Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011 | 12:03 a.m.
Defense. Wins. Championships.
Remember that saying? It used to define the NFL playoffs. The teams that played the best defense and made the fewest mistakes always advanced.
A funny thing happened to defenses in this postseason, however. The offenses are making them look bad.
In snowy Chicago, the Seahawks allowed 35 to the Bears as they bowed out. Chicago gave up 24 points (although 21 of those were in the fourth quarter, after they had built up a big lead).
In cold-weather Pittsburgh, the Steelers and Ravens combined for 55 points. In equally cold New England, the Jets and Patriots totaled 49.
And in the controlled-climate of a dome in Atlanta, the Green Bay Packers poured 48 points on the top seed. The Falcons chipped in 21, meaning none of the eight teams scored fewer than 21 last weekend.
Sure, the game has changed and offensive fireworks are more common in today’s NFL, but 235 points in four games, three of which were played in sub-freezing temps? Seriously?
Ironically, the four teams that advanced – the Steelers, Jets, Packers and Bears – all bring strong defenses to the table. So maybe defense still wins championships, even if it plays mediocre in the divisional round.
This weekend, though, things could indeed be very different. The NFC Championship pitting the Packers and the Bears features two top-10 defenses. Green Bay was fifth in the league in yards-per-game allowed, giving up just 309 per game. The Bears were ninth in the league, not far behind at 314.
When it comes to the most important statistic, points per game, the Bears and Packers are even stingier – Green Bay allowed the second-fewest points in the league at 240 and Chicago was fourth-best in the NFL at 286.
The AFC Championship features similar defensive stalwarts. The Steelers and Jets were Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the NFL this season in yards allowed (Pittsburgh gave up just 276 per game and New York yielded only 291).
On the scoreboard, no team kept teams at bay as effectively as the Steelers. Opposing teams totaled only 232 points against Pittsburgh. The Jets allowed the sixth-fewest at 304.
Will the adage hold true this weekend? If statistics mean anything, this weekend will be more like the playoffs we are used to, not the offensive onslaught we witnessed a week ago.
Lance’s picks (4-4 in playoffs):
Master magician Lance Burton went 2-2 for the second consecutive weekend, proving he’s still magical, but maybe human, too. This weekend, Lance is taking the two favorites, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, to reach Super Bowl XLV.
Next week: A one-on-one chat with our celebrity champ.
Sal’s picks:I was 2-2 last weekend and 6-2 in the playoffs to this point against the number. I’ll take the Packers and the Jets this weekend.