Getting to the points is path to success in NFL's run-it-up '90s

TD-filled weekend shows great offense still title key

January 11, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- On a weekend when the divisional playoffs followed form and history, the NFL's trend of the '90s became crystal clear.

Offense, and not necessarily defense, is what wins championships these days.

Don't believe it? Look at the weekend results:

Minnesota 41, Arizona 21: The Vikings unleashed their multi-dimensional offense on the overmatched Cardinals and afterward, coach Dennis Green said his team hasn't played its best game yet.

Denver 38, Miami 3: The Broncos changed blocking schemes and formations, and the league's No. 3-ranked offense obliterated the league's No. 3 defense.

New York Jets 34, Jacksonville 24: The Jets had plenty of offense, but barely enough defense to outlast the Jaguars.

Atlanta 20, San Francisco 18: The exception to the case. The Falcons won the old-fashioned way, with a pounding ground game and timely defense. But then, Dan Reeves is an old-fashioned coach.

The winning team in those four games -- all home teams, all bye teams -- averaged 33.3 points. The losing team scored 16.5 points, an average dragged down by the dreary Dolphins.

If next Sunday's conference championship games fulfill this promise, a pair of shootouts will decide the matchup for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami.

Indeed, the Falcons will have to crank up their offense if they're going to play with the Vikings in the NFC title game at the Metrodome.

And Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde will have to find a way to do often in the AFC championship game what Dan Marino could not on Saturday -- get in the Mile High Stadium end zone.

These are two splendid matchups.

In the NFC, it's two reinvented quarterbacks squaring off: Atlanta's Chris Chandler against Minnesota's Randall Cunningham. (Granted, San Francisco's No. 1-ranked offense might have made for a more wide-open affair.)

In the AFC, it's a clash of coaches: Bill Parcells and his defensive coordinator Bill Belichick for the Jets against Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak for the Broncos.

And if this burgeoning offensive trend holds, it'll be the Vikings and Broncos -- the top two scoring teams in the league this season -- meeting in Miami.

Consider these facts:

The last two Super Bowls featured the league's top two scoring teams. In 1997, that was Denver (472 points) over Green Bay (422). In 1996, it was Green Bay (456) over New England (418).

Three of the last four Super Bowl champions led the NFL in scoring: Denver in 1997, Green Bay in 1996 and San Francisco in 1994. (Dallas, the 1995 champ, finished third in points scored.)

This year's final four has a distinct offensive flavor.

Led by the No. 1 Vikings, the No. 2 Broncos, the No. 4 Falcons and No. 5 Jets, it delivers four of the league's top five scoring teams. Denver scored a franchise-high 501 points and Minnesota a league-record 556.

It delivers four of the top seven total yardage teams.

And, in an interesting addendum, it delivers three of the five teams that led the league in rushing attempts. All four finalists ran the ball at least 500 times this season, led by Denver's 525.

Defense? The Jets check in as the highest-ranked defense at No. 7. The Falcons ranked eighth, the Broncos 11th and the Vikings 13th. No defensive dynamos in the bunch.

There is still another distinguishing characteristic with at least two of these teams. The Broncos outscored their opponents in the first quarter by a staggering 90 points in the regular season.

The Vikings outscored their opponents in the first quarter by 85 points.

The Jets and Falcons are forewarned.

Fearsome foursome The NFL's final four is a formidable group, with a combined record of 59-9, including 35-1 at home. Their records, current winning streaks and regular-season NFL rankings on offense and defense:

........................................ .............................OFFENSE..................................DEFENSE

Team.............W-L........Home....Streak........Tot......Rush.... Pass .....Tot......Rush ..Pass

Minnesota.....16-1.............9-0...... ..9...............2.........11...........1............13........11......19

Atlanta...........15-2............9-0... ...10..............7...........6...........11.............8.........2.......21

Denver...........15-2............9-0.... ....2..............3...........2........ .....7............11..........3......26

N.Y. Jets.......13-4.............8-1........7 ..............4.........13.............4..............7........14........9

Pub date: 1/11/99

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