One American football player threateningly looming over a smaller player cowering

Although they play only sixteen games in the regular season in the NFL, we still talk about it being a long season.  Many teams that start out slowly come back to have great second halves and make the playoffs.  The reverse is also true as the Pittsburgh Steelers demonstrated this year.  So, while we spoke about the apparent end to defense in the NFL in the article: Why Has Defense Seemingly Disappeared from the NFL, we can now highlight the upcoming conference championship games by speaking about the late revival of defense in the league.

The rebirth of defense in the NFL is vitally important to those whose sports betting fun comes from betting on American football.

What Happened and Why?

The National Football League (NFL) has gone through many revolutions in its nearly 100-year history.  The Chicago Bears initiated the so-called T-Formation in the 1930s which set the stage for the synergy between the running game and the passing game.  Even the Bears’ fight song has the line: “We’ll never forget the way you thrilled the nation/ with your t-formation.”

Giving Way to the Pass

But the T-Formation has been passé for at least three decades as teams strive to gain yardage faster via the pass.  The West Coast Offense was designed to allow receivers to catch short passes and then gain substantial yards after the catch.  This was never possible in the running game as five yards gained was considered an excellent play.  The famed Green Bay Packers’ sweep of the 1960s was specifically designed to gain five yards.

The American Football League

In the early 1960s, a new league called the AFL started up.  The new league could not attract the best players in its early years so it needed a hook to attract the attention of fans.  The league emphasized quarterback play and the long pass became a staple of the league’s offenses.

In the NFL, defense was king and offenses emphasized running on offense.  In the AFL teams tried to emphasize passing.  The NFL and AFL merged in 1968 and the defensive orientation of the NFL took sway.  The league boasted great defenses such as the Baltimore Colts of the late ’60s, the No-Name Defense of the unbeaten Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s, the Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, and the Steel Curtain of the Pittsburg Steelers of the ’70s.  The heyday of defense in the NFL was highlighted by the 46 Defense of the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s.

Adding Wide Receivers

The West Coast Offense works best with fewer running backs and more wide receivers.  Today, there is often only one running back so the quarterback can fake to him before throwing a pass.

Rules to Help the Offense

In the previous article on the demise of defense, we cited a few factors for the imbalance between offense and defense.  One of the key factors has been the rules changes that protect the quarterback.  On such change from a few years ago allows the quarterback to slide feet first after a scramble and if he does so the defense cannot hit him.

This year another major rules change went into effect that redefines the roughing the quarterback penalty.  Many of the hits that quarterbacks had taken until this year would be considered penalties for roughing the passer.

Adaptation

In the NFL, there is always great competition between offense and defense and in the last two years we have seen some of the adaptations that defenses have made to become more competitive with offenses.

Since protecting the quarterback has become so important in NFL offenses, teams have acquired ever bigger offensive linemen.  This has created a new position of sorts: a defensive end who is physically more like a linebacker: smaller and faster.  These linemen cum linebackers line up far outside the offensive line.  They are so quick that they can reach the quarterback quickly and can defeat slower offensive linemen even though they have to run farther to get to the quarterback.

Four Teams Still Alive

The Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, and New Orleans Saints were the top three teams of the first half of the season primarily because they have dynamic, modern, pass-oriented offenses.  But in the second half of the season, they each struggled on offense as defenses were able to force punts and reduce dramatically the teams’ ability to pass far downfield.

In winning their first playoff game, the Rams employed two running backs who combined for more than 250 yards of offense on the ground.  If the Saints defense is unable to stop the Rams running attack, they will not be able to score as many points as they feel they need to score to win.  The Rams also have a quick defense that has improved steadily over the course of the season.

In their first playoff game, the Saints scored far fewer points than they had become accustomed to scoring early in the season.  It seems remarkable but bettors on the Rams-Saints game need to be aware that the two high-powered offenses might not score many points as running will slow the game down and prevent the kind of high scoring that led to a 54-51 game between the Rams and the Chiefs two months ago.

Precision

Offense requires a lot more precision than defense in the NFL.  The offense has to be set with no more than one player in motion.  On the other hand, defenses can move around as much as they want before the snap.  As defenses become more accustomed to the nuances of modern pass-oriented offenses, they have learned to stop many plays that went for big gains in the early part of the season.  The alternative for offenses has become the running game.

Chiefs, Quo Vadis?

The Rams and Saints have made great strides on defense as has the New England Patriots.  Only the Chiefs have lagged behind.  If the Patriots can effectively move the ball on the ground, they can dramatically slow down the Chiefs’ offense which still relies heavily on the pass.  If they can use their quick linebackers to harass the Chiefs’ quarterback, they might be able to quiet the Chiefs offense and thereby expose the flaws in the Chiefs’ defense.

Another subtle aspect of the Patriots-Chiefs game will be the play of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes against Tom Brady who is over 40 years old and owns many Super Bowl rings.  In fact, Brady won his first Super Bowl in his second season as well.

Betting on the Games

As offense was by far the dominant side of the NFL action in the first half of the season, we all thought that the payoffs would be “shoot-outs” of a great offense.  But the short NFL season is really a very long season and the defense has caught up to the offense.

Betting on the over/under is fraught with uncertainty.  Betting on the spread is also dangerous as a field goal late in the game may settle both games.  It may be safer to make a straight bet on the simple outcome of the games.

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