SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Talk about fire and fury. It's time for sports.
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SIMON: Much of the country is huddled inside against the cold, but the NFL playoffs are just heating up. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?
SIMON: I'm fine. Thank you, my friend. Most of the NFL talk we've had this this year has been about demonstrations of conscience on the field, been about the dropping ratings of the games. There are four big games this weekend. You've got the Tennessee Titans playing the Kansas City Chiefs and the Panthers against the New Orleans Saints. Where'd you like to start?
BRYANT: Well, actually, I'd like to start with Buffalo - and Buffalo and Jacksonville. You've got two teams that haven't made the playoffs in forever. Jacksonville hadn't made the playoffs since 2007. And they were a laughingstock for years. And the Buffalo Bills, the once proud Buffalo Bills, hadn't made the playoffs since 1999. They play each other this weekend.
And you're right, Scott. This has been a very difficult year, whether you're talking about CTE and concussions, and we're talking about the ratings and protests for and against Colin Kaepernick and against police brutality. And so this is the period now where the league needs this, where I think football fans are going to try to settle in and salvage this season. It's go time for the players in terms of trying to win a championship.
And then, also, of course, you're looking at the Atlanta Falcons. You've got a team there that had a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl against the Patriots a year ago. And now they're in the playoffs again one more time. And a team that lost the Super Bowl hasn't gone back to the Super Bowl since 1993, when Buffalo did it. So maybe...
SIMON: And this was a team that was two minutes away from - or four minutes away from winning the Super Bowl.
BRYANT: From winning the Super Bowl. It goes back to what John Madden always said - I love that - that the greatest gap in sports is between the winner and loser of the Super Bowl. And it really is true.
SIMON: Yeah. Teams that had a rough regular season - can they put that all behind them when it gets to the playoffs? Do you wipe the slate clean?
BRYANT: Well, I think you have to. And I think that one of the teams that you're really concerned about in that regard is the Kansas City Chiefs. There's a team that - they went out on opening day, and they demolished the defending champion Patriots in Foxborough. You looked at them, and you said, here's a team that's really going to put it together.
And they've got Andy Reid back there, who'd been to the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. And then, of course, they had their troubles during the season. And then they turned it around, and so now they're in the playoffs. And so, this is one of the - they're going to be one of those teams that is definitely saying, look. We're in the tournament now, so everything that happened in the past isn't going to matter. Let's see if we can turn this around.
And, of course, the team that everyone's looking out - there are two teams that everyone's looking out for. One in the NFC is the Philadelphia Eagles - great team, 13 win team. But they lost their quarterback, Carson Wentz. So now you're looking at the Eagles to see, can they win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, with a backup? And then, of course, the defending champion Patriots, who are always there. And can 40-year-old Tom Brady do what no one's ever done before, which is to win the Super Bowl at that age?
SIMON: Yeah. You didn't ask. But I'll say, yeah. I think he can.
BRYANT: (Laughter) I think he can too.
SIMON: And let me ask about the Australian Open because it is such a testament to the eminence of Serena Williams that she can dominate a news cycle about the Australian Open by making a personal decision - let me put it that way.
BRYANT: No question. Well, Serena Williams hasn't played a professional match since she beat her sister in the Australian Open last year. She was eight weeks pregnant at the time and then announced that she was pregnant. And then she had her baby. And yet, for much of that time, she had told people that she was going to come back and make the Open, announced that she didn't reach her goal and that she's not going to play in the Open.
Serena Williams is the greatest athlete we've got going in the country right now. She does not, however, have an S on her chest. It was a great ask. But because it was Serena, everybody assumed that, hey, you're not going to bet against her. But she said she's not quite there yet. Kind of a shame but not really a surprise. You're asking a lot even of the great Serena Williams to not play a match in a year and then come back and compete for a championship.
SIMON: Yeah. Well...
BRYANT: But she'll be back.
SIMON: ...Let me just say, no male champion's ever come back after giving birth, has he?
BRYANT: (Laughter) Asking a lot, even of Serena.
SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us.
BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.