Sports: No Contest This Wild Card Weekend

It's the opening day of the NFL wild card playoffs, but really, are any of those teams going to make a run at Green Bay or New England and their marquee quarterbacks? NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman joins host Scott Simon to talk about Wild Card Weekend and more.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time now for sports.

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SIMON: It's the opening day of the NFL wild card playoffs. But really, any of those teams going to make a run at Green Bay or New England, and their marquee quarterbacks?

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us to talk about wild card weekend. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Happy New Year, Scott.

SIMON: And Happy New Year to you. The Pack have lost like, one game since the Cro-Magnon era...

GOLDMAN: Yeah...

SIMON: ...or something like that. But the New England Patriots can tell you, that's no lock on the Super Bowl. So are these wild card games this weekend - I'll say maybe with the exception of New Orleans, Detroit - are they just to sell beer, or any real potential Super Bowl teams in the lineup?

GOLDMAN: You know, the playoffs are a lot more wide open than people thought a few weeks ago, when the Packers were steaming toward an undefeated season. So yes, that Detroit-New Orleans game; the Saints with their marquee quarterback, Drew Brees, are a trendy pick to win the Super Bowl if, first, they can beat the Lions and their soon-to-be-marquee quarterback, Matthew Stafford. It's expected to be a shootout tonight in the Superdome.

Also, tomorrow, Scott, keep an eye on those New York Giants. They play Atlanta. When the Giants won the Super Bowl four years ago, they got hot at the end of the season and rode that momentum to an upset win over New England. The Giants, the last two weeks, beat the Jets and the Cowboys in must-win games. They're on a roll.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the Pittsburgh Steelers - a premiere but limping team. They're playing the Denver Broncos, who've had a rough three weeks, because rookie quarterback Tim Tebow hasn't been able to put his, you know, hands on another bolt of lightning from on high for another last-second win. Who do you see in that game?

GOLDMAN: Pittsburgh. I mean, Tebow's been pretty horrid during this stretch. He's only completed 41 percent of his passes; several interceptions. He's looked lost and frantic. And now, he goes against that aging but still great Steelers defense. I like them.

SIMON: I'm - just to be puckish, I'm going to say Denver by 6, OK? And he's getting advice from John Elway, right?

GOLDMAN: He is. John Elway says pull the trigger, Tim - which is prompting some people to say, duck.

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GOLDMAN: You know, statistics say...

SIMON: If you can pull the trigger like John Elway, of course, that's what you do.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Exactly. But statistics say Pittsburgh's defense is particular good in the fourth quarter and overtime, when Tebow time happens. The oddsmakers have Pittsburgh by 9. I think that sounds about right.

SIMON: I have to ask you about Penn State this week, who hired - really, their first new football coach since 1966. And he's the offensive coordinator of the Patriots, Bill O'Brien. He will replace the legendary Joe Paterno, of course, who was fired in the wake of the alleged child sexual abuse scandal involving one of his longtime coaches. Lot of folks at Penn State seem miffed they didn't take someone from the program, but was that ever really in the cards?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, they had hoped someone with some ties to the university would've been considered, but O'Brien is a total outsider. His only link to Paterno is, they both went to Brown. The Penn State faithful are also worried that O'Brien has never been a head coach, and he's stepping into a tough job.

But Scott, recently - remember - we saw O'Brien in a screaming match with New England quarterback Tom Brady on the sidelines, during a televised game. O'Brien didn't back down to a superstar player. Maybe that's an indication of the toughness he'll need in State College.

SIMON: Tom, we've got to end with a sad story this week out of New York that you noticed - where a beloved coach of a girl's basketball team died. What can you tell us about this man?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Apache Paschall was only 38 when he died on Tuesday. In the late '90s, he started putting together club and high school teams in the city that became nationally ranked. He turned out players who played for top teams in Division I women's college basketball. Some went on to the WNBA.

You know, New York City has a reputation for turning out top male basketball players - some from tough, inner-city neighborhoods. But the girls' game has lagged behind. Not as many people have been willing to dedicate themselves to at-risk girls when there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in women's hoops. But Paschall was one of those passionately committed to his girls - some of whom say that without Apache, they'd still be on the streets.

This week, the day before he died from an apparent heart attack, he was at the high school practice in Brooklyn, too weak to coach. He apparently just sat and watched. A lot of people are going to miss him.

SIMON: Well, Tom, thank you very much for helping us appreciate him this week. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

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SIMON: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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