With One Playoff Game Remaining, New England Patriots Favored To Win Super Bowl

Conference playoffs this weekend determine who will go to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Mike Pesca talks to Audie Cornish about the games and which team is favored to win it all on Feb. 3.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In two weeks, New Orleans will host the 2013 Super Bowl and a pair of NFL playoff games this Sunday will determine who heads to New Orleans and who goes home. It's deja vu for three of these four football teams who also made it to the conference finals last year. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to talk about this weekend's match-ups. And Mike, in Atlanta, the Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers and the Falcons, of course, have never won a Super Bowl.

So could this be their year?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: It could. Notice my intonation.

CORNISH: Yeah.

PESCA: But they have to contend - yeah, so Colin Kaepernick who is the quarterback, the mobile quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers set a record, not just a playoff record, an every time ever record for quarterback rushing yards last week. Now, part of that is the fact that his last opponent, the Green Bay Packers, simply didn't honor the thing that Colin Kaepernick does well, which is scramble. And it was a very odd game plan.

It's quite clear that Atlanta will not be relying on a similar game plan. We know this because their last opponent was the Seattle Seahawks, who also has a mobile quarterback, Russell Wilson. And Atlanta really did things like stay home and make sure they always had a spy on Russell Wilson. In fact, you can even make the case that they so overplayed Russell Wilson's running ability that they gave up a lot of passing plays.

But this is just one of the wrinkles in the game. The San Francisco 49ers have a really good defense, so did the Seattle Seahawks. So it'll probably be a game where both teams are able to score and this X factor of Colin Kaepernick could very well be the difference.

CORNISH: And then, in New England, the Baltimore Raven got to be seeking revenge for last year's AFC Championship loss, right?

PESCA: Yeah, and this is a rematch. This is the first time there's been a rematch in a championship game since 1994, which is a little unusual, especially in the AFC 'cause you always think of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and New England kind of rotating. But there's never been the same match-up year after year. The Ravens have a similar situation not only to last year, when they were big underdogs and came within a play, a couple of plays, of winning that game on a cold New England field, but it's very much like last week's game where the Ravens were big underdogs against the Broncos.

And the Ravens pulled it out, especially thanks to Joe Flacco, who has been criticized a lot, but that guy can throw it long and he does throw it long and that is a vulnerability of the Patriots' defense.

CORNISH: Okay. You're talking about New England having a kind of weak defense here, but, you know, we always hear that defense wins championships. And still, New England's favored to win. So, I mean, is their offense just that good?

PESCA: Their offense is great and they're favored not just this week, but to win the Super Bowl. And I'd also look at, yes, they have a bad defense and maybe on the screen they'll tell you that - during the game, they'll tell you New England was a bottom 10 defense. But they judge that based on yards allowed. Now, even if you don't know much about football, you know the score does not depend on yards allowed, it depends on scoring.

And even though New England gives up all these yards, they actually suppress the other team's scoring pretty well 'cause they're really good at getting interceptions and getting turnovers. Add that to their masterful offense, they could be one of the worst defenses ever to win a Super Bowl is what I'm saying.

CORNISH: Okay. And just a little time left, Mike, but before you go, I want to talk about the NFL coaches who have been hired recently. I hear about eight of them. Who are they?

PESCA: Yeah. Well, they range from Marc Trestman of the Bears, who was coaching in the Canadian Football League last year, to Chip Kelly, who was coaching the Oregon Ducks and he's probably the highest profile hire. Bruce Arians will be going to the Cardinals. He was essentially a head coach this year because Chuck Pagano, the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts got sick and Bruce Arians stepped in for him.

We should say there are no new black head coaches and the NFL has put out a statement saying that, you know, that is disappointing, especially since two African-Americans were among the eight fired.

CORNISH: NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, enjoy the games this weekend.

PESCA: Oh, I will. I'll be there.

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