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Bold Predictions: Defense Wins Championships

Jan 12, 2006, 10:18 AM EDT

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at
There is much talk about the relative strength of the schedules played by the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks and how that should influence the view of their NFC Divisional playoff game on Saturday at Qwest Field. Here are the facts:

The Redskins played home and home against the other three teams their own NFC East division, four games each against the NFC West and the AFC West plus Tampa Bay and Chicago. Those opponents went 138-118, a .539 winning percentage (counting the division opponents’ records twice). That means that every week, week in and week out, the Redskins were facing a 9-7 team.

Seattle played home and home against its own NFC West division, four each vs. the NFC East and the AFC South, plus Atlanta and Green Bay. Those opponents went 110-146, a .429 winning percentage, translating into about a 7-9 team each week.

There are those who say that this means that the Redskins are a battle-tested bunch whose record was well earned while Seattle is a mere paper bird of prey with a gaudy record built on the backs of the dregs of the NFL. There is some merit to the first point while the view here is that the talk of the Seahawks being weaker than their record doesn’t hold much water.

If Seattle had been taken down to the wire a lot this season, if they had needed late field goals or defensive stands to eke out wins over their mediocre competition, their schedule might legitimately taken into account when evaluating them. However, in their 13 wins they outscored the competition by a combined 404-202. If you do the math, you’ll find that that is a 2-1 margin. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you double up your opponent week in and week out you probably would have been pretty successful no matter who you were playing.

Might the Seahawks have won one or two fewer games had they played Washington’s schedule? Possibly but it’s still likely that they’d have home field advantage. Would they have the league’s top offense and the NFL’s top rusher if they’d had a tougher road along the way? Probably not, although it wouldn’t make Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and company any less formidable.

That offense is one of many pluses the Seahawks have going for them. They also have the home field advantage throughout and the bye week in their favor. History has shown that these are not just major advantages, they are insurmountable. No six seed has ever advanced through the top seed to get to a conference championship game.

All is not lost for the Redskins, however. They have a few things going for them as well. Joe Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach because he wins in January. Mark Brunell, albeit a younger, spryer version, has won playoff games in tough places. Clinton Portis is clearly a cut below Alexander in the pecking order of NFL running backs, but just one cut. The best receiver on the field will be Santana Moss and even the most avid Seattle homer would have to concede that the Redskins have the superior defensive unit.

Offensively, the Redskins will come out just like they did against the Bucs; taking some shots to try to get the early lead (That entire game wasn’t played with the offense in a shell; remember Portis’ option pass on their first offensive series?). In the course of doing so, expect heavy doses of Clinton “Gut and Power” up the middle. That’s not just because those are his favorite plays, it’s because the Redskins have an average weight advantage of over 30 pounds a man along their offensive line compared to Seattle’s front four. Ladell Betts will spell Portis as Gibbs is going to want 40 carries out of the two of them combined (they got a combined 37 against Seattle in Week 4).

Should the Redskins get decent production out of Moss and Chris Cooley—and they caught a combined 10 passes for 148 yards the last time these two teams played—the Redskins should be able to put up 17 to 21 points.

The Seattle offense is death by a thousand paper cuts and that’s not intended to be a slight against them. They lead the league in long drives and they finish them off, scoring 48 touchdowns in 60 Red Zone possessions. They’re not going to kill you with the big play—Hasselbeck’s long completion this year is 56 yards—but they are brutally efficient. Unless the Redskins jump to an early lead like they did last week, look for Gregg Williams to gamble more often with the blitz, confident that the defensive backs will be able to keep the receivers in front of them.

Will Seattle be able to inflict enough paper cuts to score 20 points? With the Redskins’ defense healthier than it was a week ago when the put up a classic defensive performance, no. Defense wins championships and, therefore, it wins in the playoffs. Hasselbeck throws an interception on a tipped pass, Alexander finds the going very tough and the Redskins again survive and advance.

