A strong defense is still a vital element to NFL success, but for the league’s most successful teams in 2007, a high-powered offense is just as much or more a key component of winning football.
With the New England Patriots leading the way at 13-0, the NFL’s top contenders are making more and more of a statement that offense is a key part of punching a playoff ticket.
In all, 13 teams have scored at least 300 points this season, and 10 of those currently hold playoff spots. Of the three non-playoff 300-point teams, the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals are still in the NFC playoff picture at 6-7, meaning only the 5-8 Cincinnati Bengals have no real postseason hopes remaining.
Just how vital has offense become to a team’s success?
The league’s top four scoring teams — the Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers — are a combined 47-5 this season, and all four are headed to first-round playoff byes in their respective conferences.
By contrast, only two teams that have scored fewer than 300 points this season would currently get a playoff invitation. The New York Giants, who are just below the 300-threshold at 290 points scored, currently hold the top NFC wild-card spot at 9-4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are leading the NFC South with an 8-5 mark and just 255 points scored, 18th best in the league.
The Bucs, who are second in the league in points allowed with 215, are the only current playoff team among 13 teams averaging less than 20 points per game.
Scoring 300 points through 13 games averages out to just over 23 points per game. And while that is roughly only a field goal more than what the Buccaneers average, it is an amazing dividing line this season in the NFL.
Only two other teams averaging less than 20 points per game even have winning records — the Tennessee Titans who are 7-6 and have scored 249 points this season and the Buffalo Bills, who are also 7-6, despite just 222 points scored this season.
Defensively, that 20-point mark is a strong dividing point as well. In games where teams gave up at least 21 points, the team that allowed an opponent to reach that number won just 25 percent of the time, or precisely 50 times versus 152 losses. The Titans are 1-5 in such games, and only the Patriots (4-0), Cowboys (5-1) and Packers (3-2) boast a winning record in games where they yielded 21 or more points.
Offensively, another key element in producing points is explosiveness and the ability to strike quickly with game-changing plays.
“Big plays” are described by Stats. Inc., as gains of 20 or more yards, whether by run or pass. Of the eight teams who have 50 or more big plays this season, seven of those teams would be in the playoffs currently, with only the Denver Broncos on the outside looking in. Tennessee has 31 such plays this season with 11 runs and 20 pass plays better than 20 yards.
The popular notion would appear to put a major emphasis on the passing game, and that is true with many of the teams who are relying on their quarterbacks to throw touchdown passes.
Tom Brady leads the way with 45 TD passes, threatening Peyton Manning’s record of 49 set in 2004. Behind Brady, Dallas’ Tony Romo has 35 touchdown passes, Manning has 27, Cleveland’s Derek Anderson and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger are both at 26, and Brett Favre of Green Bay and Matt Hasselbeck of Seattle both have 24.
But the running game can still work effectively, too, provided there is a home run threat in the backfield. Standout rookie Adrian Peterson and backup Chester Taylor (1,916 yards and 17 rushing TDs combined) are carrying the load for the suddenly potent Minnesota Vikings, whose 17 rushing “big plays” lead the NFL.
Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew (1,599 yards and 11 rushing TDs combined) are doing similar work in Jacksonville in a run-first offense.
The playmaking abilities of San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlison and Pittsburgh’s Willie Parker are readily evident as those teams make a playoff push as well.
As the regular season winds down, the numbers don’t lie: Big plays and big scores can open an easier path to big success.