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by Bryan Leonard - 09/27/2005
Defense is a theme Iâ€™ll look at later in the season, but when it comes to
the NFL, itâ€™s always a good time to examine the importance of team defense.
Teams that canâ€™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 canâ€™t have defensive deficiencies and do this. Hereâ€™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.
Itâ€™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 theyâ€™ve been No. 2 in the NFL defensively for the past two
seasons (2003 and â€™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 isnâ€™t surprising as they were No. 3 overall
in 2004. Itâ€™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 â€˜Dâ€™.
No. 6 overall is the Steelers, which again isnâ€™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 Sundayâ€™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 donâ€™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
Englandâ€™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 donâ€™t usually make
noise in January.