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by Al McMordie - 01/03/2011
It wasn't much of an NFL season for defense, was it? Here are the Top 10 defenses in the NFL in terms of yards allowed: Chargers, Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Saints, Giants, Vikings, Ravens, Packers and Bears. Not the elite of the NFL we normally expect as the postseason starts. Where are the 14-2 Patriots? 27th. The Falcons? 17th. Perhaps the Super Bowl participants will surprise us and come from that list, once again showcasing the value of defense.
On the other hand, the Giants, Chargers, Vikings and Dolphins were duds, not even making the playoffs. The teams that earned the all-important bye weeks are the Patriots (27th in total defense), Steelers (second), Falcons (17th) and Bears (10th).
A year ago the teams earning the bye week and their defensive rankings were the Colts (16th in total defense), Chargers (15th), Saints (24th) and Vikings (9th). Not very impressive defensive rankings. On the other hand, the Colts and Saints ended up in the Super Bowl, while the Vikings probably should have been there, coughing up the NFC title game in a flurry of turnovers and stupid plays.
Why is this important? Two years ago the Steelers were No. 1 in total defense and ended up winning the Super Bowl. The team they beat, Arizona, was 19th. The 2008 Eagles were third in total defense and came close to making the Super Bowl, suffering a last minute loss in the NFC Championship game.
Go back a year earlier and the 2007 Patriots (fourth) and NY Giants (7th) had statistically very strong defenses and met in the Super Bowl. And that's what makes the 2011 playoffs so interesting is that it has not been a year of dominant defenses. All in all, it was a year of flashy, high-scoring passing offenses.
With weather looking unusually frigid across much of the US as we start the New Year, how will that influence the passing offenses for the first round of the playoffs? The Patriots are a pass-first team and the Bears have a weak offensive line and below average ground attack (though Matt Forte has been coming on strong). Their defenses had better play better in January if they want to advance.
This weekend's AFC match-ups are as wide open as I can ever remember, with the Jets traveling to take on the Colts indoors at the RCA Dome, and the Ravens headed off to Kansas City to take on Todd Haley's upstart Chiefs.
The Jets (11-5 SU/10-6 ATS) have been up-and-down wildly in the second half of the season, winning at Pittsburgh (22-17) with their dominant defense, but also getting blown out at New England (45-3) and losing 38-34 at Chicago. The run defense gave up 120 yards to a bad Chicago O-line. Even in that win at Pittsburgh they gave up 378 yards (147 rushing). QB Mark Sanchez (17 TDs, 13 INTs) may have decent overall numbers and several heroic comebacks, but the last 10 games he has 9 TDs, 13 picks.
The Jets have a strong offensive line and balance behind RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene leading a ground attack that is No. 6 in the league (147 yds rushing pg), plus they have rushed for more than 170 yards three times. But the Jets are the fourth-most penalized team in the NFL and WRs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes have had too many drops. NY is on an 11-3 run over the total and 6-2 SU/ATS on the road.
The Colts (10-6 SU/8-7-1 ATS) have battled injuries all season, but will live and die on the golden right arm of QB Peyton Manning (33 TDs, 17 INTs). The offense can’t run the football, but is No. 4 in the NFL in yards and first in passing with 290 yards and 27.3 points per game. The Colts are on a 6-2-1 run over the total. Manning has thrown 14 interceptions in the Colts' past 9 games and Indy is 6-2 SU, 4-4 ATS at home. These teams met in the AFC Championship game a year ago on this field and the Colts rolled, 30-17.
Kansas City (10-6 SU/9-7 ATS) is in the postseason for the first time since 2006, led by QB Matt Cassel (27 TDs, 5 INTs). Coach Todd Haley added new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and they’ve been a big plus (though Weis is off to the University of Florida after this season). The offense is No. 1 in rushing with 167 yards per game. The Chiefs have scored 30 or more points in 6 of the last 13 games, but they will be facing a terrific Baltimore defense in the Kansas City cold. A key here will be run defense and the Chiefs have been pretty good, ranking 11th in the NFL allowing 103.7 yards rushing pg. KC is 7-1 SU, 5-3 ATS at home, while Baltimore, under Coach John Harbaugh, is 31-20-2 ATS.
So what will the 2011 playoffs bring, the best offenses or defenses advancing? We will know soon enough, but don't be surprised if the better defenses rise up and curtail some strong offense, along with some bad weather conditions that might also come into play. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie. And don't miss my NFL Wild Card Winners or my BCS Game of the Year in the Auburn/Oregon game. All 5 Plays are available right now.