NFL Preview: NFC, AFC Champions to Be Decided

The San Diego Chargers take on the New England Patriots Sunday for the AFC championship. The same day, the New York Giants will be in Green Bay, Wis., to battle the Packers for the NFC title. Scott Simon discusses prospects for who will head to the Super Bowl with Howard Bryant.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, and it's time for sports.

Stock up on taco chips, dog food and baby wipes today. Baby wipes, dog food for everybody, because tomorrow will be devoted to football - both the AFC and NFC championship games.

San Diego Chargers, with most of their major stars out or limping, take on Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots. Then, the New York Giants led by the other Manning will face the Green Bay Packers at home in Green Bay, where the cold can be as legendary as their quarterback Brett Favre.

Forecast for tomorrow: high of four degrees at game time.

Joined now by Howard Bryant. Good morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Senior Writer, ESPN): Scott, good morning.

SIMON: Look. The San Diego Chargers have done wonderful things in the play-offs. But are they playing with half a deck when they go up against what might be the best team of all-time, the New England Patriots?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I don't think it would make much of a difference if they're playing with a full deck, two decks, three decks, half a deck. I think this game is - I think the Patriots is too close to it. They're - they've had a mission all season long. They don't like the Chargers anyway. These two teams, as we like to say in cliche world, they don't like each other. So I really don't see it happening for the Chargers.

SIMON: Hmm. It must be sad, though, that they've surprised a lot of people so far.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, they surprised people and then…

SIMON: Including last week, yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I am not one of those people. Sure, they weren't supposed to win that game against the Colts last week. And yes, they did destroy my dream matchup because I did want to see the Patriots and the Colts because I'm a rivalry guy. I like to see those two teams go at it.

On the other hand, let's not go overboard. The San Diego Chargers were 14-and-2 last year. And the coach, Norv Turner, who doesn't have a great reputation, he inherited what I'd like to call a Lamborghini. That is a great football team. They have a good, young quarterback in Philip Rivers. They have a great, great running back, LaDainian Tomlinson, and a great tight end and a great defense.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BRYANT: And so, it's not as if this is a little engine that could. I mean, it wasn't a 1-in-15 team. He's got a great team. They're supposed to be here. They're just not good enough to beat the Patriots.

SIMON: And, of course, let's ask about Giants against Green Bay. The emotional weight of, I must say, millions of people including me pulling for Brett Favre…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: …to make it back to the Super Bowl.

Mr. BRYANT: Though we do have our storylines, don't we? I think that the great story there is that it's the weather because there is just something about those games. There are certain places in sports where it's like Denver and Mile High Stadium back in the old days with the Boston Garden with the Celtics and the form with the Lakers in where the actual buildings, the locale, gets into the head of the opponent.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: And when the weather starts to snowball and when the momentum starts to go on the other teams, in the home team's direction, a lot of teams go in there, thinking that they have a plan and then they just get blown out. And I have feeling that tomorrow is you start to see those big heavy flakes. The New York Giants might say, well, let's get them next year.

SIMON: Well, now, of course, that would be gracious to the New York Giants and Eli Manning. It's not like they're, you know, the Dallas Cowboys or from Tampa, St. Pete coming up there to play. They know how to play in cold weather.

Mr. BRYANT: Oh, they know how to play in cold weather. But there's a mystique about Lambeau Field. And I believe in it because I've watched a lot of teams go up there, and they pretty much all come out with the same result. I mean, Brett Favre in temperatures under 20 degrees, there's 43-and-5 in his career, there's something about it that speaks to him.

On the other hand, though, the New York Giants can - they can win that game. That game, I have no feel for. It wouldn't surprise me if it was a blowout. It wouldn't surprise me if the Giants came back and won a close one.

SIMON: Hmm. So are you willing to say, Mr. Bryant, that it looks now like it's going to be a Green Bay-New England match up in the Super Bowl?

Mr. BRYANT: Patch-packed revenge for 1997, I say, rematch of the '97 Super Bowl.

SIMON: Well, I'm going to watch that. Okay, thanks very much, Howard.

Mr. BRYANT: Okay. Well, see you later.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com, ESPN the magazine and ESPN the power bar. Thank you so much.

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