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Cowboys-Packers Game Promises To Be A Second 'Ice Bowl'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now it really is time for Sports.

In the NFL playoffs today, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on the Seattle Seahawks. Didn't they win all of it last year? And the New England Patriots will face the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and the Ravens aren't as glamorous as Tom Brady and the Patriots, but they often turn gold in the playoffs. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

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TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Before we get into the games, let's start - stay with the Ravens a minute because this week Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, released his report on the Ray Rice scandal. Of course, this is the former Baltimore player who punched the woman who's now his wife in an elevator in Atlantic City. Mr. Mueller concluded there was no evidence that anyone in the NFL had seen the security video before the public saw it. Does that support Commissioner Goodell?

GOLDMAN: It does. Goodell said all along no one at the NFL saw the video of Rice throwing the punch before "TMZ" released the tape on September 8. Now, many doubted that and said, how can an empire like the NFL with top-notch security not get a hold of the tape? But Mueller says his investigation, which included more than 200 interviews, plowing through millions of documents and emails, yielded no evidence that Goodell or anyone at the NFL saw it.

SIMON: On the other hand - isn't there always another hand, I mean, in our business? Are there lingering questions that the report doesn't resolve?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, there are lingering questions. And the report said the NFL was too passive in its investigation. Also said the Ravens knew what was on the video as early as February and didn't share what they knew with the NFL because, according to the team, the NFL didn't ask. All that gives the impression there wasn't a lot of urgency about this thing from investigation to punishment, and you hope with the reforms promised and revised and tougher personal conduct policy, it won't all happen again when the next case like this comes up.

SIMON: Tom, I can't hold myself back anymore - I thought the kiss cam was going to take a shot of Jerry Jones and Chris Christie. The governor of New Jersey - bless him - a proud lifelong Cowboys fan, he accepted the owner's hospitality to watch the game against the Detroit Lions from his skybox. Now, does this seem to you like the actions of a man who might soon want to win the electoral votes of Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter). No. You know, the Cowboys are hated in Philly and New York and New Jersey because of division rivalries with the Cowboys, and pretty newly hated - I don't know if it's newly hated - in Detroit. Really cloying to watch the Christie-Jones hug-a-thon after the refs botched key calls and really helped Dallas win that game last weekend.

SIMON: Yeah. On the other hand - there we go again - are there real questions raised by the snuggling in the skybox?

GOLDMAN: There are. You know, there are bigger issues going on here. Does the hug represent an unethical confluence of big money, big politics and big sports? How's that?

You know, it's been widely reported about a potential business relationship between Jones and Christie. Jones is part owner of a company that won a big bid for a contract with the Port Authority, overseen by New York and Christie's state of New Jersey. And Jones said he didn't know Christie...

SIMON: There's a concessions contract, right? You know, hot dogs and stuff?

GOLDMAN: Yes. Exactly. Yeah, and Jones says he didn't know Christie during the bidding process from 2011 to 2013, although Christie has said the two became friends over the past five years. This story has made the hug seem a tad suspicious. Maybe they'll tone it down tomorrow in Green Bay, where Christie will be for the big showdown with Cowboys.

SIMON: Just a high-five maybe or something. I thought that's what the governor was trying to get away with. Listen, Dallas plays Green Bay in that ice chest known as Lambeau. We've got about 30 seconds left. They won't get any hometown calls from the refs there, will they?

GOLDMAN: We hope not. You know, two classic rivals with impressive resumes this season. Packers were undefeated at home. The Cowboys undefeated on the road. That will change. And will Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' injured calf hold up? That's a key question. Should be a great game at classic, chilly Lambeau Field.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

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