RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Football fans were again glued to their TVs over the weekend, and the latest round of the NFL playoffs did not disappoint. The team with the best record in the regular season, the Green Bay Packers, lost to the New York Giants. And the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, tamping down Tebow mania.
Here to discuss it all is NPR's Mike Pesca. Good morning.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
MONTAGNE: So Mike, technically, in these playoffs there was only one what you might call an upset. So why did the games feel so thrilling and even unexpected?
PESCA: Right. That Giants game, that was the only time that a road team went and beat the higher seeded team. It was just because of the nature of the games. The very first game of the weekend was that Saints-49ers game, which was a pretty low scoring affair until about seven minutes left. And then there was a touchdown after a touchdown after a touchdown after a touchdown.
And everybody was talking, oh my God, can you believe that result? Can you believe that the 49ers found some offense, and that the Saints just wilted as much as they did?
Take it through the weekend where you had another exciting game on Saturday, Sunday a little bit of a sorbet game in the Texans and Ravens. And it ended with a shocking result in the Packers losing to the Giants.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's get back to the Giants. Talk to us a little more in depth about that game.
PESCA: Well, four sacks. The Giants sacked the quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times. And most importantly, they forced three fumbles. And the Packers weren't a team that turned it over - and turnovers have been a huge part of the playoffs. They're very big in football. The Packers also uncharacteristically had a lot of drops and they were all really quite deadly.
I think that the thing going in was that people thought that the Giants would be able to have this very good defense that put pressure on Aaron Rodgers; that would give them a chance. And while that was true, they won in a little bit of an unusual way, in that their quarterback, Eli Manning, was the best quarterback on the field. And that's kind of shocking, when you consider that Aaron Rodgers probably had the best season a quarterback in NFL history had ever had.
So it was really an exciting game and it shows that great offenses are great but, you know, they could be stymied by a good defense.
MONTAGNE: And, Mike, seems like the Ravens versus Texans was kind of buried in the mix. Are the Ravens being overlooked, do you think?
PESCA: Well, it was kind of good that it was buried in the mix because we needed a pause to take our breath. But this was the one game which played out like a football game from 30 years ago, where a team established a lead and held on defensively. And I do think that there is a danger. When the Ravens go into New England, people are just going to discount the Ravens because New England looks so offensively impressive. But the Ravens have a very good team.
I would just say, as far as looking at that matchup, on the road, though, the Ravens are only four-and-four. They do play in New England. That'll give the Patriots a big advantage.
MONTAGNE: And out in San Francisco it will also be a bit of a matchup between a very good offense, the Giants, and the conference's best defense.
PESCA: Right. So we have great defenses left. But this year the lesson seems to have been that offense is what trumps all. Three of the NFL's best five offenses in NFL history were on the field this year. But the Saints lost and the Packers lost. And now, the Patriots are the only great offense left standing. The Giants have a very good offense and statistically they had a bad defense throughout the year; their defense has come on.
The San Francisco 49ers are a traditionally excellent defense. And while people discount the play of their quarterback, Alex Smith, he showed that he could put the ball on the numbers - especially if those numbers belong to tight end Vernon Davis.
This should be a good one. Look, this is a game where the - Las Vegas tells us that the Patriots are favored by slightly more than a touchdown, and the 49ers by slightly less than a field goal. That spells out excitement.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Mike Pesca on the NFL playoffs. And, Mike, thanks.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.