If last week’s wild-card games are any indication, defense still has a special place in the NFL. The Colts, Eagles, Chargers and Cowboys advanced to this weekend’s conference semifinal round by giving up seven, 15, 17 and 22 points.
For this ranking of the final eight defenses still in action, eight categories were used: Points allowed, yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, third-down percentage, red-zone percentage, sacks per pass attempt, yards allowed per rush and takeaways.
Teams were ranked one through eight in each category. The fewer the cumulative points, the higher the overall ranking.
Here’s one through eight:
1. Dallas Cowboys
Cumulative points: 26
Best stat: Tied for first among final eight teams in fewest points allowed (20.3/sixth in NFL overall).
Worst stat: Last in third-down percentage (42.29/ 27th in NFL).
Concern vs. Rams: Is Todd Gurley’s knee back to full strength? The last time he was healthy, he averaged 5.7 yards with two TDs on 23 carries in a win at Detroit on Dec. 2. Dallas counters with the league’s fourth-best average in yards allowed per rush (3.78).
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Cumulative point total: 30
Best stat: Second in red-zone defense (50.0/fifth in NFL).
Worst stat: Seventh in sacks per pass attempt (6.93/ 22nd in NFL).
Concern vs. Patriots: Don’t let turnovers waste a good opportunity to fell a wobbly dynasty. New England has 11 more takeaways (28-17) and is plus-10 in turnover ratio compared to LA’s plus-1.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Cumulative points: 31
Best stat: Third in yards allowed per rush (3.92/sixth in NFL).
Worst stat: Sixth in sacks per pass attempt (7.01/ 21st in NFL).
Concern vs. Chiefs: Can the Colts get enough pressure on probable MVP winner Patrick Mahomes? Pro Football Focus ranks Indy’s pass rush tied for 26th.
4. New Orleans Saints
Cumulative points: 34
Best stat: First in sacks per pass attempt (8.55/sixth in NFL).
Worst stat: Seventh in red-zone percentage (63.27/ 23rd in NFL).
Concern vs. Eagles: Can Nick Foles’ ridiculous postseason magic live on for a fifth straight playoff game? The pressure on him will mount inside the Superdome if the Saints’ run defense, which ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed per rush (3.6), holds firm.
5. New England Patriots
Cumulative points: 37
Best stat: Tied for first in points allowed (20.3/ sixth in NFL).
Worst stat: Last in sacks per pass attempt (4.96/ 31st in NFL).
Concern vs. Chargers: Can the 31st-ranked pass rush move old man (Philip) Rivers off his spot? When Rivers isn’t pressured, his passer rating is 115.1, according to PFF. When he’s pressured, it’s 83.8.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
Cumulative points: 38
Best stat: First in third-down defense (35.32/sixth in NFL).
Worst stat: Last in takeaways (17/ 23rd in NFL).
Concern vs. Saints: Can the Eagles avoid a shootout with Drew Brees in his home stadium? The answer back on Nov. 18 was an emphatic 48-7 no. But the Eagles have allowed only 18.9 points per game since then. And they also rank first in the NFL in red-zone defense (44.64).
7. Los Angeles Rams
Cumulative points: 39
Best stat: First in takeaways (30/fifth in NFL).
Worst stat: Last in yards allowed per play (5.98/ 28th in NFL).
Concern vs. Cowboys: Can the Rams keep Ezekiel Elliott from controlling the game? For all the talk about the Rams’ new-age offense, this could be an NFL throwback day with the league’s leading rusher facing a defense that ranks last in yards allowed per rush at a whopping 5.07.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
Cumulative points: 49
Best stat: Second in sacks per pass attempt (8.73/eighth in NFL).
Worst stat: Last in red-zone percentage (72.41/ 31st in NFL).
Concern vs. Colts: In a game that has upset potential written all over it, can the Kansas City offense outscore its many defensive deficiencies? The Chiefs rank 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per game (405.5), rushing yards allowed per play (4.97) and the aforementioned red-zone percentage.