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It's A Crucial Weekend For College And Pro Football


Sometimes in sports, the games leading up to the championship are really the most exciting. And for that reason, this weekend could be a treat for all football fans. Tomorrow, the college football playoff begins with two semifinal games. And then this Sunday is the last day of the NFL regular season, and that will decide all of the playoff matchups. NPR's Tom Goldman is a big sports fan. He covers sports for us. He's on the line.

Good morning, Tom.


GREENE: You know, I've noticed this. I have never been to a Super Bowl, but I've been to several conference championship games that lead to the Super Bowl. And I'm kind of happy about it. That's where the excitement is sometimes.

GOLDMAN: I've been to a number of Super Bowls where I have fought to stay awake.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Yes, it does happen that way. You know, and I think there are several reasons. There's more hope early on. You've got more teams involved at the start of playoffs. Everyone technically has a chance, even though some teams have a better chance than others.

GREENE: Right.

GOLDMAN: Washington has a chance in the college football playoff, for instance, though not a great one. The Huskies play Alabama, the undefeated juggernaut, in one of the semifinals. But the excitement in that game is the what if factor, right? And then in the NFL, sure, New England and Dallas should be in the Super Bowl right now. But what can happen over the next month? That's the exciting thing. And it's...

GREENE: Anything.

GOLDMAN: Anything can happen. And it starts Sunday as the last teams claw their way into the playoffs.

GREENE: Well, let's start with college. You say Alabama, the big favorite, against Washington. The other semifinal is Clemson-Ohio State, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. Let's start with Alabama-Washington. Alabama has this fantastic defensive front line that probably will put a lot of pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning. He has struggled this year against good defenses. And the Alabama defense also scores a lot of touchdowns on opponent turnovers, another thing that Washington has to be worried about. So it's a big challenge for the Huskies even to keep the game close.

Now, Clemson-Ohio State, that's expected to be the close game. Clemson's DeShaun Watson is a great quarterback, a Heisman Trophy finalist, but he throws a lot of interceptions, and Ohio State obviously is looking to pressure him and force mistakes. Perhaps an advantage for Clemson - their experience. The Tigers were in the College Football Playoff last season and played for the national title, where they lost a close one to Alabama. So this should be a good one.

GREENE: Tom, this - we talked so much when - in the leadup to this four-team college playoff system being set. I thought everyone was going to be happy with this. There's still a debate over whether this is the right way to do it.

GOLDMAN: Eternally, David. You know, the general consensus is the College Football Playoff definitely is better than what was before when two teams were picked to play in the National Championship game, usually leaving out a handful of worthy teams. But as you say, there's still upset around the country. Now we're hearing that the second tier of college conferences below the top five, they are so pessimistic about ever getting into the College Football Playoff that they want to start a playoff of their own. So the College Football Playoff is more exclusive, but still not for many out there.

GREENE: Everybody wants their own playoff. Tom, we're watching the NFL on Sunday. Most of the playoff matchups are set, but there are still some people in a couple cities who are just living on the edge this weekend.

GOLDMAN: Exactly. No one's more on the edge than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They need seven games to go their way, according to ESPN.

GREENE: Only seven.

GOLDMAN: Only seven. Tampa Bay has a 0.0016 percent chance to make the postseason, so good luck, Tampa Bay. Two teams with a more realistic chance - Green Bay and Detroit, red-hot Packers against the hard-luck Lions. Of course, the Lions were winless in 2008. They're trying to win a division title, Green Bay trying to get to the playoffs. So this will be a great game, we expect could be the best of the final day of the regular season.

GREENE: OK, real David and Goliath story, Green Bay against Detroit, this weekend. Tom, thanks a lot as always.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

GREENE: NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on
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