

PESCA: Let's not give them short shrift. The Atlanta Falcons, they have a great home field advantage. The Green Bay Packers, their opponents, they were supposed to be a preseason favorite, faltered in the middle of the season. I expect both quarterbacks - Matt Ryan, who has a 20 and two record at home for the Falcons - to shine. And I think Aaron Rogers of the Packers can do the same. Again, it should be a good game.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's one game. The other game?

PESCA: Yeah, this should not be a good game. I will say that the Seahawks, even though they beat the Chicago Bears in Chicago earlier in the season, they have a very, very long shot at winning. They're a terrible road team. We said it last week. And everyone who said that the Seahawks wouldn't win looks foolish this week. But it's very hard to see how the Seahawks can beat the Bears in Chicago.

INSKEEP: OK. Mike, thanks very much, as always.

PESCA: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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