NFL Picks: Conference Championships Defensive Power Rankings

Jason Lake

Monday, January 12, 2015 3:54 PM UTC

Monday, Jan. 12, 2015 3:54 PM UTC

The Seahawks have the best defense in the NFL, and they were the only home favorites to beat the NFL odds in the Divisional Round. That’s bad news for the other three remaining teams in the playoffs.

Jason’s 2014-15 postseason record: 3-1 ATS, 2-1-1 Totals

Here’s something you don’t see every day: the reigning NFL champions winning a playoff game. The Seattle Seahawks avoided the dreaded Super Bowl hangover by beating the Carolina Panthers (+13 away) 31-17, becoming the first defending champions to win in the following postseason since the 2005-06 New England Patriots. As you may recall from our look at the defensive rankings of the eight Divisional Round teams, Seattle was right there on top.

The Seahawks were also the only Divisional home favorite to beat the NFL football odds this past weekend. Coincidence? We think not. And there isn’t a lot of defensive punch out there with the other three teams in the Conference Round, who went a combined 1-2 ATS in their Divisional games. Let’s revisit our defensive charts using the Simple Rating System at Pro Football Reference; as it was with our updated offensive rankings, there are a few key differences between what SRS has to say and the DVOA stats at Football Outsiders.


1. Seattle Seahawks (plus-7.1 DSRS)
There are two obvious reasons for the Super Bowl hangover: Dumb luck, and roster turnover. The 2014-15 Seahawks have avoided both for the most part. They brought back nearly their entire Legion of Boom secondary, and although there were some shaky moments in the early season with injuries, pretty much everyone is healthy now. Safety Kam Chancellor put the Panthers away with a 90-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter – and set off a minor earthquake in the process, just like RB Marshawn Lynch did against the New Orleans Saints four years ago.

Read our analysis of Conference Championships Offensive Power Rankings

2. New England Patriots (plus-3.5 DSRS)
Here’s the biggest of the discrepancies between SRS and DVOA, which had the Patriots ranked No. 11 overall; Pro Football Reference has them at No. 6 overall using this metric. In terms of raw scoring, the Pats allowed 19.6 points per game during the regular season, which ranks No. 8 in the league. As we mentioned in our dissection of New England’s weaknesses, run blocking is a concern, and Baltimore Ravens RB Justin Forsett ended up rushing for 129 yards on 24 carries, the most yards of any tailback in the Divisional Round. By the way, Forsett was 10-1 on the NFL odds list to win that prop.


3. Green Bay Packers (plus-0.4 DSRS)
Well, at least the Packers are above average on defense according to SRS, and Football Outsiders also had them slightly above average at minus-1.0 percent DVOA (minus is good for defense). We saw Green Bay have a hell of a time trying to stop the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field, failing to cover the spread as 5.5-point favorites in a 26-21 victory. Only a slight miscue on a would-be touchdown catch by Cowboys WR Dez Bryant kept the Packers from losing SU as well as ATS. Dallas RB DeMarco Murray also gashed Green Bay for 123 yards on 25 carries. Better get some of that earthquake insurance for the NFC title game.


4. Indianapolis Colts (minus-0.8 DSRS)
Oh dear. You wouldn’t think the Colts had any problems at all on defense after they shut down Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (–9.5 at home) 24-13, becoming the only Divisional underdogs to advance to the Conference Round. This is why coaching is so important; Chuck Pagano keeps coming up with the right stuff for the Colts, while it looks like Denver head coach John Fox might be out of a job after the Broncos converted just four of 16 third-down attempts on Sunday. We expect Bill Belichick will do a better job next week when the Patriots host Indianapolis – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like the Colts as 7-point road faves for our Conference Round NFL picks.

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