Every year since 1990, at least four teams qualified for the playoffs that didn't the year before. And 2015 was no different with Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota and Washington doing it. Let's rank the offenses and defenses of each playoff team.
Nearly Record Amount Of Offense
Did you know that this past season was the second-highest scoring in league history? NFL teams combined to score 11,680 points, which is 45.6 per game. The record is 11,985 in 2013. A total of 11 quarterbacks passed for 30 or more touchdowns in 2015, the most in a single season in NFL history. The previous high was nine in 2014. Only five of those quarterbacks, however, are in the playoffs: New England's Tom Brady (NFL-high 36 TDs), Carolina's Cam Newton, Arizona's Carson Palmer, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. The other six were Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, NY Giants' Eli Manning, New Orleans' Drew Brees, Oakland's Derek Carr, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and the NY Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets blew a playoff shot on Sunday in losing at Buffalo. All New York had to do this season was beat former coach Rex Ryan once, but the Bills swept the series.
When everyone is healthy, New England probably has the best offense in the NFL. But the Patriots have lost their two top running backs to season-ending injuries, and top receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are also banged up. The offensive line also has had injury problems and trouble protecting Brady of late. Still, the Patriots are +200 co-favorites on Bovada's NFL odds to repeat as AFC champions along with Denver. The Broncos stole the AFC's top seed with their win over San Diego on Sunday and the Patriots' upset loss in Miami. Brady sprained his ankle in that one but he gets this week off to heal up. No way he misses the divisional-round game.
I'd argue the most explosive offense is Pittsburgh's. The Steelers ranked fourth in the NFL this season in scoring at 26.4 points per game, but star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also missed four games. He still threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. I would claim for sure the Steelers had the best offense if top running back Le'Veon Bell wasn't out for the season. Backup DeAngelo Williams has been largely excellent in Bell's place, but Williams suffered an ankle injury in Sunday's win over Cleveland. Williams was to have an MRI on Monday. If he's out, that downgrades this offense even with Big Ben and Antonio Brown (136 catches, 1,834 yards 10 TDs). Brown finished the season tied with Julio Jones for the league lead in receptions and just behind Jones in yards.
So my top offense choice is Arizona, which ranked second in the NFL in scoring at 30.6 points per game. It would have been No. 1 if not for managing only six in the season finale loss to Seattle. I'm not sure how much Arizona cared in that one as it had already clinched a first-round bye. MVP candidate Carson Palmer didn't play the second half. Palmer is likely to finish second to Cam Newton in the MVP voting. Palmer might have the best trio of receivers in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald (109 catches, 1,212 yards, seven TDs), John Brown (65 catches, 1,003 yards, seven TDs) and Michael Floyd (52 catches, 849 yards, six scores).
NFL Pick: My ranking of the offenses is Arizona, Pittsburgh, New England, Carolina, Green Bay, Cincinnati (if Andy Dalton can play through his broken thumb), Denver, Seattle, Washington, Minnesota, Kansas City and Houston.
Defenses Win Championships?
The old adage is defenses win championships. That was certainly the case two years ago with Seattle's top-rated defense. Last year's Patriots weren't a dominant defensive team, but they won that Super Bowl over the Seahawks thanks to a defensive play at the goal line in the final seconds.
The Broncos led the NFL in total defense and passing defense and were third against the rush and fourth in scoring (18.5 ppg). They will not have to leave the Mile High City until the Super Bowl should they get there. It is an advantage that Denver's players are used to the thin air. Plus the Broncos get this week to heal up. According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos finished in the all-time top 10 for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. The only four teams better were the 1991 Eagles, 2002 Bucs, 2012 Bears and 2004 Bills. Only Tampa won the Super Bowl. Yeah, I'm not sure I agree with those numbers, but there you have it.
Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense again, allowing 277 points (17.3 per game). It's the fourth straight year that unit has done so. No team had done that since Cleveland in the 1950s. The Seahawks were in third place going into their finale against Arizona, but Cincinnati gave up 16 points in its finale and finished with 279 points allowed on the season, and Kansas City surrendered 17 points and ended up with 287 points allowed. Seattle did have six games this season in which opponents scored 27 or more points, though. That happened only three times over the previous three seasons combined.
No defense has been better over the past 10 games than Kansas City's, which has won all 10 of those. During that winning streak, the Chiefs allowed at least 20 points just twice and not more than 22. And that was largely without linebacker Justin Houston, who led the NFL in sacks last year. He hasn't played since Week 12 due to injury but the team thinks he might be able to go this week.
Kansas City's game at Houston on Saturday has the lowest total four our wild-card weekend NFL picks at 40. Houston also has been carried by its defense. It allowed just 22 combined points in closing the regular season on a three-game winning streak. J.J. Watt is likely to win a third NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
NFL Pick: My ranking of the defenses is Denver, Seattle, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Houston, Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona, New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Washington.