The Changing Face of the League (Part 3)

"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." -- Lloyd Alexander.

   
In Part 1 of this series, I took a look at the statement that the NFL is becoming a passing league.  We focused upon the period since the first Super Bowl in 1966.  We discovered that the majority of teams in the NFL have seen their passing production increase by approximately 500 yards per year on the average.  Part 2 compared this increased passing productivity with the rushing productivity during that same period.  We found five interesting trends in this data:

1
The NFL has been stressing offensive production -- as indicated by both passing and rushing yards per play steadily increasing.
2
The NFL has been stressing passing production -- as evidenced by the dramatic increase in passing yards per play since 1978.
3
The increase in passing production has not come at the expense of rushing production -- rushing production has risen slightly and remained relatively steady, despite the increases in passing production.
4
The increase in passing production appears to be the result of the increase in the number of passing plays per game, along with rules changes that favor the passing offense.
5
Rushing production appears to be becoming more efficient, as evidenced by the fact that despite a decline of nearly 10 rushing plays per game since 1979, rushing production has remained relatively stable.

With this emphasis on offense, and on passing in particular, the next question quickly becomes:


"Does the truism 'Defense Wins Championships" still hold true?"


I'll share what I found after the jump.

 

    MHR member Gyldenlove, in a comment on Part 2 of this series, gave us a starting point for looking at how defenses have been affected by the NFL's emphasis on offense.  In that comment, Gyldenlove shared how highly ranked the past 10 Super Bowl winners have been in terms of points allowed.  We're going to use that as our point of departure for this discussion.  We'll be looking at the rankings of each of the Super Bowl teams in terms of Offensive Points scored vs Defensive Points allowed. 

Quick Hits

    With the New Orleans Saints victory over the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010, there have been forty-four Super Bowls played.  A quick glance at the teams playing in those championship games reveals the following data:
1)Teams with the #1 ranked Offense (most points scored) won 10 times and lost 11.
2)Teams with the #1 ranked Defense (fewest points allowed) won 14 times and lost 4.
3)Teams with a Top 5 ranked Offense won 28 times and lost 26.
4)Teams with a Top 5 ranked Defense won 29 times and lost 22.
5)Teams with a Top 10 ranked Offense won 27 times and lost 41.
6)Teams with a Top 10 ranked Defense won 39 times and lost 34.


    This first look appears to support the proposition that defenses are what win the championships.  Let's look at the data from another angle.  When we compare the two teams that played in each Super Bowl, we find:

1)Teams with both the higher ranked offense and the higher ranked defense won 14 times.
2)Teams with the higher ranked offense but the lower ranked defense won 9 times.
3)Teams with the lower ranked offense but the higher ranked defense won 14 times.
4)Teams with the lower ranked offense and the lower ranked defense won 7 times.


Again, the data leans us towards the conclusion that it is predominately the defense that wins the championship.  After all, the higher ranked defense was on the winning team 28 times.  However, that is only 63.6% of the wins, or just under two-thirds.  Let's take one more look at the data.  This time we will focus on each of the 44 Super Bowls individually.  Just a reminder: The dates listed in connection with the Super Bowl refers to the year in which the regular season was played, not the date of the Super Bowl itself. 

A word of explanation.  In the comments area by each of the Super Bowls, there will be comments like: "Winning Team's lower ranked offense defeated Losing Team's higher ranked defense."  Please be aware that these ranking comparison comments are ranking Team A's offense vs Team B's defense and vice versa.  It makes little sense to compare offense to offense or defense to defense since those units never play each other directly.


Super Bowl I -- 1966: Green Bay Packers 35 vs Kansas City Chiefs 10

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Green Bay
4
1
Kansas City
1
2
The #4 offense defeated the #2 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Offense
(Packers' lower ranked offense defeated a higher ranked defense while their defense had the same ranking as the Chiefs' offense.  Game recap credited win to play of QB Bart Starr.)



Super Bowl II -- 1967: Green Bay Packers 33 vs Oakland Raiders 14

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Green Bay
9
3
Oakland
1
2
The #9 offense defeated the #2 defense.
The #3 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Offense
(Packers were lower ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to the play of QB Bart Starr and the offense.)



Super Bowl III -- 1968: New York Jets 16 vs Baltimore Colts 7

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New York
2
4
Baltimore
2
1
The #2 offense defeated the #1 defense.
The #4 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Jets were lower ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited QB Joe Namath and the offense with the victory but noted that the Jets' defense had 3 1st half interceptions.)



Super Bowl IV -- 1969: Kansas City Chiefs 23 vs Minnesota Vikings 7

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Kansas City
2
1
Minnesota
1
1
The #2 offense defeated the #1 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Chiefs' lower ranked offense defeated a higher ranked defense while their defense had the same ranking as the Vikings' offense. Game recap credited the win to superb QB by Len Dawson and a dominant Kansas City defense.)



