If you have watched Saturday’s wild card playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders, you surely have noticed it: ESPN’s broadcasting duo Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden repeatedly referring to the Texans as the "NFL’s number one defense". Yet, if you have visited Pats Pulpit following the New England Patriots’ regular season finale you might have noticed something else. Namely, that the Patriots are also the NFL’s number one defense.
So, what gives? As a matter of fact, both the Texans and the Patriots field the top ranked defense in the NFL. It all depends on the statistical category by which they are measured, though.
Houston’s defense is the top-ranked in yards allowed per game. Overall, the unit coached by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel surrendered only 301.3 yards per game during the regular season. For comparison, New England ranks eighth in that category, surrendering an average of 326.4 yards per contest.
Despite ranking lower than the Texans in the above statistic, the Patriots are better in another one – one that is the most important of them all: points allowed. Matt Patricia’s unit gave up a league-best 250 points, or 15.6 per contest. Houston, on the other hand, allowed 57 points more for an average of 19.2 points a game. The AFC South winner’s defense is still the eighth best in the league in that category but it is not the "NFL’s number one defense" when measured by points.
The difference in the two rankings creates an interesting storyline for Saturday’s divisional playoff game between the two. After all, the two number one defenses in league – at least when measured by points and yardage – have not faced each other in the postseason in a long time. In fact, the last time the team with the top ranked unit in points allowed played the team with the top ranked unit in yards allowed was the 2000 divisional playoff matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans.
The Ravens surrendered a league-leading 10.3 points per game, while the Titans gave up only 238.3 yards on average. In the end, though, the team with the better scoring defense advanced to the next round as Baltimore defeated Tennessee 24-10.
No matter by which metric they are measured, one thing is sure: The Texans and the Patriots have two of the best defenses in the league. Both units are well coached, solid against the run and the pass, and have had productive games this season. Only one will be able to play in the AFC Championship Game, though. And if both teams live up to their season-long averages, New England’s might give up more yards but in the end is the favorite to leave victoriously.