With Two Weeks Left In Regular Season, NFL Playoff Chatter Begins
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Finally this hour, some football talk. Two weeks to go in the National Football League's regular season and sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now to discuss playoff permutations and other football news. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Two weeks, of course, is a long time in the NFL. What teams are playoff-bound or likely to be?
FATSIS: Well, in the American conference, four teams out of six are already in - New England, Denver, Baltimore, Houston. The Indianapolis Colts, a year removed from a two-win season, can clinch a spot if they beat downtrodden Kansas City this weekend. That leaves just one berth and it could come down to winner of Sunday's game between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. In the National Football Conference - San Francisco, Atlanta, Green Bay in. Beyond that, nine teams still alive.
SIEGEL: You mentioned the teams but not some of the NFL's best stories this season. Denver, for instance, and the new kid on the block, their quarterback, a guy named Peyton Manning.
FATSIS: Yeah, Manning. Manning, I remember that name. Spent his career until this season with Indianapolis. His absence last year reason for the team's 2-14 record. New team, new start, same old Peyton. Near the top in just about every statistical category. The Broncos have now won eight games in a row. The Colts parted ways with Manning because they had the number one draft pick, which they used on quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford. He has shown confidence and competence, especially in close games. Eight of the Colts' nine wins are by less than one score.
SIEGEL: Luck has gotten a lot of attention, as has Robert Griffin III of Washington, whom we've talked about here. But there's a third rookie quarterback who's had an outsized impact on his team. Tell us about Russell Wilson of Seattle.
FATSIS: Yeah. Unlike Luck and RG3, Wilson was the 75th pick in the draft. Those guys were one and two. Wilson had decided to play pro baseball but he changed his mind in 2011. He enrolled at Wisconsin for his last year of college eligibility and then was drafted. Slow start to season, but he's now the eighth-rated passer in league. Seahawks have won five of their last six games. They've scored more than 50 points in each of last two of them.
They are going to be playing on national television Sunday night against division rival San Francisco, who have a young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. That guy took job from Alex Smith while Smith was recovering from a concussion not because he had done poorly.
SIEGEL: The Minnesota Vikings are in the hunt for a playoff berth, too. And the focus there really is Adrian Peterson, who remarkably is pursuing the single-season record for rushing yards. Can he do it?
FATSIS: Yeah. He needs 294 in the last two games to break Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105. And what he's doing is remarkable for one simple reason. He tore his ACL - the central ligament in the knee - a year ago. Players have come back from that, but nobody like Peterson. It's a tribute to how the Vikings have handled him. He didn't play in the pre-season. For the first half of the season, the bulk of Peterson's carries were straight ahead between the tackles, less lateral risk. That's all good, but you can't do what this guy's done without his freakish natural ability.
SIEGEL: Peterson's part of the country there's a big snowstorm right now. Is that going to have an effect on this weekend's games?
FATSIS: Yeah, it should. And that's what makes football great, right? But it won't have an effect on the stands in Lambeau Field in Green Bay and that's because the Packers invited fans to come and help shovel out the stadium. About a thousand fans were lined up halfway around Lambeau Field at, you know, eight o'clock this morning in 17-degree wind chill for the chance to grab a shovel and get paid $10 an hour. The Packers handed out 650 shovels and they made quick work of the stadium.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
All right, Stefan, have a great weekend.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.