The NFL has always been a tough league to play in. This fraternity of athletes is not constructed for the meek, but for the strong. It has always consisted of some of the top athletes in the world. The name of the game is to impose your will on your opponent, and try not to commit any penalties in the process. The four remaining teams with a chance to win the world championship are teams that impose their will on their opponents. These teams play “smash mouth” football. It is the type of football that consists of something just short of a bar room brawl. Over the past 20 years, the NFL has made strides in bringing parity to the league, and as a result it has become tougher for teams to win consecutive championships.
Offenses and defenses have become bigger, stronger, and faster, with an emphasis on the latter. Three of the four remaining teams in the 2010 NFL playoffs are among the top five defenses in the league in yards per game (#2- Steelers, #3- Jets, and #5- Packers). The Chicago Bears have the league’s 9th ranked defense. Three of the four remaining teams have former Defensive Player of the Year Award winners on their roster (CHI- Brian Urlacher- 2005, PIT- James Harrison- 2008, and GB- Charles Woodson- 2009). In the past decade, three teams who have had a Defensive Player of Year on their roster have won the Super Bowl (BALT- Ray Lewis- 2000, TB- Derrick Brooks 2002, and PIT- James Harrison- 2008).
The New York Jets have never had a player win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. In the past ten years, seven teams that have had a top ten defense have won the Super Bowl, with two of those having the #1 ranked defense (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh), and in 2000, the Baltimore Ravens had the league’s 2nd ranked defense. The only three teams that have won a Super Bowl in the past decade, and have had defenses that were ranked 20th or worse are the 2001 Patriots, the 2006 Colts, and the 2009 Saints.
The Steelers, Packers, Bears, and Jets are all among the league’s top ten defenses.
The New York Jets had the top ranked defense in 2009, and ranked third in 2010. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the top ranked defense in 2008, the fifth ranked defense in 2009, and the second ranked defense in 2010. The Green Bay Packers had the second ranked defense in 2009 and the fifth ranked defense in 2010. The Chicago Bears were ranked twenty-first in 2008, seventeenth in 2009, and ninth this season.
Pittsburgh led the league in sacks this season with 48, and the Jets were 8th in the league with 40. While Green Bay was second in the league in interceptions with 24 (and led the league last season with 30), Chicago and Pittsburgh were tied for fifth with 21 interceptions.
Notwithstanding, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the New York Jets all have head coaches who are former defensive coordinators. Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers, was a former defensive coordinator in Minnesota in 2006, Lovey Smith, head coach of the Bears, was the former defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams from 2001-2003, and Rex Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets, was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens from 2005-2007.
Mike McCarthy, head coach of the Green Bay Packers, is the only former offensive coordinator of the group. From 2000-20004 he served as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.
All that being said, only the toughest teams, with the toughest players, and the toughest defenses can win a championship these days. And as a result, concussions are on the rise in the NFL. According to www.theconcussionblog.com, the NFL registered 159 concussions or/and head injuries total at the end of the 2010 regular season, 28 of which were wide receivers and 44 by defensive backs. Of the remaining playoff contenders, the Steelers lead the pack with a reported seven head injuries, the Packers five, and the Bears and Jets with three. Seattle led the league with a reported ten concussion and/or head injuries.
The manner in which the New York Jets defense contained the Patriots three-time Super Bowl quarterback, Tom Brady, was nothing short of a great defensive domination. And the same goes for the manner in which the Pittsburgh Steelers dismantled the Baltimore Ravens, a game that revealed a nickname that the Steelers had given to their quarterback before the season started. That nickname is “Raven Killer.”
The match-up between the Jets (#3 defense) and the Steelers (#2 defense) will definitely provide the fans with many memorable defensive moments. The Green Bay Packers (#5 defense) and the Chicago Bears (#9 defense) is the oldest rivalry in the NFL. They first met in 1922. The great Vince Lombardi, whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after, was 13-5 against the “Monsters of the Midway,” although Chicago leads the series 90-83-6.
The Packers are coming off of an impressive win on the road over the NFC’s top seeded Atlanta Falcons, who had a 7-1 record at home this season. And the Chicago Bears proved to the Seattle Seahawks that “they are who we thought they were,” the only team in any sport to have a losing record and still make the playoffs.
In closing, these remaining playoff teams have a combined 11 Super Bowl championships (Pittsburgh- 6, Greenbay- 3, New York Jets- 1, and the Chicago Bears- 1). This year will be like watching three different Super Bowls when you include the Conference Championships.
Considering that there may not be any football next season due to the NFL’s inability to reach a settlement regarding the current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), the NFL could be giving its fans a fair-well finale.