If you are a football fan, you have heard the old phrase “defense wins championships.” The Baltimore Ravens really made that a point when they won the Super Bowl in 2000 behind what some call the best defense in league history and a borderline inept offense. Now, more than a decade later, the league has migrated to a more offensive style. Passing numbers have never been as high, and various league records have fallen in recent years, many right here in New England.
But even with these offensive trends, it is still a great defense that will bring home a championship under most circumstances. Just look at the final four teams remaining this season. They are all ranked in the top six for points allowed, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers being the top two. As for total yardage allowed, which is the criteria by which NFL defenses are ranked, only the Chicago Bears, who are ranked ninth, were outside the top five.
So knowing that defense is still what wins in the NFL, is it any surprise that the top seeds in each conference will be watching the championship games on Sunday? Both the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots had great scoring defenses, in fact, they are the two who are missing from the top six, but when you look deeper you will find that they are not nearly as strong as the others.
In yardage allowed the Falcons and Patriots ranked 16th and 25th respectively, which will not get the job done in the playoffs in most years. They were both teams who relied on turnovers and employed the “bend but don’t break” strategy. Defenses like that have won before, such as the New Orleans Saints last season, but most of the time it takes a truly strong defense, one that can stop the league’s best offenses in their tracks, to win a championship. Neither the Falcons nor the Patriots had that. Now they have to sit at home and watch four teams that do fight for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.