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2017 NFL Playoffs: What team has the best defense?

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Do the Patriots have the best defense? Or do the Texans? Or maybe the Seahawks?

The Houston Texans allowed just 4,821 yards during the regular season, the best mark in the league. The New England Patriots allowed the fewest points all year. The Chiefs have the most First Team All Pro defenders. The Seattle Seahawks have the best DVOA of teams still in the playoffs, while the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best weighted DVOA, which better reflects their end-of-year performance.

So what team has the best defense in the playoffs? And does it really matter?

The Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and Philadelphia Eagles all had claim to Best Defense in the NFL and all three missed the playoffs. The New York Giants were probably the best defense in the postseason, but Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers shredded them in the second half.

Team WeightDVOA DVOA Points/Dr Yards
Steelers -7.6% (7th) -4.7% (11th) 1.80 (11th) 5482 (12th)
Texans -7.0% (8th) -6.9% (7th) 1.60 (5th) 4821 (1st)
Seahawks -7.0% (9th) -10.9% (4th) 1.52 (4th) 5099 (5th)
Patriots -6.0% (11th) -1.5% (16th) 1.40 (1st) 5223 (8th)
Chiefs -1.7% (14th) -2.5% (14th) 1.69 (7th) 5896 (24th)
Cowboys -1.3% (15th) 0.8% (17th) 1.86 (16th) 5503 (14th)
Falcons 5.6% (22nd) 8.1% (27th) 2.22 (28th) 5949 (25th)
Packers 5.7% (23rd) 2.4% (20th) 2.15 (26th) 5823 (22nd)

The Patriots and Texans could battle for the title of Best Defense in the NFL since they both rank #1 in the cumulative season stats, but we know that head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots are already calling the Texans the best defense in the league.

“We’re playing a really good team,” QB Tom Brady said on WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan. “We are playing a team that has earned this opportunity. They have the No. 1 defense in the league. I studied them all day yesterday. They have a damn good defense.”

And in defense of the Texans defense, they were hindered by one of the worst offenses in the entire league and a terrible special teams unit that gave up the 6th worst field position in the entire league. While the Patriots, Falcons, Packers, Cowboys, and Steelers all have top 10 offenses, and the Chiefs and Seahawks were adequately average, the Texans defense was hung out to dry throughout the year.

Houston also lost the best defensive player in football for the entire year when DL J.J. Watt hurt his back, so they’ve needed other players to step up. Edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have done a great job of disrupting opposing quarterbacks and allowing a top 5 passing defense to make plays.

“They have two very good linebackers and then they have one of the best secondary’s that we’ll face in terms of coverage corners,” Brady said about the Texans defense. “They have three guys who can cover. Also, playing against Billy’s [head coach Bill O’Brien] team and he has [defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel], who we know how great of a coach Romeo is. [Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel], how well prepared he keeps those guys on defense.”

“They have a lot of great coaches, similar to what we got, to put their really good players in a position to play well to do some really challenging things schematically on defense,” Brady added. “They play very sound and that is why they are the No. 1 defense in the league. There’s nothing easy about this game for our offense. We’re going to have to grind it out.”

Clowney, Mercilus, and LB Benardrick McKinney were all named Second Team All Pro, while LB Brian Cushing has always been one of the better linebackers in the league. Add CB A.J. Bouye, CB Jonathan Joseph, and CB Kareem Jackson in coverage and the Patriots passing attack will need to be flawless to consistently move down the field.

No one is arguing that the Falcons or Packers have a great defense, while the Cowboys have been fairly average. The Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs probably rank in the 5-10 range when looking at the big picture and prestige.

With the Seahawks secondary struggling to overcome the loss of FS Earl Thomas, the Texans have a legitimate argument for being the best defense in the playoffs. It’s up to the Patriots offense to knock the Houston defense down a peg.