New Stars For This NFL Season

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It's wildcard playoff weekend in the NFL. Last year New England made it to the Superbowl undefeated. This year, they're out. What else makes this season a 180-degree turn from last year? Guest host Ari Shapiro talks with Weekend Edition's Howard Bryant about the big NFL playoff matchups this weekend.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, and it's time now for football.


SHAPIRO: It's wildcard playoff weekend in the NFL. Now, I'll be honest with you. Football is not my strong suit. But lucky for me, our own Howard Bryant is on the line to walk a newbie like me through the games ahead. Good morning.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Good, thanks.

BRYANT: Ari, you're not the guy who the week before the Super Bowl is going to buy that 60-inch flat-screen television. You're a man after my own heart for not having to pay attention to football.


SHAPIRO: Fortunately, I have very smart producers who tell me that today the Atlanta Falcons are playing the Arizona Cardinals. This is one thing I do know about football. I have this Michael Vick dog-fighting problem.

BRYANT: That's right. And it's quite a remarkable turnaround for the Falcons to be a year removed from Vick and prison and the news and losing the way they did and to be in the playoffs. It's going to be a good game for them. They've got a great running back in Michael Turner. They've got the great rookie - I don't know if he's great yet but they've got the rookie, Matt Ryan, at quarterback. And I think it's going to be a really interesting matchup against the Cardinals because they've got a high-powered offense. Anguan Boldin is going to come back from his injury. Larry Fitzgerald is fantastic, the two best receivers tandem in the game. And it's going to be Atlanta's ball control against the high-octane offense in the desert.

SHAPIRO: And then there's also the Indianapolis Colts versus the San Diego Chargers today. And their running back, LaDainian Tomlinson, got hurt last week.

BRYANT: The winner of this game could very well go to the Super Bowl. This should be the matchup of the weekend. The Chargers are playing really well, even though they were only 8 and 8 and probably didn't deserve to make the playoffs. But they're in. And the Colts are the hottest team in football in the playoffs right now. They've won nine straight. And these two teams, as we like to say in the world of cliche, don't like each other. But I have a feeling that the Colts are just too close to it and that they're going to win.

SHAPIRO: And now onto Sunday's games. There's Miami versus Baltimore. Baltimore, I understand, is the favorite in this one. Any chance of an upset?

BRYANT: Big chance of an upset because they both play defense. And when you've got January football, two defensive teams, it's whoever holds on to the ball, whoever creates those turnovers early in the game. You can get a game that just goes completely unexpected, neither team scores a lot of points. The Dolphins can score but they're a defensive team primarily. That's what got them back on top. And I just - I have no feel for that game whatsoever. I think it could go in either direction.

SHAPIRO: You know, you're actually making me want to watch some of this.


BRYANT: I'm doing my job right now.

SHAPIRO: OK. Well then, also Sunday, Philadelphia is playing Minnesota, and I understand this one is a real tossup, so...

BRYANT: Very intriguing matchup as well. I like Philadelphia in the game even though they're on the road because it looks like Donovan McNabb has finally decided that he's not going to allow anybody to get in his way in terms of doing what he likes to do on the field.

SHAPIRO: He's the quarterback?

BRYANT: He is the quarterback. And it seems like the coach, the most dogmatic coach in the National Football League, Andy Reid, has decided that, gee, maybe, 75 years of wisdom in the National Football League actually matters for something, and he's going to run the football.


BRYANT: On the other hand, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who made the best running back in football, and if the Eagles don't stop him then it's going to be a long afternoon for Philadelphia. But I have a feeling that the Eagles have won four straight and Philadelphia has got that magic going after the World Series, so the mantra from some of my friends in Philadelphia is think like a winner. So we'll see if the Eagles can continue that Philadelphia magic.

SHAPIRO: Howard Bryant, a senior writer for, ESPN the magazine, and ESPN the bleacher.


SHAPIRO: Thanks, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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