Playoff Judgements II: Say goodnight to the last of NFL's top-ranked defenses

Photo courtesy of USA Today

The weekend in review: The disappearance of the league's top-ranked defenses and the re-emergence of the running back.

Defense wins championships, right? Not this year it doesn’t.

That’s because there’s not a Top-10 defense left among this year’s conference championship games.

You heard me. Nada.

Prior to Sunday, the ninth-place L.A. Chargers were the last team left … and you see how that played out. There were four Top-10 defenses entering the playoffs, but Chicago and Baltimore exited a week ago, and Dallas and the Chargers followed this past weekend.

Which means … yep, which means the Saints’ 14th-ranked defense is the highest-ranked unit left, with the 19th-ranked Rams next.

But wait a minute. Coaches will tell you yardage isn’t a fair barometer, and they’re right. They’re more interested in ranking defenses based on points allowed … except the results there aren’t much more encouraging.

Among the Top-10 defenses that allowed the fewest points this season, six made it to the playoffs … yet only one remains. Any guesses which one?

If you said, “New England,” go to the head of the class. The Patriots were seventh, allowing an average of 20.3 points per.

Maybe a better gauge for your Super Bowl favorites is the takeaway/giveaway differential. The four teams still standing are among the top seven in that statistic. The Rams were fourth at plus-11, with the Patriots next at plus-10, followed by Kansas City (plus-nine) and the Saints (plus-eight).

NOT A PASSING FANCY, EITHER

It may be a quarterback’s league, but it’s not a quarterback’s postseason, either … and the envelope, please.

There have been five 300-yard passers in this season’s playoffs, but only two of them are left – Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Which means they’re 2-3 this month.

So what? Well, so there have been six 100-yard rushers, and they’re a little better.

Like 6-0 better.

What’s more there are more touchdowns scored running the ball (20) than there are passing (19). So don’t tell me that running the ball doesn’t matter. Because it does.

Oh, and by the way: The quarterbacks who threw for the most yards the past two weeks? Try Tom Brady (343) and Philip Rivers (331), who are a combined 78 years old. Old guys still rule.

FIRST-AND-25

  1. There’s a reason they call it home-field advantage. Home teams were 4-0 this weekend. They were 1-3 during Wild Card Weekend.

  2. It’s good to be a Number One seed in the NFL playoffs. Six of the last seven top seeds in the AFC, including the past five, reached the Super Bowl, while four of the past five got there from the NFC. The lone exception? Dallas in 2016.

  3. How come nobody’s looking for the next Doug Pederson? They should.

  4. New England has no one to blame but itself for not hosting next weekend’s AFC championship game. It should be in Foxboro … and it would have been if the Patriots hadn’t gone brain dead on that last-gasp lateral in Miami.

  5. I still say I don’t know how the Eagles can let Nick Foles go. All I know is every time I look up and see them in a big game it’s Foles at quarterback … not Carson Wentz.

  6. Alshon Jeffrey didn’t lose that game for Philadelphia. The second, third and fourth quarters did. The Eagles didn’t score a single point. Or to put it another way … interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception. The last three quarters the Eagles had the ball for 12:22. New Orleans held it 32:38.

  7. Yes, the Pats beat Kansas City earlier this year. Yes, they have the quarterback with Super Bowl rings. And, no, the Chiefs won’t frazzle Brady as they did Andrew Luck. But here’s why I still like the Chiefs: New England was 3-5 on the road this year, with losses at Detroit, Miami and Jacksonville.

  8. More bad news, Pats’ fans: The last time New England won an AFC championship game on the road was 2004 in Pittsburgh. They’re 0-3 since.

  9. Gotta feel for Philip Rivers. At 37, he may have just missed his last best chance to reach a Super Bowl.

  10. Maybe the Chargers should’ve invited Jon Bon Jovi to sing “Livin’ on a Prayer” as part of their pre-game speech.

  11. Nobody on Philadelphia could cover the Saints’ Michael Thomas. So who’s going to do it for the Rams? Thomas shredded them for 211 yards and a touchdown earlier this season.

  12. Don’t think it’ll be the Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters. Thomas burned him for 150 of those yards and a score, with Saints’ coach Sean Payton later angering Peters by saying the matchup favored the Saints. Look for a videotape of that Peters interview this week on your neighborhood sports outlet. “Tell Sean Payton to keep talking that sh**,” Peters said then. “We gonna see him soon.” At least he had half of that right.

  13. Question: What did Rams’ coaches see in C.J. Anderson that Carolina coaches did not? Ron Rivera, feel free to respond.

