Football Season Enters Final Stretch

The NFL playoff lineup is nearly in place, but some mystery remains. And the college bowl season is building to a climax. Linda Wertheimer and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport preview the long weekend's key games.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Time now for sports.

Many professional and college football fans are still waiting to find out what they will have to celebrate in the new year. Joining us now is our own sports commentator, Ron Rapoport.

Good morning, Ron.

RON RAPOPORT:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So let's talk about the NFL first. The pros have two games today, and on New Year's Day, the league will play a full schedule for the first time ever. What's at stake?

RAPOPORT: Well, it's a funny thing, Linda. This is kind of a schizophrenic weekend. It's the last week of the season, and you have some teams desperately trying to win that last game, just to get in...

WERTHEIMER: Redskins, for example.

RAPOPORT: Just--the Redskins are--I know you're keeping a close eye on them, but also the Panthers, the Jaguars, the Steelers, maybe even the Cowboys and the Chiefs. But you have other teams whose only goal is to get through the weekend without anybody getting hurt. The Seahawks, the Bears, the Colts, the Broncos have all clinched first-week byes, so in a sense, this is a kind of an off week for them. They'd almost rather not play and just wait for the playoffs to start, because it's not entirely sure that a lot of their top players are going to play and so maybe their performances won't be that tremendous. But you know what? I think their fans will probably forgive them just so that they can get ready for the playoffs.

WERTHEIMER: Well, the Colts are playing the Arizona Cardinals this weekend, and of course, they are going to the playoffs, but they've lost two in a row. Can they psychologically afford to lose three at the end of the season?

RAPOPORT: No. It'd be good for them to get back in their winning ways. Of course, the Colts have had other things to worry about--Tony Dungy being gone after the tragic suicide of his--seems to be suicide of his son, James. But he's returned now, and, you know, Linda, it's kind of a cliche to say that life and the games must go on, but anybody who saw the pictures of Dungy laughing as he rejoined his team Wednesday can understand how much solace the simple act of coaching a football team must mean to him and to his family about now. And the team does seem energized by his return, too.

WERTHEIMER: Let's talk about college bowls. Quick pick on the Rose Bowl?

RAPOPORT: I think it--you know, it's funny. You got the two really top offensive teams in the country, USC and Texas, and I think it's probably going to come down to which team can stop the other one. I think USC is going to win this only because it's their year. I wish I were more confident in that fact, because Texas has been tremendous.

WERTHEIMER: If it's Tuesday, it's the Orange Bowl. Another quick one?

RAPOPORT: Well, let's see. You got the Orange Bowl. What do we have here? Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.

WERTHEIMER: Joe Paterno at Penn State; Bobby Bowden, right.

RAPOPORT: Yeah. It's really good. This is Penn State's year, I think. They've been very good and it's going to be a great game.

WERTHEIMER: Happy New Year, Ron.

RAPOPORT: Happy New Year to you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Ron Rapoport is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and our sports commentator here on WEEKEND EDITION.

It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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