RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
An NFL season filled with surprise and controversy is heading into its 11th weekend. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season so far is the last remaining undefeated team. It's the Kansas City Chiefs, one of two teams with the WORST record in the league last season. Sunday, the Chiefs play the Denver Broncos in a game fans have been anticipating for weeks.
Joining us now is NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman. And, Tom, it seemed like this was going to be a battle of unbeatens, then the Broncos went and lost a game a few weeks ago. So, Tom, is it still a big deal?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Oh yeah. The Chiefs are nine and oh, the Broncos are eight and one. Now, that's a combined 17 and one and it's a winning percentage of 944. That's the highest combined winning percentage for two teams plying in a game this late in the season since 1969. now, of course, it's fairly stunning that the Chiefs are part of this. They were two and 14 last season.
But they have turned their fortunes around. They brought in Andy Reid, the long-time head coach from Philadelphia. They have honed their defense into one of the best, allowing only 12.3 points per game. That's the stingiest in the league. But the Broncos offense have been off the charts this year, averaging 41 points per game behind quarterback Peyton Manning and a dazzling corps of receivers. So something's got to give.
MONTAGNE: Peyton Manning obviously is the quarterback everyone's paying attention to in this game. But what about the quarterback for Kansas City?
GOLDMAN: Alex Smith. A great story. He was a very good starting quarterback for San Francisco last season. He suffered a concussion. He had to sit out a few weeks and while he was doing that, his backup, Colin Kaepernick, proceeding to explode on the league. He swept the 'Niners to the Super Bowl and he bounced Smith out of a job.
Smith was very classy during a very hard time. He ended up getting a shot with the new team in Kansas City and he's made the most of it. You know, not with dazzling statistics but as a great game manager. He makes few mistakes. Meanwhile, Kaepernick has been struggling in San Francisco. Opposing defenses seem to have figured him out for the time being.
MONTAGNE: And, Tom, heading into the playoffs, what are some of the more interesting stories?
GOLDMAN: Lots of them. I'll pick one, Renee. As so often happens in the NFL, what's up one week is down the next and vice versa. And the Philadelphia Eagles are a good example. The Eagle's season looked lost after starting quarterback Michael Vick was injured. Head coach Chip Kelly's experiment to bring to the NFL elements of the high octane offense he ran at the University of Oregon - that appeared to be a failure.
But in the last few weeks, lo and behold, Philly has surged behind a backup quarterback, Nick Foles. He's thrown 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions. The team is starting to click. It's now tied for the lead in the woeful NFC East with a five and five record. But they're trending.
MONTAGNE: Trending. OK. OK, but on a more sober note there is something else that's trending and that is the alleged bullying by players with the Miami Dolphins, most particularly Richie Incognito. And we haven't really heard anything lately from Jonathon Martin - the teammate who quit because he said he was bullied so badly.
GOLDMAN: Well, the independent investigator who was appointed by the NFL, he is scheduled to meet with Jonathan Martin today. Richie Incognito yesterday filed a grievance against the Dolphins indefinitely suspending him. In the meantime, you know, no one knows exactly what happened and we supposedly will after this investigation. But the interesting thing is the whole thing has prompted a national discussion.
Not just in the media but in schools and churches and so on. And, you know, showing once again that sports often can hold up a mirror that allows us to examine social issues like bullying or racism or homophobia.
MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: And you'll hear our sports correspondent Tom Goldman on NPR News.
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