Redskins 21, Seahawks 17

  1. Anonymous - Jan 12, 2006 at 10:51 AM

    Rich, need your help, I have a question. Everybody is pointing out that the Redskins set a record last week with the fewest yards gained in a playoff victory. That may not be the important question to ask. Perhaps the more important question is this: How far did those teams go in the playoffs who managed to win playoff games with record low offensive production? The previous holder the record was the Ravens in 2001, the year that they won the Superbowl. Lack of offensive production in a playoff win may be most indicative of a championship caliber defense – one that is capable of overcoming very poor offensive efforts. What happened to the other teams on the list who set records with low yardage of offense and yet still won? I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they did go far in the playoffs, but I can’t seem to find the list of teams that won despite low yardage. Do you have the list? It may be a telling predictor of what the Redskins will do on Saturday and beyond.

  2. Rich Tandler - Jan 12, 2006 at 11:04 AM

    I have been efforting, as they say, the Ravens’ offensive total in their next playoff game, which was the AFC title game in Oakland, but I haven’t been able to find out what their total yardage was in that game. The Ravens did win 16-3, getting a 96-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer to Shannon Sharpe to open the scoring. Dilfer passed for 190 yards and Lewis rushed for 79, but I can’t find a total yardage number. I’d guess it was somewhere between 275-300.

    The real lesson here is not the improvement of the offense but that the defense stayed on a roll. If that pattern continues with the Redskins, they will be a very tough out.

  3. oneampoet - Jan 12, 2006 at 3:35 PM

    Hey I can help on this one.

    In their next game against the Oakland Faders they netted 282 yards on Offense. 110 Rush/172 Passing. Here is a good reference page to get these sort of stats if you are interested:

  4. Seattlite - Jan 13, 2006 at 1:11 AM

    Okay… the Redskins defense is good. Really Good. I would say it might be the toughest that the Seahawks have faced all year. I will also say that the Redskins defense is much better than they were in week 4.

    Two things that need to be said:

    1. This is NOT the 2000 Ravens defense. That defense had playmakers everywhere including the best defensive player in the game at the time, Ray Lewis. That season was probably the greatest single season performance by a defensive player EVER. I don’t see that kinda player on the Redskins. Also, that Ravens team didn’t allow a touchdown for a month during the season!

    2. What were the Seahawks supposed to do with that schedule? They got a TON of cupcakes. No one denies that. But they just took care of business all season long. We lost two games to two very good teams, the Jaguars and Redskins. Then we got our act together and rolled to the being the best team in the NFC. And what to good teams do when they face bad teams? They win.

    That’s it, I’m sure you’ll think I’m crazy.

  5. Anonymous - Jan 13, 2006 at 10:59 AM

    Seattlite – No one’s saying that the Redskins defense is as good as the Ravens’ but there’s also no question that the Redskins offense is better than the Ravens’ offense of 2000(1). Any argument there would be pure ignorance. The Ravens set an NFL record that season for most games without a touchdown – 5 GAMES! That record still stands and is not likely to be broken anytime soon. The Redskins meanwhile, have one of the league’s top WR’s and RB’s, something the pathetic Ravens’ offense didn’t even come close to in 2000(1). The Redskins dropped >50 points against a SF team that the Seahawks struggled with. That doesn’t happen to inept offenses. So althouth the Redskins defense may not be as good as the Raven’s of 2000(1), their offense may be able to make up the difference. The pathetic offensive effort last week against the bucs was the result of getting an early lead and letting the defense do the rest – and Portis was injured. Believe me, you’ll see a different offense tomorrow.

  6. Joe - Jan 13, 2006 at 2:10 PM

    I agree with point #2 from our Pearl Jam-listening, Starbucks-drinking friend. The Hawks beat the teams that the NFL put on their schedule. You can’t take that away from them.

    The reason we look at the schedule is to see who is more battle-tested. It’s a legitimate argument that a team with a soft schedule and that hasn’t been in a meaningful game in the past month might not be ready for a fight. We’ll find out on Saturday.

  7. Anonymous - Jan 13, 2006 at 2:32 PM

    Seattlite, be wary of a team like the Redskins, who are, by all accounts, over-performing and exceeding all expectations, especially when matched up against a team (Seahawks) who has a history of under-performing in the post-season. I’m not saying that this won’t be the Seahawks’ breakout year, but it has to worry you at least a little. Archives

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