2012 NFL Playoffs: New Age Offense vs. Old School Defense

Graeme FrisqueContributor IIJanuary 2, 2012

Drew Brees was one of three quarterbacks to pass for 5000 yards in 2011.
Drew Brees was one of three quarterbacks to pass for 5000 yards in 2011.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In a year where three quarterbacks threw for over 5,000 yards, It would be a grave understatement to suggest that the NFL has experienced a philosophical shift to the passing game on the offensive side of things.

But will this shift lead to a Championship?

Prior to 2011, the feat of passing for 5,000 yards in a season had only been accomplished twice in NFL history; once by Dan Marino in 1984, and again by Drew Brees in 2008.

I think Michael David Smith of NBC Sports said it best:

"Depending on your perspective, this was either the best year for quarterbacks in NFL history or the worst year for pass defense in NFL history."

The 2012 NFL playoffs should provide us with ample opportunity to determine which of these perspectives was the correct one ultimately. 

Saints' QB Drew Brees and his New England Patriots' counterpart Tom Brady both broke Dan Marino's longstanding single season passing yards record of 5,084 yards set in 1984.

Brees now holds the record after finishing up with a mind boggling 5,476 yards passing. Brady's 5,235 passing yards now ranks second all-time.

Lions' QB Matthew Stafford also surpassed the 5,000-yard mark this season, finishing up with 5,038. Eli Manning was just 67 yards short of the milestone.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers rounds out the top five. He might have also made it to 5,000 yards had he not been rested in the season finale. He finished with 4,643 passing yards, just 357 off the mark.

As a result, and rightfully so, many have dubbed this season "The Year of the Quarterback". It's no surprise then that all of these teams rank in the top ten in total offense. Other than the Giants who rank eighth, the rest of them are in the top five.

The Saints, Pats, and Packers are one-two-three, and the Lions sit at number five. It's also no surprise that each of the mentioned teams have ridden their quarterback's success into this year's playoffs. 

What might be a surprise though is that each of these teams also ranks in the bottom ten in total defense. The two number one seeds in this year's playoffs, the Patriots and Packers, rank 31st and 32nd, respectively.

I'm not sure that has ever happened before. The Giants ranked 27th, and the Saints and Lions had the ninth and 10th worst defenses in terms of yards per game in 2011.

Defense? We don't need any stinking defense.

All five of these teams embody a sort of new age, all or nothing, pass happy, "offense first" style that is becoming more and more prevalent in today's NFL. If the 2011-12 regular season standings are any indication, it seems to be working.

But will this success translate into a Super bowl for one of these teams? 

In contrast, five of the other seven teams who made the playoffs this season could safely be described as taking a more traditional "defense first" approach with a more balanced running attack.

Four of them rank one through four in terms of total defense. The Steelers lead the pack, followed by the Texans, and the Harbaugh led Ravens and 49ers. The Bengals finished seventh.

However, not one of these teams finished in the top ten in total offense. Pittsburgh ranked the highest at 12th.

The Denver Broncos at 8-8, and the Atlanta Falcons who claimed the NFC's fifth seed are the only teams in this year's second season that don't fit nicely into either of these categories.

But let's face it, the only reason the Broncos are even in the playoffs is because someone from the AFC West had to make it. The Atlanta Falcons ranked 10th in total offense and 12th in total defense. They aren't great at anything, but aren't horrible at anything either.

The clash of these teams and their contrasting strengths and styles should make for a very interesting and entertaining 2012 NFL playoffs.

Conventional wisdom says that defense wins championships, which would suggest that the smart money is on the traditional, more defensive-minded approach.

However, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning might just have something to say about that, and they all have the rings to back it up.