What To Watch For In Sports This Year

Jan 7, 2017
Originally published on January 7, 2017 3:49 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: It's less than a month until the Super Bowl. And the NFL playoffs begin today. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now for the first time in 2017. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, good morning. And Happy New Year.

SIMON: And Happy New Year to you, my friend. Now, I know you're deeply opposed to making predictions, which just makes you smart compared to the rest of us.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: But what will you be watching for in these playoffs?

GOLDMAN: Well, OK. Number one - can a team lose its star quarterback to injury and still win with a third-string rookie making his first NFL start in a playoff game? That would be Oakland, which lost Derek Carr, its starting quarterback, to a broken leg - then the second-stringer to a shoulder injury. Next man up is Connor Cook, starting against Houston in today's first game. Now, history says it'll be a tough day for the rookie. But his coach liked the way Cook looked when he came in last week and threw 21 passes in a loss to Denver. But, of course, that wasn't a playoff game.

And then tomorrow, when two hot teams meet in frigid temperatures, who stays hot? That would be the New York Giants against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, where weather is supposed to be around 13 degrees at game time - makes me cold just to say that. The Packers have won six straight with the best quarterback in the NFL right now, Aaron Rodgers, leading the way. The Giants are playing well. We've seen this before, Scott, with the Giants. In 2007, 2011, they caught fire late. They beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl both times. But I'm not sure they can...

SIMON: And some guy just catches a pass next to his helmet - is what happens - the Giants, yeah.

GOLDMAN: That's all it takes, yeah. But I'm not sure they can do that again this time unless their offense plays better and unless they find a wide receiver who can catch a ball with his head.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah. That's quite a - they work on that in training camp now.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Joe Mixon of the Oklahoma Sooners wants to go pro. Videos made public - that's utterly ugly to watch. Is it going to make it difficult for him to go pro?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, we won't know that until late April when the NFL draft happens. Mixon is a very good running back. But in 2014, he was suspended the entire freshman season after an argument at an Oklahoma restaurant ended with him punching a woman in the head. And that resulted in several fractures in her face. At the time, Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor and ordered to do community service and counseling.

But as you mentioned, a surveillance video showing the incident didn't emerge until last month. And when it did, it created a national outcry. Mixon publicly apologized. And his head coach was criticized for saying if the incident happened now with the heightened awareness of violence against women, Mixon would've been kicked off the team.

SIMON: Yeah. I can't let the week go by without noting that Robert Marchand - I believe that's how you would pronounce his name...

GOLDMAN: Wait.

SIMON: ...Set a new record for cycling. Oh, we use it. I'm sorry. He cycled 92 laps around a velodrome near Paris in an hour, set a new world record. He is 105 and says, I'm now waiting for arrival, which, Tom, I think, is a clear taunt at both of us. Don't you?

GOLDMAN: It's a clear taunt, obviously. And are we up to it, Scott? He's got the heart to back it up, though. It's apparently a very big, strong heart that beats slowly. His coach says Marchand has the heart of a 60-year-old.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: So 60 must be the new 40 when it comes to healthy hearts. I don't know. But yeah, 92 laps - that translates to 14 miles in one hour. That's quite impressive.

SIMON: And he didn't take up cycling until he was 68. Can you imagine that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He wanted to do something in his youth.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: He took it up with a vengeance, though. He bikes between six and 12 miles a day on a stationary bike. So no excuses. It's 2017. Let's get out there.

SIMON: All right. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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