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It's Down To 4 Teams In The NFL Playoffs


In what was a big football weekend, four teams are left standing in the NFL. And I'm sure their fans feel so good this morning. Tough morning for those of us whose teams lost. My Pittsburgh Steelers fell to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last night. Let's talk football with Kevin Blackistone. He's in the studio with us. He's a columnist for The Washington Post and a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland. Kevin, good morning.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Good to see you. How you doing?

GREENE: Oh, I'm great, great. Didn't sleep as much as I would like (laughter). I mean, god, I mean, watching Peyton Manning pull that off - what a weekend for quarterbacks. I mean, after all the injuries he's been through. I mean, what storyline stood out?

BLACKISTONE: Well, that is the storyline. That's the narrative. You have Brady going up against Manning now after they both...

GREENE: Patriots and Broncos, yeah.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly. And, by the way, Brady holds that matchup 11 wins to 5. And the other side of the ledger you're going to have Cam Newton, Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn, just 26 years old, playing for the possibility of going to his very first Super Bowl against an older Heisman Trophy winner. We understand this is the first time this matchup has happened. And Carson Palmer, who won it back in 2002 at USC.

GREENE: And this is the Carolina/Arizona game that we're going to see in the other conference.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly. So it's all - it's going to be all about quarterbacks heading into next weekend, as well it should because that's the most critical position in professional football.

GREENE: So is this really a moment where, you know, we could see the changing of the guard. You've got Tom Brady. You've got Peyton Manning. I mean, if they pull off and get to the - one of them gets to the Super Bowl and wins...

BLACKISTONE: You know what...

GREENE: ...Versus Cam Newton, the young Carolina Panthers quarterback.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. I think that's interesting because you look at Peyton Manning and it seems like he's been around since the electric football days, right? Thirty-nine years old, held together by baling wires, switched to another team, now with the Broncos, doesn't have the arm strength, was injured later in this season, had to sit while a young quarterback behind him held the season together for the Broncos. And yet, Tom Brady is just a year younger, at 38, seems more like he's 28, hasn't lost any of his arm strength, is still as spectacular as ever - Terrific Tom. And he's going for what could be an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl ring. This is the fifth time that he's taken the Patriots - fifth consecutive year he's taken the Patriots to the AFC title game.

GREENE: Let me ask you this, there was a moment in that Steelers/Broncos game - painful as it is - Fitzgerald Toussaint, a young running back...


GREENE: ...Who because two other running backs were injured...


GREENE: ...He's on the big stage, didn't expect to be there, fumbles the ball at a key moment, really giving the Broncos a lot of momentum. If you're a young athlete and you do something like that sort of while a city is all behind you...


GREENE: I mean, can that damage you for an entire career or do you come back from that?

BLACKISTONE: You know what, not with the Steelers. They are such a family-oriented team. And I don't use that lightly when you talk about the Rooneys and the way that they run that club. And you saw that locker room yesterday, and you read the comments this morning, that team really rallied around Fitz Toussaint. And they said that he did not cost them that game, though certainly his play turned the tables in that game. I mean, here was a Pittsburgh Steelers team playing with all manner of injuries. They ask him to fill in. He had done an admirable job. He fumbles. The Broncos come from behind on a 64-yard/12-yard play to seize that game. Obviously that turned the momentum. But he'll be remembered I think very highly by Steelers fans.

GREENE: All right, about 10 seconds left - prediction for who's in the Super Bowl and who wins.

BLACKISTONE: I think the Patriots are going to be in the Super Bowl against Cam Newton. And I'm never going to pick against Belichick, Brady, Gronkowski and all those guys.

GREENE: So New England will beat Carolina, that's your prediction.

BLACKISTONE: That's right.

GREENE: After Deflategate and all of that, Tom Brady, another Super Bowl?

BLACKISTONE: After all of that, they're still the best team in professional football.

GREENE: All right. Kevin Blackistone, thanks for coming in as always.

BLACKISTONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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