What Happened to Defense in the NFL Playoffs?

The NFL has held Divisional Playoffs since 1970.  The playoffs match the top four teams in each Conference.  Until this year the average score in these games has been 28 to 15.  This year the average score was 38.5 to 30.5.  This means that, on average, teams combined to score 69 points per game in  compared to the historic average of 43 points.  In recent years the most successful NFL teams have had strong offenses but weaker defenses.  The past three years have seen three of the four highest scoring Divisional Playoff weekends in history.  In 2010-2011 the 8 teams playing in this round of the playoffs set the previous record by scoring a combined 232 points in four games.

This year the eight teams combined for 276 points.  No team scored fewer than 28 points (the Texans and the Seahawks scored exactly 28).  The San Francisco 49ers scored more points (45) than both teams combined typically score in a playoff game.  The scoring total this year is about 60% higher than the historic average and 19% higher than the previous record set in 2010-2011.

I am not longing for a return to 1970, when both the Cowboys and Colts shut out their opponents (the Bengals and Lions) and a total of 88 points were scored by all teams in the four playoff games.  This weekend’s games were no doubt more entertaining than the Cowboys 5-0 victory over the Lions in 1970.  The rules have changed since 1970 to favor offenses in general and the passing game in particular.  If the best teams in each conference are unable to hold their opponents to under 28 points, perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in favor of NFL offenses.

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