Mike Preston: Forget the quarterbacks; Patriots' defense will give them the edge

As NFL fans get caught up in the euphoria surrounding the conference championships and the four quarterbacks, it appears there is only one prohibitive favorite.

It's the New England Patriots.


They are the most balanced team of the field, which also includes Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Green Bay. New England also plays defense and that's a dirty word in this postseason.

Denver won the title with a great defense last season; the Patriots aren't in that class, but they're good. During the regular season, New England was ranked No. 1 in points allowed (15.6) and eighth in total yards, allowing 326.4 yards per game. The Patriots allowed only 237.9 passing yards per game and were tied for third in rushing defense, allowing 88.6 yards per contest.


The defense gets overlooked because New England has quarterback Tom Brady and the game's best head coach in Bill Belichick, but the Patriots have enough talent to slow down any of the remaining offenses in the field.

It's understandable why everyone is getting carried away by the offenses. It's a quarterback- driven league and the final four are outstanding in Brady, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.

Ryan was good Saturday in the Falcons' divisional win against Seattle, and Rodgers was even better Sunday in the Packers' thrilling 34-31 victory at Dallas. Rodgers' 36-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook with three seconds left in the game to set up the game-winning field goal will be talked about for a long time.

That pass, catch and nailbiting ending is what has been missing from this postseason.

And now, everyone is talking about offense again.

But what also has been missing is good defense. When it comes to Super Bowl champions, the team with the most balance wins, and in this case it is New England.

Pittsburgh supposedly had revived its once-proud defensive reputation in the second half of the season with a new assortment of pressure packages, but it still looks a lot like the same bunch that gave up 384 yards of total offense to the Ravens on Christmas Day.

Kansas City almost pulled out a victory Sunday night with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted slightly more than seven minutes late in the fourth period. And remember, these are the Chiefs. They have virtually no deep passing game because of Alex Smith, the quarterback with the pop gun arm. Even with inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers aren't that intimidating.


Green Bay's defense is a joke. The Packers allowed 24.2 points and almost 270 passing yards a game during the regular season. Of Dallas' nine possessions on Sunday, three ended in field goals and three in touchdowns. Because of so many injuries, the Packers might play the softest zone in the history of the NFL. They just drop and watch.

In Atlanta, every game turns into a track meet. The Falcons are reminiscent of the old Indianapolis Colts with quarterback Peyton Manning. They score a lot of points and then they turn their pass rushers loose, but they don't scare anybody either.

New England, though, is multi-dimensional. The Patriots can put points up on the board in a hurry if they have to with an offense that is averaging 27.6 points and 269.2 passing yards. They can pound it out to keep an opposing offense off the field because of a running game that is ranked No. 7 and is averaging 117 yards.

Belichick is known for being able to take out another team's top weapon so it will be interesting to see how he defends against Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell and his deliberate, cutback style.

As for all of those high-octane passing attacks, New England has some very good cornerbacks. Malcolm Butler will shadow the other team's top receiver all over the field and fellow cornerback Logan Ryan has become a playmaker in the final quarter of this season. The Patriots can play nickel or dime and match up with any group of receivers especially with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung at the safety positions.

There is one other element that makes the Patriots favorites: They are relatively healthy for the first time in a long while at this point of the season.


So, go ahead, take your high scoring offenses, and have your love affairs with those quarterbacks. But it is balance that often determines the winner.

New England has a great offense, but the Patriots' defense will put them over the top.