Patriots Could Be Saved by De-Emphasis on Defense Across NFL

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Patriots Could Be Saved by De-Emphasis on Defense Across NFLDefense wins championships. Well, it wins college championships at least.

When it comes to the Super Bowl, though, the old mantra may look completely obsolete by the time Feb. 5 rolls around.

While millions of fans complained Monday night about how boring it was to watch Alabama’s defense dominate from start to finish, those in charge of the NFL must have been enjoying their misery. The league’s ushered in an era where offense reigns supreme and where points are scored in bunches, and it’s shaping the DNA of a “championship team.”

For the Patriots, that’s without question a postive development, as the league’s 31st-ranked defense likely wouldn’t have a chance to even compete for a playoff spot as recently as six or seven years ago. Think back to Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots brought their seventh-ranked defense to Houston to face the Panthers and their eighth-ranked defense. In terms of points per game, the Patriots ranked first in the NFL, and it was that defense that held off the Panthers by the narrowest of margins, 32-29.

Two years later, the Steelers won with defense, but in ’06, it was the 21st-ranked Colts defense that was good enough to win. The ’07 Patriots were known for their offense, but their defense actually ranked better than the Giants. The Steelers won the following season, again with a top defense, but also with a more diverse offense under Ben Roethlisberger (he completed just 14 passes in his first Super Bowl, compared to 21 in his second go-around).

In ’09, the Saints once again proved you don’t need a great defense to win a championship, as that 25th-ranked unit made the most of its 39 takeaways to beat the Colts, who ranked 18th in defense.

Last year, the Packers had a formidable offense (fifth in NFL), but this year, that same unit ranks 32nd, and the Packers enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the league, rather than sixth in the NFC.

In fact, the three odds-on favorites to win the whole thing are the teams with the worst defenses. The Packers have 7-to-4 odds to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots are at 5-to-2 and the Saints are at 4-to-1. Those teams ranked 32nd, 31st and 24th, respectively, in total defense this season, and 19th, 15th and 13th in points allowed.

Not coincidentally, they were the top three offenses in football.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, with its No. 1 defense, is out of the playoffs. Ranking 2-4 in defense are the Texans, Ravens and Niners, three teams very much still alive but also three teams nobody expects to win. Vegas has the Texans as 20-to-1 underdogs to win the Super Bowl, with the Ravens getting 7-to-1 odds and the 49ers at 12-to-1.

The next-best defenses are the Jets and Jaguars, two teams that went a combined 13-19 this season. In fact, out of the top 10 defenses in the NFL this season, five of them didn’t even make the playoffs.

How can defense win you a championship if it can’t even win you nine games?

The results through one postseason weekend have been a mixed bag. The Saints outscored the Lions 45-28 and outgained them 626-412. No defense was present that night in New Orleans. 

Sunday night out in Denver, the league’s top defense allowed Tim Tebow to throw for 316 yards. His season high this season was 236 yards, and he was coming off a 60-yard performance in Week 17.

The Giants, though, certainly won with defense, and the Texans’ pick-six before halftime was the key play of their win. Can that continue though against the league’s top offenses?

Odds are, probably not, and for the Patriots, it’s the biggest reason to believe that despite Julian Edelman in the secondary, despite looking downright awful some weeks and despite the loss of Andre Carter, they have as good a chance as anyone at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next month in Indianapolis.

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