  14. Early forecast next Sunday for Kansas City: Sunny, with a high of 17 degrees … and the game starts at 6:40 p.m. EST. Just a hunch, it won’t be another 43-40 track meet.

  15. How fitting that Antonio Gates’ last catch was a touchdown. Now on to Canton.

  16. Very sad to hear of the passing of Miami offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg. Terrific, tough player who dominated Minnesota’s Alan Page so thoroughly in Super Bowl VIII that an irate Page was kicked out of the game. But here’s the catch: “Kooch” did it while playing with a metal rod inserted in a broken arm. For years, the late Edwin Pope pushed for Kuechenberg’s inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he was an eight-time finalist (2002-09). Sadly, he was never elected.

  17. Gus Bradley should’ve known better. Seven DBs can work vs. Baltimore and Lamar Jackson but not vs. Tom Brady and the Pats.

  18. Since 1996, the Dallas Cowboys are 3-9 in the playoffs, with six straight divisional-round losses and seven consecutive defeats on the road. Just sayin.’

  19. I don’t know why the Jets were so eager to hire Adam Gase, either, but he was 5-1 against them. Of course, he was also 18-24 vs. the rest of the league.

  20. No doubt about it, the talk shows were right: Tom Brady and the Patriots have fallen off a cliff.

  21. Not sure what happens first: The wall or Rivers beating Brady. He’s 0-8 against him, including 0-3 in the playoffs.

  22. Having the top two seeds in each conference meet each other in conference championship games isn’t as rare as you might think. In fact, the last time it happened was 2015, and both No. 1 seeds (Denver and Carolina) prevailed. But that was the first time it happened since 1998.

  23. So Rob Gronkowski isn’t the receiving threat he once was. The guy can still block. Ask the Chargers.

  24. Imagine what happens when Miami finds out that Tom Brady doesn't come attached to Brian Flores.

  25. Can’t wait for Sean McVay to start a family. Then teams will know where to go for the next Sean McVay.

THE SUNDAY OMG

Tom Brady is making his 13th appearance in the AFC championship game in 18 seasons as the New England starter (excluding 2008 when he missed all but one game with a knee injury), which means he reached the conference title game 72 percent of his career. There are only four other quarterbacks who started at least six conference championship games: Joe Montana (7), John Elway (6), roger Staubach (6) and Terry Bradshaw (6) – all Hall of Famers.

THE SUNDAY OMG II

In nine home games this season, New England trailed for a total of seven minutes -- 3:47 in the first half vs. the Chiefs and 3:13 in the fourth quarter of the same game.

THE SUNDAY OMG III

Brady has won more games in the playoffs (28) than any other quarterback has played (Peyton Manning, 27).

FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

  1. Over the last three postseasons, the Patriots elected to receive all three times after winning the coin toss. The rest of the NFL did it just once.

  2. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are 6-2 in the playoffs vs. opponents with better regular-season records.

  3. The Saints’ 18-play drive of 11:29 was the longest playoff series since the 2000 NFC championship game when the Giants had a drive of 12:53 vs. Minnesota.

  4. That was the first time in 13 playoff games an opponent down by 14 or more points came back to beat Philadelphia. But it figures it happened vs. New Orleans. The last three times the Eagles blew halftime playoffs leads were to the Saints – first in 2006, then again in 2013 and then Sunday.

  5. Tom Brady has 16 playoff games with passer ratings of 100 or more – more than Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers combined.

SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE

“Everybody thinks we suck, and, you know, can’t win any games … So, we’ll see. It will be fun.” – New England quarterback Tom Brady on facing Kansas City.

“We laid an egg.” – Chargers’ safety Adrian Phillips on the team’s defensive play.

THE WEEKEND’S BIGGEST WINNER

KANSAS CITY. The Chiefs exorcised the demons of Playoffs Past with their 31-13 demolition of Indianapolis. Prior to that, they’d lost their last six playoff games at Arrowhead and 11 of their past 12 postseason games, period. But there’s more. With New England’s defeat of the Chargers, the Chiefs don’t have to face the one club that beat it at home this season. Kansas City was 7-1 at Arrowhead during the regular season.

THE WEEKEND’S BIGGEST LOSER

EAGLES’ FANS. The thrill is gone. The holidays are over. The tree has been taken down. And St. Nick has left the building. Too bad, too. It was fun while it lasted with Nick Foles, and you had to believe that somehow, someway, despite all that had happened Sunday, he was going to lead the Eagles to another come-from-behind victory. But it didn’t happen, and now Eagles’ fans are faced with their worst nightmare: Seeing Nick Foles, the quarterback who delivered a Super Bowl last season, playing for someone else the rest of his career.

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