A Look Ahead to Sunday's NFL Playoffs

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The National Football League playoffs resume Sunday and the winners of those final two games will meet in the Super Bowl. Both games will be played in frigid temperatures that may affect the teams' performances. NPR's Tom Goldman talks about the match-ups and his predictions of the outcomes.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In professional football, it's down to the final four teams. The San Diego Chargers will take on the New England Patriots in the early game tomorrow. And later in the day, the New York Giants clash with the Green Bay Packers. The winners of these games square off in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

NPR's Tom Goldman covers sports and joins me now.

Hello, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hello.

SEABROOK: So as I understand it, only one of the four teams left playing at this point was actually expected to make it this far. The other three are surprises.

GOLDMAN: That's absolutely right, and that one team you're talking about is the New England Patriots, being the ones who are expected to, not only win tomorrow, but win the Super Bowl. But that's - we'll talk about that later.

The other three, yes, you could say they are surprises. The San Diego Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts last week and now will face the Patriots, as you said. And in the National Football Conference, the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to emerge in playing the Super Bowl but they're nowhere to be seen, beaten last week by the plucky New York Giants, and then the Green Bay Packers, who, a year ago where just kind of an after thought, have had a resurgent season led by their resurgent and aged quarterback Brett Favre and suddenly here they are in the NFC championship game. So there's some excitement there.

SEABROOK: So the Indianapolis Colts getting beaten last week means that Peyton Manning, the famous quarterback is out of the playoffs. He was the favorite to be still in at this point, but his brother, another Manning, continues on in the playoffs much to everyone's surprise.

GOLDMAN: That is perhaps the biggest surprise. Peyton Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl championship last year and considered by many, certainly, one of the greatest of all time. But here he is - his little brother, Eli - who basically has been out playing Peyton in the playoffs. And here he is on the cusp maybe of going to his first Super Bowl.

Eli has been playing very well and it's really nice to see because he has been battered by the New York media. He was horrible earlier in the season and everyone was about to write him off, but the Giants have come alive. They've won nine straight games on the road, and Eli Manning has been really quite solid, quite good during these playoffs.

SEABROOK: Tom, if we believe the weatherman, these games are going to be rough.

GOLDMAN: Very rough. In Green Bay, it's supposed to be one degree above zero, by game time.

SEABROOK: Whew.

GOLDMAN: And in New England, earlier in the day, the forecast is for highs in the mid-20s, lows in the low teens and windy. It will have an effect, but perhaps not the way people expect. People will think the players are shivering so hard that they can't catch the ball. That maybe the case, but this is a macho game and some of them are going to go out in short sleeves and show that the cold doesn't affect in that way.

The big impact could be on the field surface, particularly in Green Bay. If the field is slippery that's going to be a real problem for the New York Giants defensive line, in particular, which relies on quickness and speed. And so cold will be a factor.

SEABROOK: So, Tom, pull out the crystal ball.

GOLDMAN: In the National Football Conference championship, I believe, Green Bay will win. Brett Favre, the quarterback for the Packers will handle the conditions better. Green Bay's defense and its special teams are playing very well. And, plus, Eli Manning, as good as he's been at quarterback for the New York Giants during this play-offs, he doesn't have a great record playing in cold weather.

So Green Bay is my pick to go into the Super Bowl and lose to the New England Patriots by winning their 18th game tomorrow and then their 19th in two weeks. The Patriots will secure the greatest season ever. And knowing that all these awaits and considering how focused this team has been up to now, they're not going to go out and lay an egg and lose at this point.

SEABROOK: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks very much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

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