SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Hey, it's time for sports.
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SIMON: In the NFL playoffs this weekend, will the Falcons, Seahawks and Ravens soar? Will the Broncos buck, the 49ers strike gold, the Patriots run up the flag, the Texans remember, and the Packers pack up and go home? How many ridiculous phrases can I work into a sentence?
NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now to help us make sense of all of 'em. Tom, thanks for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, there's another ridiculous phrase, that I can make sense of it all.
SIMON: Very quick, my friend. Excellent. Yeah.
GOLDMAN: Thank you very much. Actually, today Scott, I think I can because it is the playoffs, where some basic truths hold forth. The best experienced quarterbacks win, strong defense wins. I think you're going to see that with these games this weekend. So where do you want to start?
SIMON: Well, in no particular order. The Seattle Seahawks are a slight three point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons - and the Seahawks do seem to be soaring of late.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, another truth: hot teams win the Super Bowl, and none is hotter than Seattle. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson picked 75th in the draft. He's making a mockery of the word rookie. He is so calm and efficient, combined with bruising runner Marshawn Lynch and a great defense. But, but, Scott...
SIMON: Yeah? Yeah?
GOLDMAN: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has emerged this season. He has tons of weapons on offense, a major chip on the shoulder because he's never won a playoff game. This game is at home and the Falcons play better in their dome. The suspect area is defense. Their best past rusher may be limited by a recent ankle injury, but if the defense steps up I actually like Atlanta here.
SIMON: Hmm. The Pack, slightly favored over the San Francisco.
GOLDMAN: Yes. Because of that quarterback-defense formula, largely. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is one of the elites. His accuracy, especially when he gets forced out of the pocket, is just fantastic. The Packers' defense is healthy. San Francisco has been dominant at times this year, but don't forget, the Packers just two years ago won the Super Bowl. This team knows what to do. I am going Packers' cheese over San Francisco white wine.
SIMON: By the way, interesting sideline. Aaron Rodgers, of course, is from Chico, California, grew up a 49er fan, and Colin Kaepernick, the 49er quarterback was born in Milwaukee. And is a Packers fan.
GOLDMAN: Go figure.
SIMON: Yeah. Right. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos versus the Baltimore Ravens. Peyton Manning is on the verge of leading one of the great comebacks since a New Yorker told somebody who wanted to get to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice.
GOLDMAN: Peyton, Peyton, what a comeback year. What a comeback year after sitting out due to multiple next surgeries, sitting out all last season. Even if the Broncs didn't have a great defense, I'd pick them. Winners of 11 straight, but they do have a great defense. So watch out this weekend and beyond.
SIMON: Mmm. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots versus the Houston Texans, who are hoping it won't be deja vu all over again.
GOLDMAN: It will. It probably won't be another 42 to 14 drubbing that New England layed on Houston in week 14 of the regular season. But you've got Tom Brady. You've got the best type in tandem maybe ever...
GOLDMAN: ...in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. You've got a bona fide running game with Stevan Ridley. A statistically poor but seasoned defense that will do enough to keep Houston from getting more points than the superduper New England offense. Pats win, Scott.
SIMON: Yeah. We have to note, while you and I and millions of people are getting all excited about the playoffs, just another dark shadow over football this week. A report released from a team at the National Institute of Health scientists, who found that Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, former linebacker, did in fact suffer from brain disease likely caused by hits to the head. Where does this latest finding take the issue?
GOLDMAN: Well, not into a new realm. It fuels the conversation that's been going on for several years. The NFL has made rules, changes and tweaks to try to make the game safer; hard to do with an inherently unsafe game. It will be interesting to see if the changes come through the courts. Right now, a massive lawsuit involving more than 4,000 former players, who are suing the NFL and helmet manufacturers over the head injury issue. It's in the preliminary stages. If these complaints go to trial, most likely it won't happen until 2014. And one of the goals of the lawsuit is to affect some sort of change going forward so the risk from head injury is reduced for future retirees.
SIMON: And this week, Bernie Kosar, former quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, who suffered I guess at least a dozen concussions, has come out and said that he's found a treatment that's helped reverse some of the effects. And I gather you talked to neurologists who are skeptical.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. The doctor reportedly has been treating Kosar to improve blood flow in the brain. Treatments include intravenous therapies and dietary supplements. Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the country's most prominent concussion experts, is skeptical. He says these things have not been proven, there have been no double-blind studies to say that blood flow plays a role in symptoms. Dr. Cantu cautions against lots of people lining up for what he calls unproven therapies.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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