Front-Runners Emerge In NFL Playoff Race

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the playoff battle in the NFL is heating up. And in hockey, 10 former players have filed suit against the NHL for failing to protect players from concussions. ESPN's Howard Bryant fills in the details with host Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Like the music, time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Thanksgiving's come and gone, which means the race to the NFL playoff is on. Meanwhile, the legal battle over athletes and concussions has spread to the NHL. Howard Bryant of EPSN.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us from the studios of New England Public Radio. Howard, good holidays to you my friend. Thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Happy holiday, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine thank you. Games all through the week. So let me ask you, who looks best in the NFC this week?

BRYANT: On the NFC, the match-up is Seattle against New Orleans. I think they're the two best teams. I think that for years, obviously, New Orleans puts up so many points and then Seattle is like the great home team. They haven't lost a game at home in almost two years, so this is going to be a real battle. It's going to be a lot of fun, especially because they're also really good hard-hitting teams.

And anyone who likes offense is going to like watching New Orleans. They're a little bit of a different team when they're on the road and, as opposed to playing in the Dome, but they're still a great team. And I think that if you're looking at the NFC, I think you're looking at Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans.

But don't forget Carolina, the team that everyone had forgotten about. They are a fantastic defensive team. They've only given up 151 points all year and they could surprise some people now that the snow's starting to come.

SIMON: The AFC?

BRYANT: Well, AFC, obviously, you've got the Patriots and Denver and Kansas City. Denver-Kansas City, they play again for the second time in three weeks. Denver beat them last time. Kansas City had been undefeated and now they've lost two games in a row. Kansas City has to have this game if they have any chance of winning the division in the AFC West.

I still think that everybody else is kind of up and down, and you were close again to having a team have a losing record to making the playoffs this year. But once again I think if you're really going to look at who the best teams are, it's going to be Denver, Kansas City and the Patriots.

SIMON: Going to combine two quick questions. Should Jason Kidd have been fined $50,000 for spilling his soft drink at a strategic moment? And should Mike Tomlin get some kind of infraction for putting his foot out?

BRYANT: There is a lot of gamesmanship. Yeah, there's a lot of gamesmanship going on here and I think that what they need to do is, I think the leagues have to enforce these rules better. How many times have we watched a football game and the coach is almost on the - he's on the field. He's actually on the field when he's yelling at players, and so I think it's gamesmanship, but I think that it's a little much. Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money.

SIMON: Ten former NHL hockey players this week have filed suit against the league alleging, like the NFL, that the league knew about the danger of concussions but didn't do enough to reduce the risk, or to educate players.

BRYANT: Yeah, a little different than the NFL simply because the NFL is such more of a contact sport where you're leading with your head on every play, where the NHL is just speed and all kinds of sort of chaotic violence. I think the hard part here for NHL players is going to be culture. The culture of the NHL, just like the culture of a lot of sports, has always been this play through pain motif. And I think now we're all starting to see the damage of this bigger, faster, stronger sort of area that we are in sports right now.

But I don't think that the - I don't think the lawsuits are going to be exactly the same, but the one thing it does do is that any NHL player who feels that they were in danger in their playing days, it's going to be very interesting to see how it plays out.

SIMON: Okay. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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