Make-Or-Break Games For NFL

Weekend Edition sports commentator Howard Bryant discusses the final regular weekend of NFL games and the NBA with host Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: It's time now for Howard.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Tomorrow is the last regular season game in the National Football League. And the New England Patriots, who had an almost perfect season last year except for a small loss at the last second in the Superbowl to the New York Giants, might not even make the playoffs this time around. The Jets, Chargers, Bears, Bucks, Eagles and the Cowboys also play make-or-break games. Here to predict the future is Weekend Edition's and ESPN's Sport's swami, Howard Bryant. Happy holidays, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BYRANT: Happy holidays, Scott. It's a little different this year. I'm a little down right now. A good, good friend of the program, Bob Nylen(ph) passed away, and I always think about what I'm going to say by talking to him, usually sometime during the week, and it's a little sad holiday. He was a really, really good friend of the program and of NPR.

SIMON: Yeah, well and of course, we're all very sorry.

Mr. BRYANT: You know, it's - life isn't fair this weekend in the NFL a propos of that. First time in 25 years, if the New England Patriots win, that a team that won 11 games during the regular season didn't make the playoffs. And instead of the cries back and forth that life isn't fair because the San Diego Chargers, who aren't even 500, can make the playoffs if they win, I think it's just - it's one of those weird seasons where you've got a really good division. Miami's a good team, the Jets were a good team, the Patriots are a good team. But there's going to be a lot of cries in New England if the Patriots win 11 games and the lousy San Diego Chargers get into the playoffs and have a chance to win a championship.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the Jets' game against - Jet's- Miami game. I mean, what are interesting face-off. Chad Pennington, who the Jets essentially showed the door to, winds up in Miami, where he's had a very good season. Brett Favre, of course, signed by the Jets during the off season after being shown the door by the Green Bay Packers. Now, he had a very good first part of the season. I think it's fair to say - he's even indicated that he's been dealing with a bum shoulder the last few weeks and hasn't been the best edition of Brett Favre that we've ever seen. I mean, it'll be a wonderful story if he could claw his way back to the Superbowl with the Jets. But my gosh, what a game this is going to be.

Mr. BRYANT: No, it's a great game, and it's a great game for a lot of reasons. Let's not forget, outside of the Pennington-Favre drama, you've got Bill Parcells...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: Who used to coach the Jets and used to coach the Patriots and everywhere he goes, reclamation projects are exactly - that team is restored by having Bill Parcells. Let's not forget that the Miami Dolphins, people thought they were going to not even win a game last year. Now, if they win tomorrow, they win the division, and it's that kind, once again, it's that kind of year where you've got these games where most seasons, this stuff isn't really in doubt, especially when it's so personal with Parcells and the Patriots and you've got great, great drama. Brett Favre needs to retire. He's done, and it would be pretty sweet for Chad Pennington to be the guy to knock him into retirement and keep his team from making the playoffs.

SIMON: In the 30 seconds we have left, what can we say about a season that's been undefeated in reverse?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: You must be talking about the Detroit Lions.

SIMON: Who could go zero and 16? Has something like that ever been done?

Mr. BRYANT: It's never been done in a 16-game season, yet.

SIMON: Well, hell. It's almost worth going for then, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. They scored 247 points all season. They're a terrible football team. I've always said that any NFL team that can't make the playoffs at least once over a five year period, they should lose their franchise. They need to overhaul everything. It's completely, completely unfair to anybody who pays to watch that football team.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much. Happy holidays, my friend.

BRYANT: Happy holidays. Happy New Year.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for, ESPN the magazine, and ESPN, the PEZ flavor.

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