Oakland, Denver, Seattle and Dallas are a combined 37-14-1 this season. But they just spent Week 14 scoring a combined 40 points while going 0-4.
So, yeah, the NFL may well be a quarterback’s league, as Tom Brady and Joe Flacco tried to emphasize while passing for 730 yards against two elite defenses Monday night. But let’s not dismiss the proud and determined NFL defender, the man who continues to fight the good fight with an arm or two tied down by yellow flags and point-driven points of emphasis.
Much like last season, which ended with Denver’s defense turning the MVP quarterback’s cocksure smile upside down, NFL defenders once again are holding firm against a league that legislates against them, not only for the sake of player safety, but the NFL RedZone-obsessed Fantasy Footballers and the country’s general struggle to span its attention between touchdown fireworks.
For the most part, Week 14 was a special time for those who still like to watch defenses force offenses to work hard for even a few points.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs held Oakland’s No. 2 scoring offense (27.5 points per game) to 13 points. The Chiefs scored 21 as underrated Andy Reid and even-more-underappreciated Alex Smith continue to win and strike blows for the NFL’s Land of Misfit Stars.
In Green Bay, the Packers won for the third consecutive week, proving we all need to stop writing good franchises off before December. Yeah, Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers. But the story was Green Bay’s six takeaways, including five interceptions of Russell Wilson, in a 38-10 rout of Seattle.
In New York, the Cowboys and their sixth-ranked scoring offense shivered into town. They left with seven points and 11 wins between two losses to the Giants.
Three teams won with fewer than 17 points in Week 14. The Giants scored 10. The shocking Titans scored 13 while holding Denver to 10. And, in Tampa, the Buccaneers scored just 16 while holding Drew Brees and the Saints offense, which is tied with Oakland for second in scoring, to only 11 points.
Some would suggest the 7-6 Packers would be a scary playoff opponent — if they sneak in — because of Rodgers and that offense. But let’s shift to the other side of the ball and make a case for the 8-5 Buccaneers as the scariest under-the-radar playoff opponent.
Second-year quarterback Jameis Winston has made strides, for sure. But he’s not the reason the Bucs have won five straight for the first time since winning the Super Bowl during the 2002 season.
It’s the defense that has driven the Bucs to victories over the Bears, Chiefs, Seahawks, Chargers and Saints. The defense has had at least two takeaways in five straight games to vault into the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. The Bucs are tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South and split the season series but trail in other tiebreakers.
If the Bucs keep playing defense like they have the past five weeks, even the high-flying Falcons offense can be overtaken in the division. In the past five games, the Bucs rank first in the league in points allowed (12.8 per game), takeaways (14), touchdowns allowed (six) and opponent passer rating (62.5).
It’s been quite the turnaround defensively for Tampa Bay. Through eight games, the Buccaneers were giving up 29 points a game (29th). Now, they rank 16th (22.8).
The Vikings were at 17.3 and were tied for first with Baltimore and New England heading into the latter two’s meeting in Foxborough on Monday night. The Patriots dropped to second (17.7), while the Ravens fell to fourth (18.2). Seattle, which has won the defensive scoring title the past four years, is third (17.8). Dallas, meanwhile, lowered its average to 18.3 (fifth) despite losing for the first time since opening day.
So, yeah, call it a quarterback’s league if you must. But the guys on the other side are having their say as well in what happens as Super Bowl LI fast approaches.