DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is the moment of truth in the National Football League: playoff time. Pack the fridge, warm up the recliner, because there are some great matchups this weekend. Now, when the season began, we asked Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Theismann for his predictions. He was right on target, so we called him back.
Joe Theismann, welcome back to the program.
JOE THEISMANN: Thank you, David. Always good to join you.
GREENE: So when we talked at the beginning of the season, we were sort of predicting that this was going to be the year of the quarterback. A lot of exciting rookies, some great quarterbacks in their prime - we kind of nailed it, didn't we?
THEISMANN: No, actually, I think the young guys - in particular, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick, coming on late - really exceeded expectations. The fact that Peyton Manning was able to do the things that he was able to do this year makes him a candidate for both the comeback player of the year and the MVP.
I think the way it's going to shake out, though, you have the usual suspects that have showed up in the playoffs, and now, just a tremendously exciting variety of young players at the quarterback position that I think have infused with just a ton of energy back into football.
GREENE: I want to kind of take a few of these names separately. I mean, you brought up Peyton Manning, who we were talking about when he, you know, after this really tough neck injury, he goes to a new team, the Denver Broncos. I mean, this has been stunning, what he's done.
THEISMANN: It really has. And the fact that Peyton has played at the level he's played at, after the injury, is the only surprise when it comes to Peyton - his work ethic, the type of player he is. When Peyton Manning became a member of the Denver Broncos, he made everybody 10 to 15 percent better. Every player or coach that works with Peyton, if you don't put in that supreme effort, you're going to feel like you let him down, and no one wants to do that.
GREENE: You brought up Robert Griffin III, your former team, the Washington Redskins. That last game of the regular season against the Dallas Cowboys, I was just waiting to see if he finally cracked under the pressure, as a rookie. And he didn't just not crack, he wins that game. I mean, as a rookie, how much pressure is on him?
THEISMANN: Oh, I think there was tremendous pressure on Robert Griffin III. The Washington Redskins fans - and I'm sure the organization - focused all their attention on Robert coming to Washington. I think the Heisman Trophy race really got him ready for all the attention that he is now getting. And certainly, in a city that's been starved for wins, he was the perfect answer.
GREENE: Take me to the other side of the football. If you are a veteran defensive coordinator on the sideline, what is the key to shake a rookie quarterback and to really knock him off his feet and get a victory?
THEISMANN: Normally, it's to hit them a lot. It doesn't matter who you are. Whether you're a rookie or veteran, if you get banged around a lot in the pocket, you start to see ghosts. You start to see pressure that really isn't there.
GREENE: Any predictions, Joe Theismann? I don't want to put you on the spot, but - well, I do want to put you on the spot. Any predictions?
THEISMANN: Sure. I think that the winner of the Seattle-Washington game will play in the NFC championship game for the chance to go to the Super Bowl. I think in the AFC, it's going to be a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning. And who's going to come out of that? I would probably lean towards New England, because they've gotten better on defense, and that was the area they needed to improve.
As far as, you know, Washington goes, you've got San Francisco sitting there. They lost Mario Manningham, which is a big loss for them. Atlanta has shown, at times, that they're vulnerable. They've had a lot of fourth-quarter victories. That's a little scary when you get into the playoffs, because it's one and you're out.
GREENE: All right, so the New England Patriots against, in the Super Bowl?
THEISMANN: You know, this is going to sound very (unintelligible), but I think the Redskins can get there.
GREENE: Don't worry. I'm not going to call you biased at all.
GREENE: Thanks for talking to us again.
THEISMANN: Thanks, David.
GREENE: That's Joe Theismann, Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Washington Redskins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.