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The Week In Sports: Bengals' Blunders; Serena's Season


And now time for sports.


SIMON: The NFL playoffs march on and the Australian Open opens. Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine and espn.com joins us now, this week from the studios of member station KRCB in Sonoma County, Calif. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Let's begin with the playoffs from last week. The Steelers beat the Bengals.

BRYANT: Brutal game.

SIMON: Ugly, wasn't it? Not just ugly, vicious. That's what I mean.

BRYANT: It was a vicious game and also a game that - I've watched a lot of sports. I've never seen a team do so many dumb things as the Bengals did to lose that game in the final minutes.

SIMON: So what's it say about the NFL now?

BRYANT: Well, what it says is that you've got a lot of teams - you've got a great rivalry obviously between the Bengals and the Steelers and the frustration of the Steelers having won those six Super Bowls and the Bengals never quite finding their way. And the - I mean, the Steelers now have another battle against Peyton Manning and Denver on Sunday. But that game was so vicious that Antonio Brown, who got hit with a dirty hit in the final minute of the game, he's not going to play. DeAngelo Williams, another running back, he's not going to play. Ben Roethlisberger's got bad shoulder - he couldn't lift his arm above his shoulder and yet they still won the game. So it's going to be a really tough battle for Pittsburgh to come out of that with a victory to go out there to Denver.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a game today. The Chiefs play the Patriots. The Chiefs have a very hot hand and the Pats have lost four of their last six, but come on. It's the Patriots. It's the playoffs.

BRYANT: It's the Patriots, exactly. And everybody thinks that the Patriots do what the Patriots do and therefore they're going to find their way. But one of the things that this season has told us about the NFL is that the team you start with is not the team you're going to finish with. Remember when the Patriots came out and won those 10 games in a row that they were thinking about maybe going undefeated. And then obviously the injuries have crushed them. They are not the same team. They don't have a lot of players. But we'll see, depending on the health of Julian Edelman, depending on the health of Gronkowski, the health of Tom Brady, maybe they've got enough to do something. I think a lot of people think the Patriots are just going to show up and win, but I think it's going to be a really tough game.

SIMON: Tomorrow, the Seahawks and the Panthers play in North Carolina. Should this be the Super Bowl?

BRYANT: It should be NFC Championship at best. You've got one team that's trying to go to the Super Bowl for the third straight year. Then you've got the Panthers who had a great shot to go undefeated this year. They ended up 15 and 1. You've got two of the best quarterbacks in the league. You've got Cam Newton with Carolina who should be in the league's MVP and then you've got Russell Wilson who just is a magician back there and finds ways to win. They should've lost the game last week but - except for him. And so I think this is going be a terrific game. It might be the best game of the playoffs. It's a shame that it's not going to be for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

SIMON: The Australian Open draw was announced on Friday. Serena Williams is about to play her first official match since last September. What's the year look like for her?

BRYANT: I think it's going to be a hard year for her for a couple of reasons. One, she came so close to winning the Calendar Grand Slam last year - she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open in the semifinals - and also the fact that she's going to be 35 this year and the emotional stress. One of the beauties of watching Serena - the greatest thing about watching her is not just her fight but how much she wears that emotion on her sleeve. She gives you - she's not a robot. She gives you exactly what she's feeling out there in the moment. And the pressure was so great last year. She's one major away from tying Steffi Graf for 22, the most in the Open era. She's got a knee injury right now. And I think it would be great for her to come out of the box and get that one because every one you don't get, the pressure mounts to get that next one. And at 35 years old, I know players are playing. Kimiko Date-Krumm is playing. She's 45 years old. So I know players can play a lot longer now. But to play at that high level, the clock is ticking on the greatest tennis player I've ever seen.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much for being with us.

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