NFL Playoffs: Breaking Down Divisional Round Scoring Defenses

Last Updated: 2018-01-11

When the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs begin, 7 of the 8 defenses will be ranked in the Top 10. The only outlier are the Tennessee Titans. That’s how big the upset over the Kansas City Chiefs happened to be when they were down 21 points.

The four division winners that are competing in their first playoff action all rank in the top seven of scoring defense. It will be interesting to see how long it takes these teams to get in the mode of playoff football. Remember, they are all facing teams that have played a game and are in full playoff mode.

Overall, the offenses struggled last week during the Wild Card round. However, the quarterback play should be more of a challenge this week. Therefore, the defenses need to be up to the challenge. Here is the breakdown of the scoring defenses in the playoffs.

AFC Playoffs

No. 5 Tennessee Titans  vs. No. 1 New England Patriots -13.5

Tennessee Titans- 22.3 points- No. 17 scoring defense (8)

Beat Kansas City 22-21

The Tennessee Titans almost gave up a boatload of points to the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday. The Chiefs scored 21 first half points, but didn’t reach the end zone for the rest of the game in the Wild Card round. As a result, we don’t know which defense we will see when the Titans take on the Patriots. Remember, they gave up 22.3 points per game in the regular season. Meaning, the average was still roughly the same. However, there are some things to note. If the Titans’ defense got rid of the playoff jitters, they should be a formidable opponent for the New England Patriots. If they start out slow, Tom Brady may carve them up early-on and there likely won’t be some 19-point comeback in the works. Since the Titans are the No. 1 scoring defense against the run and top five overall, expect the Patriots to throw the ball around 50 times if they are completing passes. Meaning, the Titans need to get immense pressure on Brady from the outset. The Chiefs came into the postseason with 41 sacks. They got to Alex Smith four times.

New England Patriots- 18.5 points- No. 5 Scoring Defense (4)

Not many people believe the New England Patriots play championship level defense. However, they enter their first postseason game with the No. 5 ranking in the NFL. The name of the game is keeping opponents out of the end zone, and the Patriots have done that a lot better in the last three quarters of the season. In the first four weeks, the Patriots were giving up 32 points per game. Opponents didn’t score over 17 points from Week 5 to Week 13. However, they did give up 27 to the Miami Dolphins and 24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in consecutive games. The Patriots held 10 opponents below 20 points, including four teams in single digits. They have the No. 2 rush scoring defense and that doesn’t bode well for the Titans. However, the Patriots have the No. 31 defense in yards per attempt. Will they put so much pressure on the ground game that forces Tennessee to pass? Yes. There’s no way that the Patriots are going to let Derrick Henry run wild. Therefore, expect to see the defense load up in the box. The pass defense isn’t great either. As a result, this game may come down to how well they perform in the red zone. The Patriots enter the playoffs with 41 sacks and 12 interceptions.

No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars vs. No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5

Jacksonville Jaguars- 16.8 points- No. 2 Scoring Defense (2)

Beat Buffalo 10-3

The Jacksonville Jaguars really lived up to its billing on the defensive side of the ball during Wild Card Weekend. They held the Buffalo Bills to three points and moved onto the divisional round against a familiar foe this season. Once again, the Jaguars hit the road to face the high scoring Pittsburgh Steelers in an early-season rematch. The first time the two teams met, the Jaguars intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times. The biggest question- will the defense play well enough to let Blake Bortles and the offense make enough plays to win. Despite having such a stellar defense, the Jaguars are 7.5 point underdogs. They intercepted 21 passes during the regular season. Jalen Ramsey also clinched the win with an interception last week. Yet, the key to the victory will be the pressure the front four provides. They only produced two sacks against the run-heavy Bills.

