SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: We are so close to the Super Bowl now that we can smell the nachos. The NFL's conference championship games are tomorrow. We're joined now by NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Not eating nachos this early but hello, Scott.
SIMON: Let's start with the early game - Rams-Saints. They met earlier this season. The Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the season. It was a high-scoring game - 45-35. But I gather tomorrow's match, as so often happens in the playoffs, comes down to defense.
GOLDMAN: Yes, it may. And I'm going to throw out a couple of names of defensive players who could have significant impact. May and could, Scott. I'm feeling bold today.
GOLDMAN: Aqib Talib - a veteran defensive back for the Rams who was missing from that earlier game you talked about, and the Saints had a field day throwing and catching the ball in his half since he's back for this game. And then Sheldon Rankins for the Saints - he's an excellent run-stopping defensive lineman. He's out with an injury. The Rams have a great running attack that can only benefit from his absence. So I'm not going to say these situations the Rams win because of him, but they do help LA.
SIMON: Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, is 40, and he has been so accurate this year. Tom, he could split an apple in two off of your head with the point of his football if he wanted to.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You know, that's about the only thing he didn't do this season. He set an NFL record, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes. Now, The Wall Street Journal studied all of his incomplete passes, and there weren't many. And it found...
GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. And they found most were not his fault, meaning receivers dropped them or caught them and then defenders jarred the ball loose. Only about 9 percent of Brees' total passes were bad throws. So if the Rams want to beat New Orleans, put an apple on someone's head. No, I'm sorry. They can't rely on Brees beating himself.
SIMON: And then, of course, there's Tom Brady. I'm not going to call him old. He's 41. He's a vet. Kansas City quarterback, a great one, is young - Patrick Mahomes. And last time they met, the Pats stole the game in the final seconds. You think tomorrow's game going to be as close?
GOLDMAN: Absolutely, unless it's not. Can you tell I'm hedging my bets this time, Scott?
SIMON: Time will tell. Time will tell, yeah.
GOLDMAN: Right, right. But both quarterbacks can create offense so well, so whoever falls behind, there's a good chance of catching up. Mahomes is great at eluding pass rushers. He does amazing things when he's forced to run for his life. Brady needs solid protection to do his thing because he's not as mobile, and he'll need that protection against a very good Kansas City pass rush. Scott, Kansas City is a slight favorite, and I think they win this one.
SIMON: All right, a prediction. I - news I have to ask you about this week around the NFL actually might be more important long term. We've actually got a film clip from the film "Concussion."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CONCUSSION")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As actor) If just 10 percent of the mothers in America decide that football is too dangerous for their sons to play, that is it. It is the end of football. Kids, colleges and eventually, it's just a matter of time, the professional game.
SIMON: May not be the mothers, though, right, Tom?
GOLDMAN: That's right. Turns out, in this age of concussion awareness, it may be insurance companies that decide the fate of football. This week, a report by ESPN's "Outside The Lines," a comprehensive report, said insurance companies are getting out of the business of insuring football because they're afraid, you know, they're going to have to pay out billions in legal and medical costs. Already some programs at community colleges and city rec departments have been eliminated because of the lack of insurance or rising insurance costs. The head of Pop Warner's youth football program is quoted as saying "people say football will never go away, but if we can't get insurance, it will." Scott, it's a fascinating read and a scary scenario for those who love the game, which is still this country's most popular sport. But the question is, for how long?
SIMON: And of course - but for those who love the players, it's also important to read.
SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOE.'S "SILVER SUN")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.