Super Bowl V -- 1970: Baltimore Colts 16 vs Dallas Cowboys 13

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Baltimore
6
7
Dallas
10
4
The #6 offense defeated the #4 defense.
The #7 defense defeated the #10 offense.
Edge: Defense
(Colts' lower ranked offense defeated a higher ranked defense while their higher ranked defense defeated Dallas' lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited defensive interceptions with setting up the tying touchdown and the winning field goal.)



Super Bowl VI -- 1971: Dallas Cowboys 24 vs Miami Dolphins 3

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Dallas
1
7
Miami
4
3
The #1 offense defeated the #3 defense.
The #7 defense defeated the #4 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Dallas' higher ranked offense defeated Miami's lower ranked defense while the Cowboys' lower ranked defense defeated Miami's higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to Dallas' offense setting a Super Bowl rushing record while their defense held Miami's offense to a record low for total yards.)



Super Bowl VII -- 1972: Miami Dolphins 14 vs Washington Redskins 7

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Miami
1
1
Washington
7
3
The #1 offense defeated the #3 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #7 offense.
Edge: Defense
(Miami was higher ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited win to Miami's defense allowing the Redskins to cross mid-field only once in the 1st half.)



Super Bowl VIII -- 1973: Miami Dolphins 24 vs Minnesota Vikings 7

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Miami
5
1
Minnesota
9
2
The #5 offense defeated the #2 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #9 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Miami's lower ranked offense defeated Minnesota's higher ranked defense while Miami's higher ranked defense defeated Minnesota's lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to a Super Bowl record rushing performance by RB Larry Csonka and a Miami defense that limited the Vikings to 7 plays in the 1st quarter.)



Super Bowl IX -- 1974: Pittsburgh Steelers 16 vs Minnesota Vikings 6 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
6
2
Minnesota
5
3
The #6 offense defeated the #3 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #5 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Pittsburgh's lower ranked offense defeated Minnesota's higher ranked defense while the Steeler's higher ranked offense defeated the Vikings' lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to a Super Bowl record setting rushing performance by Franco Harris (158 yards) while Pittsburgh defense held Minnesota to a Super Bowl record low 17 yards rushing.)



Super Bowl X -- 1975: Pittsburgh Steelers  21 vs Dallas Cowboys 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
5
2
Dallas
8
9
The #5 ranked offense defeated the #9 ranked defense.
The #2 ranked defense defeated the #8 ranked offense.
Edge: Defense
(Pittsburgh was higher ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited an the win to an aggressive Steeler defense.)



Super Bowl XI -- 1976: Oakland Raiders 32 vs Minnesota Vikings 14 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Oakland
4
12
Minnesota
9
2
The #4 ranked offense defeated the #2 ranked defense.
The #12 ranked defense defeated the #9 ranked offense.
Edge: Offense
(Oakland ranked lower on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to a dominating performance by Oakland's offense.)



Super Bowl XII -- 1977: Dallas Cowboys 27 vs Denver Broncos 10 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Dallas
2
3
Denver
10
3
The #2 ranked offense defeated the #3 ranked defense.
The #3 ranked defense defeated the #10 ranked offense.
Edge: Defense
(Dallas ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to Dallas' defense which recovered 4 fumbles and intercepted 4 passes.)



Super Bowl XIII -- 1978: Pittsburgh Steelers 35 vs Dallas Cowboys 31

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
5
1
Dallas
1
3
The #5 ranked offense defeated the #3 ranked defense.
The #1 ranked defense defeated the #1 ranked offense.
Edge: Offense
(Pittsburgh's lower ranked offense defeated Dallas' higher ranked defense while the teams were their defense was ranked the same as the Cowboys' offense.  Game recap credited the win to the play of QB Terry Bradshaw.)



Super Bowl XIV -- 1979: Pittsburgh Steelers 31 vs Los Angeles Rams 19

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
1
5
Los Angeles
15
11
The #1 offense defeated the #11 defense.
The #5 defense defeated the #15 defense.
Edge: Offense
(Pittsburgh was ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to Bradshaw's record setting performance -- he set two Super Bowl records in the game.)



Super Bowl XV -- 1980: Oakland Raiders 27 vs Philadelphia Eagles 10

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Oakland
7
10
Philadelphia
6
1
The #7 offense defeated the #1 defense.
The #10 defense defeated the #6 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Oakland was ranked lower on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to strong offensive play and key defensive plays.)



Super Bowl XVI -- 1981: San Francisco 49ers 26 vs Cincinnati Bengals 21

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
San Francisco
7
2
Cincinnati
3
12
The #7 offense defeated the #12 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #3 offense.
Edge: Offense
(San Francisco was ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to Joe Montana's controlled passing and Ray Werschings' record-tying 4 field goal performances)



Super Bowl XVII -- 1982: Washington Redskins 27 vs Miami Dolphins 17

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Washington
12
1
Miami
10
2
The #12 offense defeated the #2 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #10 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Redskins' lower ranked offense defeated Miami's higher ranked defense while Washington's higher ranked defense defeated the Dolphins' lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to a record-setting performance by the offense and a defense that limited the Dolphins to 34 yards in the 2nd half.)



