Defence still wins NFL championships

SCOTT GARBARINI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 4:25 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Despite the league's best efforts to destroy the concept, defence isn't dead in the NFL.

While Roger Goodell and the rules committee strive to create a more wide-open and high-scoring game designed to cater to the more casual fan, it still seems as if the teams that are better able to prevent the opposition from reaching the end zone with regularity are the ones with the best chance of success.

Seven of the top eight finishers in scoring defence during the 2010 regular season will be participating in this weekend's Divisional Playoffs. And that number would have been 8-for-8 had the New Orleans Saints not forgotten how to cover anyone in last Saturday's startling loss in Seattle.

Six of the remaining contenders for this year's Lombardi Trophy also placed 11th or better in rushing defence, with the Steelers, Bears, Jets and Ravens all ending in the top five.

Furthermore, of the eight head coaches that will be patrolling the sidelines this weekend, only one -- Green Bay's Mike McCarthy -- comes from an offensive background.

Kind of makes you wonder whether the Carolina Panthers' hiring of ex-Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera as their new head coach wasn't a more prudent move than San Francisco's tabbing of the more high-profile -- and expensive -- Jim Harbaugh.

At first glance, that trend towards defensive prowess may not bode well for the prospects of the current Super Bowl favourites, the New England Patriots, whose 14-2 record has been built predominantly on the strength of a prolific offence that surpassed the 30-point barrier in 11 of the team's 16 games. The powerful Pats concluded the regular season ranked an unimpressive 25th overall in total defence, and third-to-last versus the pass.

Those dismissing Bill Belichick's bunch simply on the basis of those lacklustre statistics do so at their own potential peril, though. The Patriots also finished atop the league with 25 interceptions and were unwaveringly stingy down the stretch, limiting four of their final foes to single-digit point totals.

So, while the makeup of this weekend's combatants makes it less likely we'll witness a thrilling shootout like the 51-45 classic the Cardinals and Packers gave us during the 2009 Wild Card Round, there's also less of a chance for a repeat of last year's conference semifinals, where three of the four advancing teams (Saints, Colts, Cowboys) all won in blowout fashion.


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