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Saturday Sports: Qatar out of FIFA World Cup; American football season picks up

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Anything going on with sports?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The World Cup - no goals, but also no loss for Team USA against England. And the NFL season kicks into high gear. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us.

Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you, my friend. The World Cup continues in Qatar. Team USA has yet to win, but they also haven't lost - two games, two ties. A tie is impressive against England, right?

BRYANT: No, absolutely. It's a game they were supposed to lose. This is why they play the game, Scott Simon.

SIMON: Yup.

BRYANT: Who's going to win? I don't know. This is why they play. So the U.S. was - they were supposed to beat Wales, and they were supposed to lose to England. And instead, you know, it didn't work out that way. And so now, at the very least, the United States has their destiny in their own hands. If you beat Iran, you advance. If you don't, then you don't. And so it's been an interesting...

SIMON: I got to tell you. Howard?

BRYANT: Mmm hmm?

SIMON: It's hard not to root for those brave Iranian athletes. I don't care who they're playing.

BRYANT: Yeah, no question, and especially with one - that we saw the report - was arrested and removed from - actually, arrested for supporting the women's movement and the protests taking place over there. So it's very, very disturbing. Sports always intersects with - you know, with the reality of the games.

SIMON: The host country, Qatar, was the first team to be eliminated. Well, there goes all that talk about home-field advantage, huh?

BRYANT: Yeah. Well, they shouldn't have had the World Cup in the first place. They're the worst team to ever qualify in recent years, I believe. And the circumstances with them receiving the bid in the first place - always, always sketchy. And so it's not that much of a shock, if we're being completely honest here. But I'm - you know, the team - I just love talent, Scott, to be honest. The team that I really enjoy watching is France. I love their talent, love watching Mbappe play. They...

SIMON: (Yelling in French). Sorry. Go ahead. Yeah.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Exactly. And so it's just - for me, World Cup is one of the few sports where I just get to enjoy it. I don't cover soccer on a daily basis. And so it - you just get to sit and enjoy the tournament. And so that's sort of the space that I'm in right now.

SIMON: By the way, between you and me, our engineers are really on their toes to cover all of our expressions of enthusiasm today. Let me ask you about U.S. football. The real season, in a sense, kicks off after Thanksgiving. Doesn't seem to be a clear favorite to even get to the Super Bowl, does there?

BRYANT: I guess the powers that be in the NFL have finally gotten what they've wanted, complete and total parity.

SIMON: Right.

BRYANT: So in the AFC, it was supposed to be Buffalo and the Chiefs because they played that great playoff game last year. They've got the two best quarterbacks in the league with Pat Mahomes and Josh Allen. And, gee, everybody is pretty much within a game of each other - Buffalo, Miami, even the Jets, Baltimore, Cincinnati, who went to the Super Bowl last year, Kansas City, Tennessee. All of them are good teams. Nobody's great. And then, of course, in the NFC, you've got Philadelphia, San Francisco, and even Minnesota's 9-2. So here we go, final weeks.

SIMON: Boy, what a great season, Howard, really. I can't wait to see more games. What happened to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?

BRYANT: Age, I guess - and that's the same thing that's happening to Tom Brady, as well. At some point, you can't play forever. And, you know, you got to leave it to the youngins, as they say. This - it's going to be - I just don't see Green Bay being what they've been. Aaron Rodgers is up there. Tom Brady is up there. And maybe it's time to give somebody else a shot. But Green Bay is not a great team this year.

SIMON: And the LA Rams, the incumbents?

BRYANT: You mean the defending champions?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...The defending champions who were in last place at 3-7. It's just a crazy season this year. And I'm still going to hang with Buffalo because I think they've got the best quarterback, and it's a quarterback league.

SIMON: Yeah. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much for being with us. Take care.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HOLMES' "$160 MILLION CHINESE MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.