RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORN MUSIC)
MARTIN: Oh, man, it's finally cold outside in Washington, D.C. And it's the beginning of January, so in my household, that means this afternoon, we're going to make a big, old pot of chili and watch ourselves some football because things are starting to get good. It's the 17th and final week of the NFL season. Everything's on the line. Here to talk us through it all is Mike Pesca, host of The Gist. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hey. I think teams like the Browns and the Jaguars - what have you - are chilly to look forward to, at least.
MARTIN: It's pretty good. I'm just saying.
MARTIN: OK. So what teams have it all on the line this week?
PESCA: Well, as far as winning, they're in, losing, they're out, there's the Jets. The Jets play the Bills. The Jets play their old coach Rex Ryan. It should be a close game up in Buffalo - in fact, 5-38 - though stat genius say Buffalo has a 54 percent chance to win. But if the Jets win, they will make the playoffs as a wild card. If they lose, I assume Pittsburgh's going to win. They're playing the hapless and lowly Browns in Pittsburgh.
MARTIN: (Laughter) What do you really think?
PESCA: They're not so great - the Browns.
MARTIN: The Browns.
PESCA: Historically so, yes.
MARTIN: OK. So as I look through the lineup, some of the teams with the best quarterbacks are not even making it, so - why? Why is that?
PESCA: There's a few reasons. One is just because you're a great quarterback - Drew Breese is a great quarterback, but the Saints defense, for instance, was terrible. And then there's luck, and then there's injury. So Peyton Manning - you expect him to be in the Super Bowl, and then his team, Denver Broncos, are, but he got hurt. He brought his team to a 7-2 record. Without Peyton - actually, had kind of a down year, and they have a great defense. But let's just say Peyton helped them along the way, the same as Andy Dalton with the Bengals. If the Bengals go far in the playoffs, he could return from injury, but as of now, he's not there. So in the AFC, you have this deal where if the Jets do make it, there's a conversation. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick or Alec Smith, the second best quarterback in the AFC playoffs - and if you don't recognize those guys from your pro ball rosters, which I know you collect...
MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah. I will. Yeah.
PESCA: ...And, you know, pour over as you eat that chili. Yeah, it's not your fault. Right.
MARTIN: So we're close enough that I can ask you if you have Super Bowl picks. Who's going to be in the final game?
PESCA: Don't just ask me. I go to another genius site, the Football Outsiders. And they run 10,000 projections, and three teams win it most of the time. It will be either the Carolina Panthers, who had their first loss last week, could be the Arizona Cardinals, the most exciting offense in football, or it could be the New England Patriots. Sorry if that sounds boring.
PESCA: But I'm - yeah - but I'm sorry. Tom Brady, who is in the playoffs, and Rob Gronkowski has tied in - that passing combination is the best play and, I think, the one unstoppable play in football. So until someone could show me they know how to stop that play, I will not be betting against the Patriots.
MARTIN: The Gronk - so you got a curveball?
PESCA: Sure. So after some terrible college football games, including the national semifinals, which Clemson won by 20, and Alabama won 38, there were a spade of new year games where the average margin of victory was 26 points. And I shut down - I shut off the game between TCU and Oregon at half-time and watched "Making Of A Murderer."
PESCA: But guess what?
PESCA: In the second half, TCU, after being down 31-nothing, scored 31 points...
PESCA: ...took it to triple overtime and won the game.
MARTIN: That'll teach you for turning away. Mike Pesca - he's the host of The Gist on slate.com. Thanks so much, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.