SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now, time for sports.
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SIMON: Da (ph) Bears, da Eagles, da playoffs. And where the stars at night are big and bright - Baylor's Lady Bears hand the UConn Huskies their first regular season loss since - I don't know - 1874. Tom Goldman joins us. How are you, Tom?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: I'm good. How are you?
SIMON: I'm fine. Thanks. How am I? The Bears are in the playoffs. The wildcard team...
SIMON: They played last year's Super Bowl champions, the Eagles, on Sunday. The Eagles are the reigning champions. They're great. The Bears have a smothering defense with Khalil Mack at linebacker - probably the reigning defensive player in the league. I loved what he said yesterday - you live for these games. Now, isn't defense considered even more important in the postseason?
GOLDMAN: You do live for these games, Scott.
GOLDMAN: Defense wins championships, right?
GOLDMAN: I mean, Bear Bryant said so.
GOLDMAN: But, Scott, are you ready for some football science?
SIMON: Sure. Sure.
GOLDMAN: OK. Researchers at Cal State Northridge...
GOLDMAN: ...Set out to uncover whether the old adage...
SIMON: Whenever you say researchers, I know you're going to spoil my good time. But go ahead. Yeah.
GOLDMAN: I thought you'd fall asleep. Yeah. The old adage, defense wins championships, they wanted to find out, is that true? And their statistical analysis found it is true. The fewer regular season yards a team gives up, that leads to more playoff wins. But they also discovered the more yards gained by an offense, the more playoff wins. So apparently, great defense and great offense wins championships, which, of course, means the Bears will need contributions from young Mitchell Trubisky in his first NFL playoff appearance and the rest of the offense.
SIMON: I just have to mention Tarik Cohen - 5-foot-6. If he were, in fact, going to be bar mitzvahed, he couldn't reach the podium at 5-foot-6.
SIMON: Just about the most fun runner to watch in the league - New York Times did a nice profile of him this week.
GOLDMAN: It's always mind-boggling to think about looking down on NFL players. He is fantastic. Let's not forget the Eagles also have a 5-foot-6 water bug, Scott. Darren Sproles has been dazzling and darting for 14 NFL seasons. His return from injury late in the season really helped the Eagles, along with backup quarterback Nick Foles. And they've got the Eagles fans thinking this team can beat those scary Bears in Chicago and make another run at the Super Bowl.
SIMON: I don't even know why even they call Nick Foles a backup quarterback anymore.
GOLDMAN: I know.
SIMON: He's always there when it counts.
GOLDMAN: I know.
SIMON: A 23-year-old starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs is kind of the obvious MVP pick this year, isn't it?
GOLDMAN: He kind of is. Patrick Mahomes - he has taken full advantage of a league that does everything it can to make life easy for quarterbacks. This season - only his second in the NFL - he threw 50 touchdown passes. And he passed for over 5,000 yards. The only other QBs to throw at least 50 touchdown passes - guys named Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. And his style is just so much fun to watch. You know, he plays sandlot football, really. He's thrown a pass left-handed. He's thrown a no-look pass. The big question, of course, with his carefree style - can that succeed in the pressure cooker of the playoffs? I'll bet it does.
SIMON: So is Tom Brady just kind of taking a nap, waiting for the playoffs to begin and show us what he's made of all over again?
GOLDMAN: You know, outside the Boston area, it feels a little bit like he's under the radar, out of the spotlight. You know, the Patriots had a workman-like season for them this year. And then when they lost a couple of games in a row in early December, that prompted the latest round of talks that the dynasty is over. But they have rallied. They won a key game last week. And Tom Brady looked like super Tom Brady. He threw four TD passes. They look like a team and a quarterback ready to go. I'll bet teams still don't want to play them in the postseason.
SIMON: And, as we mentioned, Baylor defeated UConn. Actually, I said 1812 or something like that - wasn't it 2014 - first regular season loss UConn's had. How did Baylor do it?
GOLDMAN: With size and great defense. UConn's shooting percentage in that game was 29.4 percent. That's reportedly the lowest in 20 seasons. The Huskies did the bulk of their scoring from long distance because going inside was an exercise in futility against Kalani Brown, 6'7", Lauren Cox, 6'4". Those two simply owned the territory around the basket. And now UConn has to start another streak that will last for a decade.
SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us, my friend.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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