Ranking the Remaining Defenses in the NFL Playoffs

Jason Lake

Monday, January 5, 2015 7:54 PM GMT

If defense wins championships, then the Seattle Seahawks are in pretty good position to defend their title. But you might want to think twice about adding the Dallas Cowboys to your football picks.

Jason’s 2014-15 postseason record: 1-1 ATS, 0-1-1 Totals
The Lions beat the spread~! The Lions beat the spread~! We didn’t have the Detroit Lions as one of our official NFL picks during Wild Card weekend, but we did happen to mention (in a roundabout way) that they were the preferred sharp pick in Sunday’s matchup against the Dallas Cowboys (–6 at home). Sure enough, Detroit’s outstanding defense did just enough to earn the cover in a 24-20 come-from-ahead loss. We’re still trying to figure out why those NFL Odds ended up moving in the other direction, though. Any ideas are more than welcome in the comments section below.

In the meantime, don’t expect much defense from either side when the Cowboys visit the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. Here are the eight remaining playoff teams listed in order of defensive efficiency during the regular season, as calculated by the stats wizards at Football Outsiders. If you haven’t been using their DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) numbers to help you with your NFL picks, we can only assume you’ve got something even better hidden away in your secret laboratory.


1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 overall, No. 3 pass, No. 2 rush)
Injuries slowed down the Seahawks during the early months, but the Legion of Boom is back in full effect, and the defending Super Bowl champions are 6-0 SU and 5-0-1 ATS in their last six games.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 4 overall, No. 5 pass, No. 3 rush)
The Broncos needed to improve in this department after getting spanked by Seattle last February, and improve they did. But will LB Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward be healthy enough to guide Denver back to the Super Bowl?

3. Baltimore Ravens (No. 8 overall, No. 15 pass, No. 5 rush)
Injuries have also kept the Ravens from being all that they can be. The Ravens still managed to put the boots to the defensively-challenged Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times and picking him off twice.

4. New England Patriots (No. 11 overall, No. 12 pass, No. 14 rush)
The Patriots haven’t been a good defensive team for years, and we thought they might be toast when LB Jerod Mayo went down in October. Instead, New England has loaded up on nickel packages, getting the most out of new CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

5. Indianapolis Colts (No. 13 overall, No. 10 pass, No. 19 rush)
These are not the rankings of a great defensive team, but at least the Colts are doing a reasonable job at the corners, where Greg Toler and Vontae Davis (a Pro Bowl selection this year) have saved Indy’s bacon with a combined six picks and 29 passes defended.

6. Carolina Panthers (No. 15 overall, No. 9 pass, No. 22 rush)
Last year, Carolina was ranked No. 3 overall in defensive efficiency and won 12 games. Things haven’t gone quite so smoothly this year with former Pro Bowl DE Greg Hardy sitting on the commissioner’s exempt list. But at least the Cats will have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly at linebacker as they face the Seattle Seahawks.

7. Green Bay Packers (No. 16 overall, No. 11 pass, No. 24 rush)
Uh-oh. Clay Matthews still has great hair, but he and the rest of the linebackers haven’t been very good at stopping the run. Football Outsiders has Green Bay ranked No. 21 in Second Level Yards, i.e. between five and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.

8. Dallas Cowboys (No. 22 overall, No. 22 pass, No. 23 rush)
Losing all those defenders in the offseason (including DE DeMarcus Ware to the Broncos) caused many pundits to dismiss the Cowboys’ chances in 2014. We weren’t among the haters, but then again, we thought Chicago and Tampa Bay were worth a look. It’s all offense, all the time in Big D.