If political strategist James Carville were an NFL pundit he might be telling us “It’s the defense, stupid!”
Last year an avalanche of touchdowns from Peyton Manning and Drew Brees buried the league and left their respective teams both in the Super Bowl and at the top of the 2009 end-of-the-year Power Rank. Not only did the Saints and Colts end the year at the top, they were #1 and #2 respectively for all but 2 of the weeks that the Power Rank was calculated (weeks 1-8 were not calculated in the Power Rank’s inaugural season). The Saints were #1 for the whole season and when the Colts weren’t nipping at their heels other offensively minded teams were taking their spot – most notably New England and San Diego.
At week four, the top scoring NFL team, the New England Patriots (131 Points For) are only 5th in the Power Rank. Other teams at the top of the scoring list like the Colts (117 PF, Rank #10), Chargers (113 PF, Rank #8), Texans (108 PF, Rank #13), and Packers (106 PF, Rank #11) are not faring quite as well as the 2009 Saints and Colts.
Our top ranked team this week, Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, are tied for 4th in points scored with 106, but more importantly have only allowed their opponents to score 61 points in the first four games. While that’s only the 9th lowest points allowed in the league, one has to remember that four of the teams ahead of the Jets in that department just had their bye week so they only have three games in the books to the Jets’ four.
Two of the teams who did not have a bye and still surpassed the Jets in defense show up on the Power Rank at #2 (Baltimore) and #4 (Pittsburgh), in spite of the Steelers ranking 11th in points scored (86) and the Ravens ranking 25th in the same category, with only 61 points scored through four games.
Surprise success story Kansas City is tied with Minnesota for the league lead in defense with only 38 points allowed, although both teams have only played three games so far. The Chiefs have coupled their staunch defense with explosive special teams and offense and earned themselves a #3 ranking this week. Minnesota’s defense, on the other hand, is shackled to the dysfunctional Vikings offense which is last in the league with only 43 points scored. This week’s addition of All-Star wide receiver Randy Moss may be what the Vikings need to start scoring, and they need that kind of help to crawl out of their #24 spot on the Power Rank.
The Patriots are the only team in the Power Rank’s top 5 who aren’t driven by their defense. Belichick’s squad has allowed opponents to score 96 points in four games, making their defense the 25th most porous in the NFL so far in 2010. They make up for it by leading the league in points scored and come in at #5 in the Power Rank this week.
By the time week nine rolls around we may see the offensive cream rise to the top of the Power Rank, but for this week I’m going to channel my inner pundit and call it like I see it: If you want to have success, it’s the defense, stupid!