JAN. 16 HOME STRETCH COLUMN – PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
Can’t anybody play defense anymore?
As you know if you follow these things, there were four NFL playoff games last weekend. You also know that all four were tremendously high-scoring.
San Francisco and Green Bay combined for 76 points. The Baltimore-Denver game had 73, including 70 in regulation time.
The lowest scoring game was Atlanta’s dramatic 30-28 win over Seattle, with 58 total points.
What happened to “defense wins championships?” I always thought playoff football was when the defenses took over.
Just for comparison’s sake I looked up some old playoff scores. Twenty years ago, in this same divisional round, the highest total score among the four games was 44 total points, with Dallas beating Philadelphia 34-10. In the each of the other three games, the teams combined for fewer than 35. The losing teams’ totals were 0, 3, 10 and 13.
Even 10 years ago, scores in that round were considerably lower. The only game of the four that totaled more than 40 points was Tennesse’s 34-31 win over Pittsburgh, and that was in overtime. In the other three games, the losing teams scored 6, 6 and 10 points.
Last weekend, each of the four losing teams scored at least 28 points.
So what has happened? Spread and West Coast offenses, and rules that seem to further restrict defensive backs each season, are no doubt contributing.
I’m not a fan of this. I’m not crazy about games that end up 10-6, but I also don’t think it’s much fun when offenses routinely rack up more than 400 yards, and the only question on most possessions is whether it will end in a touchdown or field goal.
But maybe I’m just whining. And I’m definitely in the minority. The NFL certainly doesn’t mind this trend. I saw a statistic in Sports Illustrated, stating that of last fall’s 32 most-watched television programs, 31 were NFL broadcasts.
Let’s play hockey
One thing I’m not whining about is the return of the National Hockey League, which starts regular season play Saturday with a revamped, 48-game schedule.
While the shortened schedule figures to hurt the bottom lines of the teams (which they deserve for taking this long to settle the lockout), it might also intensify the excitement of regular season games.
A full schedule consists of 82 games. Playing less than 60 percent of a full schedule makes each game more significant, and it will be important for teams to start out well and not fall too far behind in the standings.
In other words, the luxury of “taking a night off” will pretty much be eliminated, which is good news for ticket buyers.
Speaking of ticket buyers, it’s time for me to start lobbying my season ticket-holding brother up in Minnesota about going to a Wild game.