Despite all the talk that an NFL team must have a top-level quarterback and offense to be competitive, the reality is that 11 of the 12 playoff teams in 2015 (all except for the Washington Redskins) ranked in the top half of the league in scoring defense.
The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos were especially reliant on their defense as they finished 19th in the NFL in scoring offense, but allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.
Whether the Broncos can repeat that pattern in 2016 will certainly be put to the test as their offense could struggle. With Peyton Manning making TV commercials (and cupcakes) and Brock Osweiler off to the Houston Texans, the Broncos are giving the quarterback duties to former 7th round pick Trevor Siemian, who has played in one NFL regular season game and is yet to throw a pass in an official game.
The defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers also had a great defense in 2015 (ranked 6th in points allowed), but they also had the best quarterback in the league and scored an NFL-best 500 points. If Cam Newton continues to play at an MVP level and the defense can overcome the loss of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, look for them to again be the team to beat in the NFC.
Below are five additional interesting storylines to follow in 2016:
Has the Window Closed for the Green Bay Packers?
Since winning Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, the Green Bay Packers have made five straight playoff appearances, including a 10-6 record a year ago. However, with the exception of the 2014 season when they had the Seattle Seahawks on the ropes in the NFC Championship Game, they have been unable to get past the divisional playoff round.
With 32-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers entering his ninth season as the starter and other key veterans closing in on the latter stages of their careers, the Packers may be nearing the point where their chances to win another championship in the near future are narrowing.
There was a time when it seemed that Rodgers had his pick of great offensive weapons. However, last season the preseason loss of Jordy Nelson exposed a lack of receiver depth and Rodgers seemed to be a victim. He posted the lowest completion percentage of his career and the fewest passing yards of any full season since he became the starter in 2008. His 92.7 quarterback rating was also the lowest of his career.
After being sacked only 28 times in 2014, Rodgers hit the dirt 46 times a year ago, which could have contributed to his struggles. It will be crucial for the Packers to shore up the offensive line and give Rodgers more time to work his magic.
With Nelson back this season and Eddie Lacy looking for a rebound season after struggling with his weight a year ago, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers returns to the top of the league statistically or if he will continue a slight decline.
Last year the Green Bay defense ranked 12th in points allowed, sixth in passing defense and 21st in rushing defense. While Green Bay’s success is generally dependent on Rodgers and the offense, they will go only so far if the defense struggles.
Will the Cincinnati Bengals Ever Win a Playoff Game?
The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, including the last five in a row. However, each trip has concluded with a loss in the wild card round and most of the losses haven’t even been close. Read the rest of this entry →