Defense Still Wins Championships
This Sunday will feature the Final Four of the NFL. Two teams, Packers and Patriots represent traditional powers with multiple Super Bowl Championships and old school fan bases. Lambeau Nation hopes for another title hinges on the left calf muscle of Aaron Rodgers while Patriots are hoping 37 year old Tom Brady can lead them to their fourth title during his tenure. But the real story is the future of the NFL being represented in the Conference Championships. And it’s not Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson.
Defense has been the story in the playoffs. 3 out of the 4 head coaches in Sunday’s match ups come from a defensive background. The Seahawks again led the league in total defense and the Colts put on an impressive display against Jedi Master Peyton Manning. And the Packers, who are not really known for defense, started to look like the 2010 defense that clinched an NFL championship. Even the Patriots versatile scheme shows young players like Jamie Collins, Devin McCourty and Chandler Jones in ways that today’s offenses least expect it. I recall last weekend watching Collins cover the slot receiver more than I have ever seen an outside linebacker.
What has even made this Sunday better is the fact these young defenses will have an opportunity to prove that defense is not only catching up to the pass heavy offense, but it actually is the still the reason teams win the big one.
Check out this study conducted by SportsData
Average defensive rankings of Super Bowl champs since 2003
Rushing defense: 12.6
Passing defense: 13.6
Total defense: 11.8
Red zone defense: 13.0
Fumble recoveries: 12.3
Points allowed: 10.6
Of course, everyone likes scoring. Scoring is what makes football fun to watch since the czar (Goodell) decided to reduce the bone jarring hits that once defined a generation of players. But a solid defense that forces the offense out of their comfort zone can truly disrupt any well thought out scheme.
I’m sure by now you see where I am going with this so I am turning my attention to the real action on Sunday with my predictions down below.
Seahawks (-7) vs Packers
Why Watch: Ah yes, the rematch that we could care less about. Remember when Golden Tate “scored” at the hands of a replacement ref? Yeah we all do. But we also have forgotten what happened week 1 this season when the Pack went into Seattle and left bruised broken and dejected.
A lot has changed since then. Aaron went public and told Packer nation to “Reelllaaaxxx.” Since Rodgers channeled his inner Yogi over the airwaves, they have gotten back to the high scoring team they are known for. Even 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy has shown stability in the run game. They were impressive against a hard-nosed Detroit team in Week 17 and showed grit against Dallas in Lambeau (Personally, I think Dez got screwed but let’s not go there.) They are a more complete team than they have been in the past. And I hate to say it, but having the best QB in the NFL usually gives you a fighting chance even if he is injured.
The NFL could be witness to the most dominant defense since the Steel Curtain. Seattle once again led the league in defense and the Legion of Boom will cause headaches for an 80% healthy Aaron Rodgers. After watching Kam Chancellor pick off Cam Newton for a game clinching 90 yard interception return for a TD, it won’t take much for the 12th man to lose their minds. Marshawn may not be able to repeat BeastQuake but count on him punishing the middle of the Packers defense. And if he does let loose for BeastQuake 3, it may just be his best one yet.
I am a believer in Aaron Rodgers and think he is the best QB in the NFL. Having Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and now rookie Davante Adams step up in the playoffs is more key than ever. An 80% Aaron Rodgers won’t be able to take off and run like he usually does. The magician Russell Wilson won’t turnover the ball and Seahawks will cruise to another Super Bowl appearance
Seahawks 31 Packers 14
Patriots (-7) vs Colts
Why Watch: Brady’s friend/archrival Peyton Manning debating on riding into the sunset after an impeccable hall of fame career, it is now time for the heir to take on the king. America loves and hates Tom Brady all at the same time. We envy his looks, his contract, his supermodel wife and the fact he has everything a man could want including him. We also the love the man that exemplifies competition at 37 years old, the fact that a t-shirt of him riding what appears to be a colt is selling like hot cakes. We also love the fact that he is the worst loser in the history of the game.
The Patriots are who they thought they were. Bold, creative, and too smart for their own good. Yes, they fooled the Ravens last week with an unorthodox formation of having a receiver be ineligible.
Brady, being the ultra-competitor he is, replied to John Harbaugh’s complaint with a simple “study the rule book, bro.” Ok so maybe Brady didn’t drop a “bro” but you got to like the shit eating grin he gave the media when asked that question.
What you have read so far makes it seem that I am all about the Patriots and Brady. Yes I do think when you have won the division title for 10 years straight and been to 9 conference championship appearances in 13 years, you deserve a little flattery from me. Brady continues to be at the top of his game but Brady is one man and the rest of the team, well…that’s another story.
There’s “King of the Bros” Gronk, 4th string QB Julian Edelman, and then everybody else. Gronk, when healthy, is the best TE in the league and Edleman has proven that he is faster, more versatile WR that Welker. But beyond that, I am not sure who can step up. It is the playoffs and my best guess would be Brandon LaFell but he hasn’t been who I thought he could be in this offense. The defense does look nice and though they have occasional brain farts, I do admire the way Belicheck and Co. are putting their players in position to perform. It has paid off so far.
Now let’s talk about my upset pick of the week. It is not really an upset pick at this point since all 4 teams deserve to be here but who thought Andrew Luck and the Colts would walk into Mile High and absolutely crush the Broncos? Luck has shown immense amount of growth that even further confirms he is the next big QB of the NFL. His chemistry with T.Y. Hilton, college teammate Coby Fleener and franchise staple Reggie Wayne has made Luck an absolute nightmare for opposing teams. Even Obi-Wan Belicheck gave credit to Luck calling him “a sixth receiver.”
Offense is key but what will lead the Colts to a victory is the defense, primarily the secondary. Rumored to have taken a page out of the infamous Seahawks playbook, the Colts’ secondary pressed the hell out of Demaryius Thomas, Welker, and Julius Thomas. Manning wasn’t able to get a rhythm going and ended up throwing ducks on deep balls, short-arming crossing routes, and forced to use the little amount of athleticism he possessed to escape the pocker. It gave the pass rush more than enough opportunities to embarass the hell out of the Broncos star studded offensive line. I expect it to happen again in Foxboro.
Foxboro was born to host championships but recently it has not lived up to its destiny. The mojo of the Colts along with the aerial assault of an improved Andrew Luck will be too much for the Patriots to handle.
Yes, I mentioned the defense is young and possesses a lot of athleticism but Belicheck’s biggest downfall is that he is too smart for his own good. At times, Belicheck will try to confuse teams so much he ends up confusing his players which leads to mistakes.
All Luck needs is a mistake to lead his team to the Super Bowl.