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'Championship Sunday,' When Four NFL Teams Become Two


Packers and Seahawks, Patriots and Colts. It's Championship Sunday this weekend in the NFL. The winners will head to the Super Bowl on February 1. Jane McManus, of ESPN, joins us now for a preview. Hey, Jane.

JANE MCMANUS: Hi, how are you?

BLOCK: Good, and let's start with the first game on Sunday afternoon - the Green Bay Packers going up against last year's Super Bowl champion, the Seattle Seahawks. What does this matchup look like to you?

MCMANUS: Well, I think the first and most important thing to know is that there is a cheese ban in part of Seattle. The Packers, of course, are the cheeseheads, and Bainbridge Island has outlawed cheese in public.

BLOCK: A cheese-free zone, OK.

MCMANUS: Cheese-free zone, exactly, but this could be a very difficult game for the Packers. The Seahawks are great at home. They have the notion of the 12th man there, which means that the crowd is so loud it makes it difficult for opposing teams. And the Seahawks, you know, they are the defending Super Bowl champs and they have a lot of the team intact this year from last year, including Marshawn Lynch - fabulous running back, although a bit temperamental when it comes to talking to the media. And the Seahawks also have a terrific secondary, which means anyone throwing passes is going to have a difficult time.

BLOCK: And another problem - potential problem - for the Green Bay Packers. Their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has been dealing with a torn calf muscle - not good for them.

MCMANUS: Yes, and you've seen it affect him in games leading up to this one. He's had a week to rest. That's not very much at this point in the season. And, as you know, any team that has any kind of weakness is going to be picked on by the opposing team.

BLOCK: And the last time these two teams met, we should mention, Seattle crushed Green Bay back in September.

MCMANUS: That's right. I mean, I think all signs point to the Seahawks here, but it should be a great game. Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback that you can never count out. He has just been too good. He's been in postseason play. He's won the Super Bowl with Green Bay, so it could make for a good game, but I think the Seahawks have quite an advantage.

BLOCK: OK, well, let's talk about the other playoff game, now, later on Sunday - the Indianapolis Colts head to Massachusetts to take on the Patriots. And what does this quarterback matchup look like, Jane? We have Andrew Luck of the Colts going up against, of course, Tom Brady of the Patriots.

MCMANUS: Well, I think this is - kind of could be summed up in the empire versus the upstart. You have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady who have been incredibly successful as a pair. They've won three Super Bowls. They've been in two others that they didn't win, since 2002, so they are formidable. Bill Belichick, the coach, has a 20-and-9 playoff record, which is tied for best in the NFL. They have the experience here, and they have really beaten up on the Colts whenever they've had the opportunity. They're 3-and-0 in games against the Colts since Andrew Luck took over as quarterback.

BLOCK: Jane, off the field, the Colts are also dealing with rape charges that were filed this week against their backup linebacker, Josh McNary. How did the team and the NFL handle this?

MCMANUS: Well, this, I think, goes to show the difference in the way that the NFL and teams are handling this since the Ray Rice elevator tape came out in September. And that is that the Colts, once they found out about the rape charges that were pressed against McNary, asked the NFL to put McNary on paid leave, essentially. There is a commissioner's exempt list, which players can go on now if they are charged with a crime. And while that crime is being investigated, or while they wait for trial, they can be put on paid leave. It's something new, but I think the speed with which the Colts did this shows how serious they are about these charges. And it's very different, I think, from the way that the league might've acted a year or two ago. You do have a team that is in the playoffs. I mean, there are very real stakes here, and they made, very quickly, the decision to take him off the roster.

BLOCK: OK, Jane McManus, writer for ESPN. Jane, thanks so much.

MCMANUS: I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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