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Sunday Sports Roundup


Time now for sports.


WERTHEIMER: In Rio, The fireworks over, the Olympic medals have been given out, and the athletes have all gone home. But never fear, sports fans, it is almost September, which means it's almost time for football. Mike Pesca is host of "The Gist" podcast. He joins us now to look ahead. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello. It's nice to have a sport where it depends on the final score and not the judge's subjectivity or synchronized anything. Oh, I'm being an ugly American, aren't I?

WERTHEIMER: Nah (ph). Let's - but let's talk about quarterbacks, Mike, because the Patriots have four games to play without Tom Brady. And that's not all.

PESCA: Right, so this is the residue of Deflategate, if you will. Jimmy Garoppolo, the New England Patriots' backup, will be playing four games, which is a quarter of the season. And Patriot fans - I know they know they have a great team and have had for years, but they've got to be nervous. That's how important the quarterback position is in the NFL. So that's one of those truisms that you don't dwell on.

But I really can't emphasize how much that this is a hugely, hugely important position. The correlation between certain statistics, certain quarterback performance - I look at average yards per pass - and wins is tremendous. So the guys who lead that category last year were all double-digit teams. In fact, of the first eight quarterbacks in average yards per pass attempt, seven of them made the playoffs. And the one who didn't was Drew Brees, whose defense was legendarily possibly - by some statistics - the worst in the NFL. So really more than ever before, as goes your quarterback so goes your NFL season.

WERTHEIMER: Well, what about those sensational guys who speed through the line and catch the fabulous quarterback's wonderful passes? I mean, doesn't it take two to Super Bowl here?

PESCA: Sure, of course it takes the guy the quarterback throws the ball to and hands the ball off to and the guys who block for him, and that's just offense. Last year, Denver won the Super Bowl largely on defense, though their quarterback was Peyton Manning. Should be noted he retired, and now Denver's quarterback might be a guy named Trevor Siemian, they think. But, you know, if you even look - I think receivers' performance is largely correlated to quarterback.

And I was looking at some running back statistics, and the running backs with the most yards in the NFL - it just - they don't have success. Frank Gore, he's pretty good in terms of playing for successful teams, although the first six years of his career his teams had losing records. But then there's Adrian Peterson next on the list - he's never won a playoff game. And then there's Stephen Jackson, who's never even played on a winning team. So there's really no correlation if - in fact, that might be a negative correlation between being a great running back and having a great team.

WERTHEIMER: Mike, another quarterback made news on Friday night - Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco.

PESCA: Right. So Kaepernick was once - he's had some great seasons - he was one pass away from winning a Super Bowl. But now he's the backup on the 49ers. And during a preseason game, he refused to stand for the national anthem. He did so in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other social issues. And he does so, he says, with his eyes open, knowing that he might lose endorsements. The league, the NFL, officially says standing for the anthem is encouraged, but not required, and many other players across the NFL have come out and supported Kaepernick in his right to do so. Some ex-coaches have said that they wouldn't want that on their team. But his actual coach, the only one who matters, is Chip Kelly, and he says, you know, we're just concentrating on playing football.

WERTHEIMER: Mike Pesca, host of Slate's "The Gist" podcast. Thank you.

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