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NFL Defenses

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/27/2005

Defense is a theme I’ll look at later in the season, but when it comes to

the NFL, it’s always a good time to examine the importance of team defense.

Teams that can’t stop the opponent from moving the football or scoring are

at a huge disadvantage. Even teams with offensive deficiencies can win the

Super Bowl if their defenses are strong enough. The Patriots in 2001 and

2003 had very little running games, just like Tampa Bay during the 2002

season. And, of course, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens had virtually no running

AND passing games, yet rolled to a Super Bowl title with a monster defense.

You really can’t have defensive deficiencies and do this. Here’s a list of

the Top 10 defenses in the 2004 NFL season: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Washington,

Denver, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Jets, Miami, New England and Philadelphia.

What stands out? Pittsburgh went 15-1, and 5 of those 10 teams made the

playoffs, with the Patriots and Eagles squaring off in the Super Bowl. By

contrast, only 4 of the bottom 14 teams defensively even made the playoffs,

and had a postseason record of 2-4.

It’s only been two weeks, but so far this season, Tampa Bay has been

dominant defensively and is No. 1 overall in the NFL. This will be an

interesting team to watch, as Jon Gruden finally has a running game to work

with behind rookie RB Cadillac Williams. Buffalo is No. 2 overall, which is

not surprising as they’ve been No. 2 in the NFL defensively for the past two

seasons (2003 and ’04). The Eagles are No. 3 and look to be the team in the

NFC to beat again despite that 1-1 record.

The Redskins are No. 5, which isn’t surprising as they were No. 3 overall

in 2004. It’s the Washington offense that still has major question marks.

They were lucky to rally and beat Dallas on Monday night, but still that 2-0

record has been keyed by the deep and talented ‘D’.

No. 6 overall is the Steelers, which again isn’t a surprise. Their

blistering 2-0 SU/ATS start has them looking a lot like last season.

Pittsburgh might be the team to beat in the NFL. They certainly appear to be

the favorite to win the AFC along with the Colts and Patriots. My power

rankings before the season started still have the AFC as the dominant

conference, so the team to come out of the AFC is likely to be the favorite

in the Super Bowl again for the third straight season. This Sunday’s

Pittsburgh showdown with New England will be an early gauge, and could be

huge in determining home field for the playoffs.

Four straight NFC teams take over the list in the Lions, Bears, Cardinals

and Panthers. All have question marks on offense and play in the weaker NFC,

with Carolina being the most likely to emerge. After all, this team plays a

rough, physical defense, as was evidenced by their beating up the Patriots

last week. And don’t forget Carolina was NFC Champions just two years ago.

The Dolphins and Seahawks round out the Top 10, though these teams are

unlikely to make a surprise run at the Super Bowl.

Worth noting is that the Patriots and Jaguars are 10th and 11th. New

England’s defense has played very well despite a tough schedule, and the

Jaguars showed how tough they can be, holding the Colts mighty offense to 10

late points at home last week. Also of concern are the early ratings at the

bottom of the list defensively in the Colts, Chiefs and Falcons, Raiders and

Vikings. All those teams except the Falcons were poor defensively last

season and addressed those deficiencies during the off-season. While winning

is more important than stats, history tells us that those teams had better

improve defensively, as teams with weak-rated defenses don’t usually make

noise in January.

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