RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
OK. We are almost there - only five days left until Super Bowl Sunday, certainly not too early to talk about a game experts say is going to be close. The New England Patriots are 3-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons even though it's only the Falcons second title game ever and the Patriots' seventh Super Bowl appearance since 2002. NPR's Tom Goldman will be in Houston for the big game, and he joins us now. Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Rachel.
MARTIN: When we talk about New England we're talking about the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty, but only 3-point favorites? Is Atlanta that good?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, it is. And, you know, what should worry the Patriots, the Falcons have been getting better the closer they've gotten to the Super Bowl. The Falcons averaged nearly 34 points per game during the regular season, that's tied for seventh-best in NFL history. And the last six games Atlanta has averaged 39 points a game. So it's an explosive offense with stars at the so-called skill positions. You've got Matt Ryan, he's been the team's quarterback since 2008. This has been his best season. He's considered a favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award. The Falcons have two outstanding running backs, they've got great wide receivers, they've got it all.
MARTIN: So a lot of those players were around last year. So what changed for the Falcons?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, a big reason for the offense going off the charts was the addition of a guy who doesn't catch the ball or run the ball or throw it. He snaps it to the quarterback, it's the Falcons center. He was a free agent with Cleveland. They - the Falcons signed him, Alex Mack, and he's made a huge difference both protecting Ryan from pass rushers and blocking for the running backs. He's the anchor of what's become a very good offensive line. And, Rachel, as you know, your offense, your quarterbacks, your running backs, your wide receivers are only as good as your offensive line.
MARTIN: I really do know that. All right, so can New England's defense handle that offense?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) I don't know. We'll find out.
GOLDMAN: But, you know, the Pats have as good a chance as any. They have a very good defense. They allowed the fewest points per game of any team during the regular season. And remember, New England head coach Bill Belichick is an expert at sizing up the opponent's best offensive weapon and then taking it away. The challenge in this game - the Falcons have so many weapons, where do you focus?
MARTIN: So now I want to get to my favorite part of this story because everyone loves a little schadenfreude, and this is going to no doubt transpire if the Patriots win and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to stand on the victory stand with Tom Brady, New England quarterback, and give him that trophy - awkward. Right?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Right. You know, the word we have mercifully not uttered for many many months - Deflategate, that's why. Goodell and Brady went back and forth in the courts arguing over whether Brady knew about or orchestrated deflating footballs during a game a couple of years ago. Goodell won the battle. Brady served a four-game suspension to start this season, so that makes for your potentially awkward moment this Sunday.
MARTIN: Tom Brady, I mean, he knows how to kind of message publicly. Has he said anything about what this moment could mean, whether or not he's going to like, I don't know, wrestle Goodell to the ground to get this trophy?
GOLDMAN: He has been a good Patriot, and by that I mean he hasn't said anything controversial. Now, of course he doesn't want to predict a winning scenario because that'll give the Falcons extra incentive. But if it comes to pass that Brady and Goodell are up there together, hey, it's the NFL, everything is tightly controlled so probably no drama unless Brady's dad gets loose. Now, in a recent interview, papa Brady called Goodell a liar and blamed him for leading a witch hunt against his son. Watch out for him.
MARTIN: All right, lots of drama. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman getting us ready for this Sunday's Super Bowl in Houston. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.