NFL Fans Ready for Playoffs This Weekend
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The New England Patriots' quest for the first perfect season in the National Football League in 35 years resumes tomorrow. The Patriots and NFL MVP, Tom Brady, face the Jacksonville Jaguars in primetime at home in Foxborough, Massachusetts, one of four quarter final playoff games this weekend.
Sports writer Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal joins me now, as he does most Fridays, to talk about this.
Stefan, there's the talk that the Jaguars might be in the best position to beat the Patriots. Is that true?
Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Writer, Wall Street Journal): Well, talk, and talk is pretty cheap, as we learned in New Hampshire this week.
NORRIS: Oh, yeah.
Mr. FATSIS: I think some of this is wishful thinking here. It's infinitely more interesting to be contrary especially when there is no court of accountability for writers and talkers like us.
There is some justification, though, for the idea that the Patriots could lose this game. Statistically, Jacksonville improved dramatically over the course of the season. The Patriots were far less dominant toward the end of the season especially on defense. But the Patriots' offensive line is so good, and as the folks at the great footballoutsiders.com Web site explain, Jacksonville's up the middle defense against the run is a very weak spot. The effectiveness of the wide receivers on both teams is going to be a key here. I think it's going to be a very high scoring game one way or another.
NORRIS: I'm afraid to ask for a prediction, but I am interested in what you think might actually happen.
Mr. FATSIS. I think it's going to be a high scoring game. We've all watched, you know, how, officially, the Patriots have played all season long and how they react to slights, I'm thinking of the Spy Gate controversy at the beginning of the year, where the team was punished for taping an opponent's bench signals. And they've got some bulletin board material against Jacksonville. After these two teams played late in the 2006 season, the Jaguars' head coach, Jack Del Rio, said that his players should have speared Tom Brady on one play; that is hit him straight on with a helmet, which is illegal in the NFL. And that quotation has made the rounds this week. But the Patriots are really good.
NORRIS: As we mentioned, three other quarterfinal playoff games: Seattle at Green Bay tomorrow, San Diego at Indianapolis, and the New York Giants at Dallas on Sunday. Give us a quick breakdown of these matchups.
Mr. FATSIS: Okay. Seattle's defensive line just obliterated Washington in the first round of the playoffs last week. But Green Bay has better pass protection, and the Packers do still have a very effective Brett Favre playing quarterback. Indianapolis is much, much healthier than when San Diego just beat them in November. And that was a game in which Peyton Manning threw six interceptions. You're not going to see that again. The Giants-Dallas game is an exaggerated version, I think, of New England-Jacksonville. The Giants and their quarterback, Eli Manning, played very, very well in their last three games. Dallas has faltered, but we'll see come game time.
NORRIS: We should mention the big story in Dallas this week, though, was Tony Romo's little Mexican vacation with the singer Jessica Simpson. Cowboys fans are actually concerned that she might be a distraction.
Mr. FATSIS: Yes, since she showed up in a luxury box a few weeks ago wearing a pink and white Romo jersey, and the Cowboys lost. A lot of fans seem to believe that his trip to Cabo San Lucas showed a misplaced sense of priorities. But the team had two weeks off because they had a buy in the first round of the playoffs. Romo would not have gone anywhere if the team didn't have those days off. Other players traveled. They just didn't happen to do it with Jessica Simpson.
NORRIS: Finally, Stefan, this wouldn't be a football conversation with you if we didn't talk about kickers, of course.
Mr. FATSIS: Yeah.
NORRIS: So this week's news is that one of the playoff kickers will be wearing battery-powered heated pants. Do I have that right, battery-powered heated pants on the sidelines? I guess, in Green Bay, he might need them.
Mr. FATSIS: That's right. It gets pretty cold in Green Bay. And as a former kicker, I will say, so what? The kickers' Josh Brown, he's on Seattle, the pants are down-lined rain pants. He sticks a couple of battery-operated heaters in there to keep his legs easily warm, number four, everybody rolls their eyes. Kickers spend about 98 percent of games walking up and down the sidelines, trying to stay loose, and in freezing weather, trying to stay warm, these little heaters will keep Josh's pants at a toasty 75 degrees.
NORRIS: Oh, well, good for him. Thanks, Stefan.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: That was Stefan Fatsis as he covers the business of sports for the Wall Street Journal.
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