Week In Sports: NFL Playoffs Taking Shape

Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Linda Wertheimer talks to NPR's Tom Goldman about how the NFL playoffs and which teams looked poised to go all the way.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. And it's time now for sports.

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WERTHEIMER: The year is almost over and so is pro football's regular season. There are just two unclaimed playoff spots left and a handful of teams that are scrambling to make sure they are still playing when the ball drops on 2012. For a look at this weekend's stakes and a little philosophical waxing on the waning year, I'm joined by NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now first, the must-watch game tomorrow, certainly in our house, NPR's team, America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, takes on the capital's team, the Washington Redskins. And the winner is headed to the playoffs. Who has the edge?

GOLDMAN: Of course, a perfect Sunday, Linda, for Washington, D.C. is the Redskins win and there's a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

WERTHEIMER: Well, the Redskins win and the Cowboys lose.

GOLDMAN: We may just be able to bank on a Redskins victory. They are a hot team right now. They've won six in a row. Part of that streak, they beat Dallas in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys are missing several starters on defense, which could hurt against a Washington offense that, as you know, is so versatile behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. And speaking of him, he has not played like a rookie this season; so calm, so accurate as a thrower. ESPN's stat team shows that RGIII is completing 50 percent of his long passes - 20 yards or more - and that's best in the league. So, there's reason to think that Washington does win this game, and its first NFC East division title since '99. And, as you say, knocks out the archrival Dallas Cowboys from the post-season.

WERTHEIMER: Now, a couple of other teams are playing for survival this weekend.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. There's an NFC North battle in particular interest - Green Bay at Minnesota. The Packers are in the playoffs but would love to win this and get a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Vikings are trying to win this game and get into the post-season. And then, of course, there is the story of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. We have talked about the amazing season he's having, coming back from a devastating knee injury last season. He could cap this season tomorrow by becoming just the sixth player in history to gain at least 2,000 yards in a season. And if he has a really good game, he could become the all-time single-season rushing champion.

WERTHEIMER: Wow. Now, the New York Jets are decidedly not in the playoff hunt, but that has not seemed to stop their quarterback controversy. Who starts tomorrow?

GOLDMAN: I think I do, naturally. So, we better wrap this up. No. It's back to Mark Sanchez, who had been benched for third-string quarterback Greg McElroy, not second-string quarterback Tim Tebow. Turns out, McElroy, who got pounded by San Diego last week - sacked 11 times - he had a concussion and didn't tell his coaches until his headaches got really bad late this week. Head coach Rex Ryan said he was stunned by the news. After finding out he talked to his entire team about concussions and the importance of telling the truth so they don't risk worse brain injury.

WERTHEIMER: Looking back at 2012, we've heard other stories like that from NFL players, statements that are at odds with the league's official position on concussions.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. The NFL, as we know, has talked a lot about the issue. It's changed rules. It continues to penalize players for hits deemed against the rules to protect offensive players. Yet McElroy's admission simply is the latest challenge to those efforts. This year, you've had a couple of other high-profile players say that they'd hide concussions in order to play. And it shows with all the tough talk and the league wants to give the impression that it's on top of the issue, it's a hard thing to police. It's hard to minimize injury if the players aren't cooperating.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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