The NFL’s fascination with offense has become a dominant storyline, but the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys are showing that defense still matters.
On Jan. 20, the NFC Championship Game will be played. Don’t assume the Rams and Saints will be seeing each other.
For months, Los Angeles and New Orleans have been shoehorned into the contest. When the two teams played in Week 9, it was billed as the prelude to the more important meeting that was three months down the road. Maybe that will still come to pass. But there’s a chance it won’t.
Both the Bears and Cowboys are showcasing that while offense is all the rage, defenses haven’t been completely legislated out of the game. On Sunday night, Chicago harassed Jared Goff and shut down Todd Gurley, making Los Angeles look like a team without answers for a truly great unit staring back at them.
Only a week ago, it was the Cowboys playing a devastating brand of ball. The Saints came into AT&T Stadium with a nine-game winning streak and Drew Brees as the MVP favorite. By the time it ended, Brees had thrown for 127 yards and an interception. He looked beleaguered and overwhelmed, and the Saints fell, 13-10.
Barring an absurd finish to the regular season, Los Angeles and New Orleans will nab the first-round byes in the NFC playoffs. Chicago and Dallas will have some combinations of the third and fourth seeds, likely presenting them with tough Wild Card matchups against either the Vikings and Seahawks. You can bet the Saints and Rams will be pulling for the road teams.
While it would be folly to say that Dallas or Chicago is a favorite away from home against Los Angeles and New Orleans, it’s far too dismissive to assume victories. The Bears have studs at all three levels of their defense, led by the unconquerable Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. The Cowboys have the Defensive Rookie of the Year in Leighton Vander Esch along with DeMarcus Lawrence and others in the front seven.
Come playoff time, Dallas and Chicago will need their respective offenses to show up. Dak Prescott has to be bold and Mitchell Trubisky can’t sail passes into the waiting arms of defensive backs. There won’t be a margin for error, especially with the Saints and Rams coming off bye weeks in their own stadiums.
Still, the point remains. The NFC Divisional round won’t be a warmup. It’ll be a brawl.