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The Week In Sports: NFL Playoffs, College Football Finals


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Eric Westervelt. Time now for Sports.


WESTERVELT: What's new in 2015? College football has at long-last joined the rest of sports, using playoff games to pick a champion instead of that convoluted bowl system. In the NBA, King James has fallen to back and knee injuries - ouch. And speaking of playoffs, it's that time again in the NFL, and here to run it all down for us is Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN the magazine.

Hi, Howard. Happy New Year.

HOWARD BRYANT: Happy New Year, Eric. How are you?

WESTERVELT: I'm well, thank you. Let's start off with college football. I mean, two semi-final matchups this week produced two pretty clear winners. Oregon destroyed Florida State and Ohio State edged out Alabama. Tell us what happened.

BRYANT: Well, I think what happened - you know, Oregon - they're just a fantastic football team. They run the ball, they throw it, they do everything. You've got the Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. And I think that the clock sort of struck 12 on Florida State. They hadn't lost a football game in two years. They were a great team. But it so turned out that they'd had a lot of close games all year, and everybody was wondering when they were finally going to pay for playing relatively average football, but finding a way to win because they had so much talent. But this time, in a playoff system, you run up against another team like Oregon, and they got their doors blown off. They gave up more points than any Florida State team ever had in a bowl game - 59 to 20. And on the other hand, just a great football game between Ohio State and Alabama. And this is exactly what we've been talking about for all these years. Finally, instead of having a computer decide who the national champion is, play it out on the field - great games. And I think that over time, you're going to see them expand these playoffs even more than they have, for finally having them. I think four teams is not enough and after watching what we've seen this weekend, I think that's a good thing.

WESTERVELT: So they might expand them. And so Ohio State and Oregon - hopefully it'll be a great game - will play for the championship on January 12 in Arlington, Texas. I mean, are those the teams we would've expected to see come out of all this, under the old system?

BRYANT: Well, I think under the old system you were still going to get Alabama. You were going to get two of those four. I think more than likely you were going to get Alabama and Oregon. I think they were the two best teams coming in. However, Ohio State had earned the right to compete. Under the old system, Ohio State wouldn't have even had a chance to win, and Ohio State might be the most compelling team because they've played with three quarterbacks over the course of the season. They've dealt with injury, and now you're looking at a team that deserves to play for a championship. However, that wouldn't have happened before and you would've had everybody complaining that Ohio State didn't get the opportunity that they deserved. Play it on the field. That's why we watch the games.

WESTERVELT: Moving on to basketball. In Cleveland, Cavalier and king LeBron James has strains in both his left knee and his back. I mean, knees and back - how worried are Cavs fans, Howard?

BRYANT: Well, I think when you - the things you don't want (laughter). You don't get hurt at all, but you really don't want to hurt your back and your knees, especially as a basketball player. And I think that in the short term, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be fine. But when I look at LeBron James's injuries, you have to step back and think that he just turned 30, but he's been in the league for 12 years. He's in his 13th season right now. This is the price of not going to college. So he's been playing an NBA season since he was a teenager, and on top of that because he's so good, because his teams are so good, they've gone to the finals the last four straight years. He's been logging many more minutes. He plays every single game. He never gets hurt. And I think I agree with what Byron Scott said - the coach of the Lakers - that the human body was just not meant to play that much basketball. You have to include the Olympics and U.S.A. basketball to that, too. He needs a break.

WESTERVELT: And Howard, briefly let's go to NFL and playoff time, and let's start with today's games. The Cardinals take on the Panthers, the Ravens take on the Steelers. What are you going to be watching out for?

BRYANT: Ravens-Steelers is always good because you've got a rivalry game there. And then on top of that, I think Arizona - you feel bad for them because they lost their quarterback, and Carolina - well, they had a losing record so that's not a real compelling game. What I'm really looking forward to is tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the Dallas Cowboys starting a playoff run. That iconic name, the Dallas Cowboys, have not won a Super Bowl in 20 years. They've only won two playoff games. Incredible. They've only won two playoff games during that time since beating the Steelers back in '95. So love 'em, hate 'em, but they are an iconic name. It's great to see them back in the playoffs and I'm hoping that they're more than one-and-done against Detroit tomorrow.

WESTERVELT: Thanks a lot. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks.

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

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