If defense wins championships, five teams still playing have a good chance of winning the Super Bowl. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers all have a top-10 defense per Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent.
The Jaguars’ league-low 68.5 passer rating against puts them in prime position to move forward. Since 2002, 11 teams have qualified for the playoffs while leading the league in this category; only two of those 11 (the 2005 Chicago Bears and 2006 Baltimore Ravens) failed to make it to the conference championship game. Five of them made Super Bowl appearances, with four winning the championship. The only outlier: the 2015 Carolina Panthers.
But defense is only half of the equation. Using the win rates that fuel our weekly power rankings, which take into account a team’s actual record and what its record should be based on points scored and allowed — also known as its Pythagorean win percentage — and simulating the playoffs 5,000 times, the New England Patriots and Eagles have the best chances of winning Super Bowl LII. Yes, even after accounting for Nick Foles.
|Team||Win Super Bowl LII||Super Bowl odds|
|New England Patriots||28%||4-to-1|
|New Orleans Saints||5%||19-to-1|
Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles
Winner: Eagles, 67 percent
Pick: Eagles +3
No, backup quarterback Nick Foles is not as good as Carson Wentz — that’s obvious — but the Eagles defense is still the same one that was the fifth-best per DVOA and the second-best defensive unit per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. The Eagles defense will also be a much-tougher test for the Falcons than the Los Angeles Rams were in their first-round game.
Philadelphia surrendered 7.7 fewer points per game than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each opposing play against. The Rams, by comparison, allowed 5.1 fewer points per game than expected. The Eagles also stuffed 28 percent of rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage, 10 percentage points better than the Rams.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5)
Winner: Patriots, 82 percent
Pick: Titans +13.5
What more can be said of New England’s offense? Quarterback Tom Brady finished the regular season as the third-most valuable quarterback per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating and was instrumental in the Patriots scoring a league-leading 2.6 points per drive, nearly a point per drive more than the league average (1.8) and the 12th-best scoring efficiency since 2002, the year the NFL expanded to 32 teams.
Tennessee’s pass defense ranked 24th per opponent-adjusted DVOA and allowed the second-highest passer rating to quarterbacks when they targeted a running back out of the backfield (106.2).
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)
Winner: Jaguars, 52 percent
Pick: Jaguars +7
Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles was underwhelming in Sunday’s 10-3 AFC first-round win over the Buffalo Bills. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He actually was more productive on the ground (10 carries for 88 yards) than he was through the air.
But the Jaguars’ playoff hopes will live and die by how their defense plays and, right now, there is no team better at stopping the pass. Including the playoffs, Jacksonville is allowing a league-low 68.5 passer rating, with a defensive front that sacks the quarterback on 9.1 percent of pass attempts after adjusting for down, distance and opponent, the second-best mark in the NFL this season.
When the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger is under pressure, he is much less effective: His passer rating drops from 103.5 to 62.1, roughly the difference between Drew Brees (103.9) and DeShone Kizer (60.5, this season’s worst rating).
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-4.5)
Winner: Vikings, 66 percent
Pick: Vikings -4.5
If I asked you during the preseason where Case Keenum would rank in QBR, do you think you would have had him anywhere close to the No. 2 spot behind Carson Wentz and ahead of Brady? Me neither, but here we are.
Give credit to Coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur for putting Keenum in a position to succeed. The Vikings had Keenum run play-action 29 percent of the time, just a fraction of a percentage point lower than the Rams’ Jared Goff for the highest rate in the NFL, which helped boost his passer rating from 92.8 to 111.8 on those attempts.
And even if he slips a little against New Orleans, Minnesota’s defense will be able to pick up the slack. It has allowed 8.9 fewer points per game than expected, the second-best mark behind the Jaguars (12.8) and the 16th-best effort since 2002.
More on the NFL: