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Super Bowl Talk (Other Than Ball Deflation)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports. Oh, it's true. We're just a week away from the Super Bowl, and we're going to talk with Mike Pesca about the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. But we simply cannot have a sports conversation this week without addressing the story taking all the air out of the room or, in this case, the football. Of course, we're talking about Deflate Gate. Did the Pats let the air out of their footballs on purpose in the championship game against the Indianapolis Colts? Just yesterday Pats coach Bill Belichick said their team, quote, followed every rule. Here to talk about that and a whole bunch of other stuff we may not have been paying attention to is Mike Pesca of slate.com. Hello.

MIKE PESCA: Hey.

MARTIN: Hey. So I mean, I enjoy picking on Tom Brady as much as the next person. But is any of this going to result in actual league rule changes?

PESCA: Probably, but I don't think it will affect the Super Bowl. I mean, they're going to take care of their footballs and not allow a two hour gap between when the referees look at them and then when the game starts. So that will happen. I've been looking at this entire thing, this Deflate Gate controversy, as a bit of a minor equipment issue but conflated with the Super Bowl - biggest game of the year and the Patriots, the most hated and recognizable team in football. Then you have this roiling ongoing team coverage that literally led every network newscast, except ABC, they were in Havana. But that was the lead domestic story was a deflated football on Thursday.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Because it's, like, this thing. I can't stop watching it. I'm part of the problem. I keep watching the coverage. OK. So we're going to move on. What should we be obsessing over this week in the week before the Super Bowl?

PESCA: Well, you know, ISIS, the Ukraine, EU's quantitative easing. Oh, you mean football-wise? Um, yes.

MARTIN: Football.

PESCA: Well, a big thing I think going in were key injuries to members of the Seattle Seahawks defensive unit - Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman - Richard Sherman, the quite verbal and interesting three-time Pro Bowler. But both those guys - Sherman really is going to be good. He practiced all week. Earl Thomas they say will be fine. There's some indication that that's true. And Seattle, as a fully healthy unit, represents a challenge that the Patriots, no matter how much PSI are in their footballs, haven't faced all year.

I mean, especially coming down the stretch, they have faced rather weak teams. And then in the postseason where New England has seemed juggernaut-ish, if not fully inflated, where they put up massive amounts of point against the Ravens of the Colts. The Ravens and the Colts are - especially the Ravens lately - their secondary was pulling in guys who weren't even on NFL rosters. And the Colts were a really bad team against the run. So I give the Patriots credit for being really smart in knowing how to attack a defense. Problem is - Seattle has an almost impossible-to-attack defense. That will be the key to the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: You think Seattle?

PESCA: I think Seattle by a point. This is interesting. The spread - the Las Vegas spread - is a point. They are favoring Seattle by a point. New England was a little bit of an early favorite. And it seems to me that this is the closest that all of the odds predictors and all of the advanced systems have ever said a Super Bowl would be. And I see no reason why that shouldn't be true. You know?

Yesterday Bill Belichick in his press conference said I am not a scientist. And then luckily - you know, usually when that phrase is invoked it's some, but global warming may not be real. But he said, I am not a scientist. But I've been looking at footballs. But he kind of is a scientist, or at least he's a mad genius. And when you match his wits against Seattle's strength, this could be a great Super Bowl. And we'll forget all about the balls.

MARTIN: Do you have a quick curveball?

PESCA: Sure. Let's go to the world of the NHL.

MARTIN: Let's.

PESCA: It's NHL All-Star weekend. A guy named Zemgus Girgensons is on the All-Star team.

MARTIN: I love him.

PESCA: Why? He's not good. The answer is he's Latvian. So the NHL allows anyone in the world to vote at least 10 - up to 10 times on devices. And this guy is the most popular Latvian athlete, the highest pick in Latvia. So even though he's about, I don't know, let's say the 150th best player in the NHL, he's there. He's an All-Star. It's kind of a cute story - Zemgus Girgensons.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca of Slate's "The Gist" podcast. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.