There are points to be taken for defense/special teams by playing the matchup game in this championship week.
Top defenses/special teams
(Other than Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, San Diego, New York Jets and New York Giants)
Philadelphia vs. Minnesota
The Eagles have been decimated by opposing passing games all year, but that’s not the key threat here. If Joe Webb is under center (and all signs point to the fact that he will be), then stuffing the run to force the bailout throw will be the order of the day. Philadelphia has produced 33 turnovers this season while generating 35 sacks (tied for 10th).
St. Louis vs. San Francisco
The 49ers turn back to Troy Smith in the latest round of quarterback “hot potato” by the Bay. It’s a recipe for a potential disaster against the aggressive, sack-happy St. Louis defense. Michael Crabtree remains invisible, and the running game has been inconsistent since Frank Gore’s injury. Smith may buy time to make a play or two downfield, but I see more opportunities for Jeff Reed than for anyone else.
Tampa Bay vs. Seattle
The Buccaneers remain without top cornerback Aquib Talib, so there is some exposure in the secondary. They’ll also clearly miss the efforts of rookie Gerald McCoy on the line. However, I’m confident that the Buccaneers will stand strong at home with the playoffs on the line. Seattle is averaging a dismal 17 points per game on the road this season, and Matt Hasselbeck has been turnover-prone of late (13 in his past four games).
Miami vs. Detroit
The Dolphins have left you wanting in many respects this season (I look squarely at the running game), but the defense has been stingy. Miami is tied for sixth in total defense (18.6 points allowed per game), and has generated 21 turnovers and 37 sacks. Shaun Hill intrigues me on the other side, but can be pressured into making mistakes.
New England at Buffalo
The Patriots have been playing much better of late, though they are still susceptible to the big play (as evidenced by the 66-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to James Jones). However, the secondary is also capable of making big plays (21 interceptions). New England ranks 14th in total defense at 21.6 points allowed per game.
Dallas at Arizona
I know the Dallas pass defense has been terrible this season. I merely suggest that a matchup against the terrible Arizona offense presents an intriguing option for championship week. The Cardinals score 18.2 points per game and average two turnovers per contest.
Detroit at Miami
The Dolphins have been terrible at home, and pressure up front from Ndamukong Suh could afford the secondary ample opportunities to rack up turnovers from the arm of Chad Henne (18 this year). Taken further, Miami ranks second in total offense at 17.1 points scored per game.
Atlanta vs. New Orleans (both)
This is a difficult game to call. The first meeting produced 51 points and a total of two sacks and three turnovers. That’s hardly fantasy-worthy of a championship ride. I believe that the score rises to the same level with just as few big plays defensively. Green Bay vs. New York Giants
If you own the Packers, you’re undoubtedly starting the “Psycho” defense and anticipating some heat on Eli Manning. I’m merely cautioning against the potential of the Giants establishing balance early to back off the pressure. There’s also the possibility of the Giants forcing game-changing turnovers because of their ability to pressure the quarterback, be it Rodgers (as expected) or backup Matt Flynn.