It doesn’t seem right, but it’s already the last week of the NFL season. Playoff positioning is pretty much set as we look forward to next week’s wild card matchups.
The top teams in the league right now (Green Bay, New Orleans, and New England) are each in the top five in total offense, but what they do lack is stout defensive play. All three of these teams rank in the bottom seven in total defense, with Green Bay and New England being the bottom two.
We all know offenses put people in the seats, but defenses win championships. These three teams can’t win the Super Bowl by winning at least three games in high scoring shootouts. In at least one of those games, the defense will need to make some stops to control the game.
That’s why I think only Green Bay is really a clear contender. New Orleans has a shot, but when it plays away from the Superdome the offense slows down a bit, and it’s too risky to lean on its defense this year to pull out a win. I’m not counting them out, but the defense will be the key away from the Superdome to get them to the Super Bowl. It definitely can happen, as they just did this a few years ago in their pursuit to Miami.
New England, in my mind, really has no shot at the Super Bowl. Out of the five other AFC teams in the playoffs at this moment, four of them rank in the top six in total defense in the entire NFL. Those teams can tee off on Tom Brady and make it hard for him to pass.
Don’t get me wrong—the Patriots will score some points, but the Ravens, Steelers, Texans and Bengals have the personnel to slow them down a bit with an offense capable of scoring on the league’s worst statistical defense.
If the defense for New England were better, I’d say the Patriots definitely have a shot, but they can’t afford to let these playoff teams score or they put a lot of pressure on their offense against top-five ranked defenses.
This is a list of the top defenses that can help their team make a run at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
The Steelers are once again in position for a repeat Super Bowl appearance. They currently are tied with Baltimore for the AFC North division crown, but the Ravens have the Steelers beat on the tiebreaker due to sweeping them during the regular season.
As of now, the Steelers are the No. 5 seed and would play in Denver or Oakland in next week’s wild card round. Both the Raiders and Broncos rely on their defense and running games to lead them to victories. This will be a hard task against a strong Pittsburgh team.
The Steelers rank No. 1 in total defense in the league. They only allow a total of 14.5 points per game, which ranks second in the entire NFL.
Pittsburgh can control the ground game against both teams and use its run game effectively to win this Round 1 matchup against either team.
Depending on the Texans/Bengals game, the Steelers would travel to New England or Baltimore in the divisional round.
The Steelers already beat New England due to solid defensive play and solid offensive execution, and I don’t see why they couldn’t win again. They can show blitz schemes and play tight coverage that will surely give Tom Brady a long day. Their offense on the other hand will be too much for the league’s worst defense to stop. I’d advance Pittsburgh in this matchup.
If Pittsburgh played at Baltimore, I’d say it would be a tough game, but if their defense can get some stops on the Ravens offense and force turnovers, I’d say Pittsburgh can win and advance. Don’t give me the Ravens swept them this season either. It’s extremely tough to knock someone off three times in a season, let alone a team that has Super Bowl experience versus a team with virtually no playoff success since 2000.
I think Pittsburgh, due to the No. 1 ranked defense, can march all the way to the Super Bowl if they continue to play this tough.
The Texans have been solid defensively this year, due to the arrival of Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Texans went from last to second in total defense, and they have shown a different number of blitz schemes that have given opponents fits.
The Texans lost their starting quarterback as well as their backup but have played decently with third stringer T.J. Yates. The offensive running attack ranks second in the league, so that will be tough to stop.
If the Texans are going to make a run at the Super Bowl, though, they will need to control the offensive side of the ball on their solid running game and keep the defense playing great.
The Texans defense can be the reason they make it to the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl.
They’re extremely good against the pass, and they will force turnovers. This can be key in a field-position game. If the defense can get off on three-in-outs and keep their running game gaining yards, then this Texans team will be a tough out.
As of now, next week’s game will be at home against Cincinnati. This will be the first playoff game in Texans franchise history, and it will be raucous in Reliant Stadium. The Texans just beat the Bengals in Cincinnati a few weeks ago to clinch the AFC South title.
I think with a great defense and good running game averaging over 150 yards per game, the Texans should advance to the divisional round. If they do, they will face a good Baltimore Ravens team.
This game will be a smash-mouth football game, and the winner will go to the best defense—that can very well be Houston.
If they happen to advance past Baltimore, they will get—in my mind—a home AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This game will be like the previous weeks in that the best defense will advance to Indianapolis.
The Texans already beat Pittsburgh earlier in the year and will need to stop Pittsburgh’s offense.
This team will go as far as the defense leads them. They are very compatible to the Ravens Super Bowl winning team in 2000.
The Ravens are probably the favorite to come out of the AFC this year. They have played much better on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is looking like age won't to be a factor.
The Ravens rank No. 3 in team defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis. This Ravens team has the ground game working effectively in ranking 14th in the league which gives the defense time to rest, and quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t turning the ball over as often.
With the Ravens finally being able to put points on the board, the defense can pin its ears back and play extremely physical against opponents. This is something they like to do.
The Ravens offense is averaging 23.6 points per game, so it's not having much trouble scoring.
If the Ravens can hold their opponents to around their average 16.7 points per game, then there’s no reason this team can’t reach the Super Bowl.
As of now, their first opponent will be the Houston Texans. This game will come down to defense as will their AFC Championship Game matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the defense can keep both teams off the scoreboard and force them into bad situations like they have all season, then the Ravens will be Super Bowl bound.
San Francisco is back in familiar territory with a potential first round by in the NFC playoffs. The first-round bye will be key to the 49ers' playoff hopes.
If the 49ers can win on Sunday, they will clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC bracket and most likely play New Orleans at home in the divisional round. This will be crucial.
If the 49ers do end up losing and getting the No. 3 seed, then they will face New Orleans in the Superdome in the divisional round.
The reasoning on where the game is being played at is significant, due to the Saints' ability to play at home. This team is built for the turf at the Superdome and is virtually unstoppable at home. It will be a tough task for the 49ers defense. The Saints are able to put up points in the 30s and 40s at home and currently rank No. 1 in total offense.
On the road though (outdoor games), the Saints are only averaging just over 20 points per game. The offense is slower and players are just a tick off due to the offense excelling on finesse and keeping their footing.
The 49ers defense ranks fourth in the NFL and has only allowed one rushing touchdown all season and that came this past week. On the road, the Saints have shown they need to run the ball great to be effective. That sets up Brees’ passing attack.
If the 49ers can slow the rushing attack and blitz Brees, they can beat New Orleans. They’ve only allowed a league’s best 13.5 points per game this season. Something will have to give.
The same will go for the next week against—most likely—Green Bay.
Green Bay doesn’t have much of a ground game and has a high paced passing offense. As we all know, Green Bay in late January is cold and the conditions will be more beneficial for the defense.
Green Bay ranks No. 31 in total defense, so San Francisco will lean on the seventh-ranked ground game and solid defense to slow the Packers air attack.
If the conditions are favorable to the defense, then I don’t see why the 49ers won’t have a chance in this game. Usually a game in Lambeau in late January would favor the Packers, but this team is actually built to play better indoors.
The 49ers, though, will only go as far as the defense can lead them. That sounds like the other three teams, but it’s true. They’ve made it this far on the defensive side, and they hope to continue playing at that high level