RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Well, we've got a whole day of football ahead of us. But let's face it, all eyes are on one game in particular. The Kansas City Chiefs go to Mile High Stadium to play the Denver Broncos. Just one loss between the two of them, seems like a big deal. But is it, really?
The man with the answers, as usual, is NPR's Mike Pesca. Good morning, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi. You've set up this question. Will I puncture it just by saying, yeah, it's a big deal.
MARTIN: That would be a very short conversation.
PESCA: All right. (Unintelligible)
MARTIN: So, put this in perspective for us. I mean we say the game is big.
MARTIN: How big is it, Mike?
PESCA: Yeah, we do hype everything in the NFL and the NFL is unbelievably hyped. I think of the last like hundred rated, top-rated TV programs, something like 90 are NFL games. So, yes, we focus on this, but it really is. If you look at the history of the league - so here we have a 9-and-0 Chiefs, the 8-and-1 Broncos, 17 wins. You look at all the teams with 17 wins coming into a game, one loss ties with the fewest number of losses. So that means this should be, and it is, one of the most anticipated match-ups in the history of the NFL regular season.
MARTIN: OK. But, you know, people are saying this is actually a pretty lopsided contest, right?
PESCA: That is the thing; that the Chiefs, though they are undefeated, aren't getting a lot of respect. I'm sure that's firing them up. Although, the amount of fired up will immediately just meet a, you know, a Peyton Manning fastball there...
PESCA: ...and wilt. But the reason that the Chiefs are more than a touchdown underdog is that they're 9-and-0 record has come against literally the weakest schedule in the league. And, in fact, not only is it a weak team - if you look at who their opponents have been and you crunch their won-loss records - they have played a succession of backup quarterbacks, and you're supposed to beat backup quarterbacks.
You know, going into week nine, when the Chiefs won their ninth game, the entire league was 20-and-6 against backup quarterbacks. And in fact, three of those losses were by other backup quarterbacks. It's only three times has a backup quarterback beaten a team that a starter was playing. What it all adds up to - and then there are other kind of more advanced statistics, I won't bore you with. Oh sorry, I won't thrill you with all of them.
PESCA: But the Chiefs, when you talk about starting a drive, the Chiefs are more likely to punt on any given drive than any team in the NFL.
PESCA: Which says that's not good - punting is not a good offensive outcome. In fact, one of the reasons they punt so much is that they're not a great offense. But they don't turn the ball over, so that's a little bit of a silver lining. A lot of the terrible teams have a lot of interceptions. But Peyton Manning and the Broncos are, you know, outscoring the Chiefs, outscoring everybody in the history of the league by so much. And the Chiefs have good but not great defense and a mediocre to bad offense.
MARTIN: OK. So what do we make of this game and the outcome? We're past the halfway point, starting to look to the playoffs.
MARTIN: Does the winner tonight become the Super Bowl fav?
PESCA: Well, become. I mean right now the Broncos are the Super Bowl favorite, and Las Vegas is saying they're going to win. So I think that would probably solidify their chances. If they lose we might look an NFC team. The thing is, the Broncos are so good at offense. And if you look at the teams like all the teams that have averaged over 30-points a game, you know, the big minority of not going on to win the Super Bowl. So a huge offense is not as correlative to a Super Bowl victory as you might think.
MARTIN: OK. Go Denver. Curveball. Yeah.
PESCA: Oh, you got to put that in there.
MARTIN: Yeah. I'm sorry.
PESCA: So I'd like to talk about the hardest player to defend in the NBA. It's a guy by the name of Chris Smith. And the reason he's hard to defend is, I don't mean in terms of on the court, it's hard to defend that he's even in the NBA.
PESCA: He is the brother of J.R. Smith, and the Knicks want to sign their valuable shooting guard J.R. Smith, so they threw a contract to Chris Smith. Some scouts have said Chris Smith does not even have the skills to be in the development league, which is in the minor leagues...
MARTIN: Aw, man.
PESCA: But because of a weird series of events, he's on the major-league roster. He's on the Knicks and other players have mock J.R. Smith and J.R. Smith has been fined on Twitter. And last night, J.R. Smith was doing so bad, missing every shot, that Knicks fans, because they're great, started chanting: We want Chris, we want Chris. Chris was, once again did not play, coach's decision.
MARTIN: Oh, poor Chris Smith. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
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