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NFL Playoffs Kick Off In A Season Of Rookies


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Linda Wertheimer. Time now for sports.


WERTHEIMER: Today, the National Football League's postseason kicks off. Four games, three rookie quarterbacks, two divisional rivals, and almost certainly, one last home game for one of the best linebackers of all time. And in college, Notre Dame and Alabama together claim 25 national titles. Who will add another to the trophy case on Monday night? Howard Bryant of and ESPN the Magazine joins me now. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Linda. How are you?

WERTHEIMER: I'm good. And I have to say that the biggest sport story, certainly around here, is the resurgence of the Washington Redskins, who beat their arch rivals the Cowboys last week to secure a home game in the playoffs. And they will playing the Seahawks.

BRYANT: It's terrific. It's one thing when you have a player like Robert Griffin III, the great rookie quarterback and all the hype surrounding him. And everyone's talking about how good he's going to be. But it's quite another thing for him to live up to it. He has been terrific. He's been everything that everyone thought he was going to be. He can run, he can throw and he's charismatic and he's fun. He's really done everything that the team could ask of him.

And Russell Wilson is a guy that nobody really thought was going to be a great player. He was supposed to be a backup and here he is leading his team to the playoffs. So it's going to be a really great matchup. But I think that, once again, no matter who wins, people who really do win are the fans because these are two electric quarterbacks. They're very exciting to watch. It's going to be a great game.

And I think the thing that I like most about it too is that you look at them and you say, wow both of these guys and their teams have a pretty big future.

WERTHEIMER: Now both of those quarterbacks, RG3 as we think of him, and Russell Wilson for the Seahawks, they're rookies. That seems to be a trend.

BRYANT: It is, and it's a trend obviously because the NFL is a quarterback's league. And as we know there are very few great teams unless you've got a classic, classic defense like the '85 Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, where you're going to win without a great quarterback. And this is it. This is the league. You look at Tom Brady. You look at Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. You look at all of them. And now the kid in Indianapolis, replacing Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck. Once again, if you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance in the NFL. And for these young players to do it right now immediately coming out of college is pretty exciting.

WERTHEIMER: Now, also there is a soon-to-be retired Ray Lewis playing for the Ravens. This might be his last game?

BRYANT: It could be. It could be because once again, Indianapolis is a good team. I think that Baltimore is probably going to be favored slightly because they are at home, and is going to be an emotional rise to make sure that Ray Lewis goes into retirement very - they make it very difficult to send him into retirement. And to do that they'd have to win this game.

And I think that you look at his career, there are very few players in the history of the game who have been such a presence; a dominant presence such as Ray Lewis, won a championship in 2000. Obviously, he's had his share of controversy as well, but he has been a remarkable, remarkable player.

WERTHEIMER: Now those games are tomorrow. Anything to say, very quickly, about today's games?

BRYANT: Well, I think the big game obviously is the Packers and the Vikings, a legendary game against - the two rivals, division rivals, going at it. And once again, remember that Green Bay was 15 and 1 last year and didn't quite get there, so I think they're heavily motivated this year to try to turn that around.

WERTHEIMER: Are you looking forward to Notre Dame and Alabama?

BRYANT: Also talking about legendary teams going at each other for the championship in college on Monday. And once again, you've got two teams that do not give up a lot of points. One team is giving up 10.3 points a game, the other one's giving up 10.6. And so it's going to be a defensive battle. I don't like the fact that they hadn't played in 44 days, so hopefully they won't be too rusty.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Howard Bryant of and ESPN the Magazine, thank you so much.

BRYANT: Thank you, Linda. Happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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