Pittsburgh Steelers- 19.3 points- No. 7 Scoring Defense (5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the playoffs with the No. 7 scoring defense in the NFL. They are giving up 19.3 points per game. However, the latter half of the season can’t equate to how they commenced 2017. For example, the Steelers are letting opponents score 23.8 points per game since Week 12. Those games include a six-point effort against the Houston Texans. In other words, the Steelers gave up at least 20 points in 5 of the last 6 games. During the first eight weeks, they gave up over 20 points twice. Therefore, we have to see how the Steelers come out in their first playoff action. Remember, the Steelers let up 30 points to the Jaguars in an interesting game. They were unable to contain the run. They also turned the ball over five times. If there is a repeat performance, the Steelers will be going home. However, the Jaguars don’t seem to have the offense that can take advantage of much right now. The Steelers come into the game with 56 sacks and 16 interceptions. They can honestly wait for the Jaguars to make a mistake to capitalize on Sunday. That’s why we’re going to see the defense stack up against the run. They won’t change unless Blake Bortles is on his game.

NFC Playoffs

No. 5 Atlanta Falcons vs. No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles +3

Atlanta Falcons- 19.7 points- No. 8 scoring defense (6)

Beat L.A. Rams 26-13

The Atlanta Falcons had the No. 2 scoring defense in the Wild Card round. They were facing the No. 1 scoring offense and came out on top. Now, they are facing the No. 3 scoring offense thanks to a meaningless Week 17 game where the Philadelphia Eagles scored zero points. The Falcons are in one of the best positions as the No. 6 seed. Despite having to go on the road for as long as they remain in the postseason, the Falcons faced an inexperienced Rams’ squad and now have the Eagles without their starting quarterback. Yet, that won’t guarantee a win. However, the Falcons held the Carolina Panthers and Rams to 23 combined points in the last two games. That’s the type of performance that will put them in NFC Championship game. Moreover, their defense should be even better if they play with a lead this time around. Remember, the Eagles have a devastating running game and coaches will shy away from the ground attack in certain situations. The Falcons would love to make them a one dimensional passing team.

Philadelphia Eagles- 18.4 points- No. 4 Scoring Defense (3)

The Philadelphia Eagles are such a well-rounded team they continued to win enough games to garner home field advantage. However, they are a home underdog as the No. 1 seed. Still, there’s no reason to feel sorry for the Eagles. They are giving up 18.4 points per game and have a top five defense. They have held four opponents to single digits. Only one team scored over 30 points against the Eagles. Meanwhile, eight opponents scored between 20 and 29 points. The Eagles had three home games since their bye in Week 10. They held their opponents to 6.3 points per game. That means the Eagles have everything needed to slow down the Falcons’ offensive attack. They are No. 1 against the run and give up 3.8 yards per carry. However, they did give up 24 touchdown passes this season. The Eagles finished the regular season with 19 interceptions and 38 sacks.

No. 4 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 2 Minnesota Vikings -4

New Orleans Saints- 20.4 points- No. 10 Scoring Defense (7)

Beat Carolina 31-26

The New Orleans Saints were the ultimate red zone team last week. Despite repeated threats by the Carolina Panthers, the Saints held them to five field goal attempts, two touchdowns and a sack to end the game. They weren’t able to force any turnovers, but the home field helped slow down the Panthers. Well, the Saints have to play even better in their road game. The defense might need to force some miscues to win. Keep in mind, they are facing the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings are a powerful units being Top 10 offensively, they are slightly better on the defensive side of the ball.

Minnesota Vikings- 15.8 points- No. 1 Scoring Defense (1)

The Vikings are No. 1 against passing touchdowns with 13. They’ve given up 10 rushing touchdowns. That’s why they lead the NFL with 15.8 points per game. The Vikings held four opponents to single digits. The Carolina Panthers scored 31 points in their only loss since Week 5. They also held the Saints to 19 points in the season-opener. The Vikings consistently held opponents under 30 points. In fact, 12 opponents never reached the 20-point mark against the Vikings. Can the Vikings force turnovers on Sunday? They produced 14 interceptions, while sacking the quarterback 36 times. The most important thing they can do on Sunday is stop the run. Coming into the playoffs, they are No. 5 at 3.7 yards per carry.


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