Defense Continues to Play Important Role in NFL Playoffs


January 26

Quarterbacks get most of the pub, and rightfully so. It’s the most impactful position in team sports and has never been more critical than in the modern era. But don’t be fooled. Defense still wins championships.

The San Francisco 49ers rank first in the NFL in total defense (300.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.3 points per game). The top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles are second in total defense (301.5 YPG) and seventh in scoring (20.2 PPG).

The most crucial metric translating to wins-losses is turnovers, and both defenses are elite in that department. The 49ers led the league with 20 interceptions, part of their 30 takeaways, ranked second in the NFL. 

The Eagles recorded 17 INTs, fourth in the NFL, and their 27 takeaways were also fourth in the league. Philly’s +8 turnover margin was good for third, while San Fran’s league-leading number was +13 takeaways.

The Niners haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and the last time anyone ran for 100 yards against Demeco Ryan’s defense was Halloween in 2021, when quarterback Justin Fields rushed for 103 yards. In 39 games over the past two seasons, they’ve allowed two 100-yard rushers.

What the Eagles do best is get after the quarterback, which they did to the tune of a franchise-record 70 sacks, which led the NFL and was the third-most in league history.

These are the best defenses in the NFC.

Their AFC counterparts, the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs, aren’t as good but better than you think. The Bengals finished fifth in scoring defense (20.1 PPG), while the Chiefs were 11th in total defense (328.2 YPG).

While the Chiefs aren’t at Philly’s level, their 55 sacks ranked second in the NFL this season.

As impressive as the regular season numbers are, what the defenses are doing in the playoffs has these four teams playing on Championship Sunday. The four winning teams in the Divisional Round allowed zero 100-yard rushers, no 300-yard passers, and one 100-yard receiver.

The Bengals held the Buffalo Bills to ten points in the Divisional Round, the fewest points scored by the Bills since December 6, 2021.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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