Super Bowl XVIII -- 1983: Los Angeles Raiders 38 vs Washington Redskins 9

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Los Angeles
3
13
Washington
1
11
The #3 offense defeated the #11 defense.
The #13 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Offense

(The Raiders' higher ranked offense defeated the Redskins' lower ranked defense, while their lower ranked defense defeated Washington's higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to Oakland's Super Bowl record-setting offense.)



Super Bowl XIX -- 1984: San Francisco 49ers 38 vs Miami Dolphins 16

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
San Francisco
2
1
Miami
1
7
The #2 offense defeated the #7 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Draw
(San Francisco's higher ranked offense defeated the Dolphin's lower ranked defense, while their defense was tied with Miami's offense.  Game recap credited the win to the 49ers dominating on both sides of the ball.)



Super Bowl XX -- 1985: Chicago Bears 46 vs New England Patriots 10

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Chicago
2
1
New England
10
6
The #2 offense defeated the #6 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #10 offense.
Edge: Defense
(Chicago was  higher ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to a dominating defense that recorded 7 sacks and limited the Patriots to just 7 yards rushing.)



Super Bowl XXI -- 1986: New York Giants 39 vs Denver Broncos 20

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New York
8
2
Denver
6
15
The #8 offense defeated the #15 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #6 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Giants were ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to an explosive 30 point 2nd half by the offense, a goal line stand by the Giants' defense at the end of the 1st half, and a dominating defensive 3rd quarter performance that limited the Broncos to 2 net yards in that quarter.)



Super Bowl XXII -- 1987: Washington Redskins 42 vs Denver Broncos 10

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Washington
4
6
Denver
4
7
The #4 offense defeated the #7 defense.
The #6 defense defeated the #4 offense.
Edge: Offense
(Washington's higher ranked offense defeated Denver's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Broncos' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to Washington's 35 point explosion in the 2nd quarter, after falling behind by 10 points on early scores by the Broncos.)



Super Bowl XXIII -- 1988: San Francisco 49ers 20 vs Cincinnati Bengals 16

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
San Francisco
8
2
Cincinnati
6
15
The #7 offense defeated the #16 defense.
The #8 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Defense
(The 49ers' higher ranked offense defeated Cincinnati's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Bengals' higher ranked offense.  Game recap shows how both defenses kept the score low, with the 49ers finally breaking through for a game winning drive late in the 4th quarter.



Super Bowl XXIV -- 1989: San Franscisco 49ers 55 vs Denver Broncos 10

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
San Francisco
1
3
Denver
8
1
The #1 offense defeated the #1 defense.
The #3 defense defeated the #8 offense.
Edge: Draw
(San Francisco was ranked higher on the defensive side of the ball, while their offense was tied with Denver's defense.  Game recap credited the win to domination on both sides of the ball -- (first downs: 28-12; net yards: 461-167; and time of possession: 39:31-20:29.)



Super Bowl XXV -- 1990: New York Giants 20 vs Buffalo Bills 19 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New York
15
1
Buffalo
1
6
The #15 offense defeated the #6 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Offense
(New York's lower ranked offense defeated Buffalo's higher ranked defense while their defense was tied with the Bills' offense.  Game recap credited the win to New York's ball-control offense which amassed over 40 minutes in time of possession.)



Super Bowl XXVI -- 1991: Washington Redskins 37 vs Buffalo Bills 24 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Washington
1
2
Buffalo
2
19
The #1 offense defeated the #19 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Washington's higher ranked offense defeated Buffalo's lower ranked defense while their defense was tied with the Bills' offense.  Game recap credited the win to an overwhelming offensive attack and a defense that intercepted Jim Kelly 4 times.)



Super Bowl XXVII -- 1992: Dallas Cowboys 52 vs Buffalo Bills 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Dallas
2
5
Buffalo
3
14
The #2 offense defeated the #14 defense.
The #5 defense defeated the #3 offense.
Edge: Defense
(The Cowboys' higher ranked offense defeated Buffalo's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Bills' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to the Cowboys' defense which forced 9 turnovers that led to 35 points.)



Super Bowl XXVIII -- 1993: Dallas Cowboys 30 vs Buffalo Bills 13 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Dallas
2
2
Buffalo
7
5
The #2 offense defeated the #5 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #7 offense.
Edge: Offense
(Dallas was ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to the power running of Emmett Smith.)



Super Bowl XXIX -- 1994: San Francisco 49ers 49 vs San Diego Chargers 26 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
San Francisco
1
6
San Diego
5
9
The #1 offense defeated the #9 defense.
The #6 defense defeated the #5 offense.
Edge: Offense
(The 49ers' higher ranked offense defeated the Chargers' lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated San Diego's higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to San Francisco's explosive offense.)



Super Bowl XXX -- 1995: Dallas Cowboys 27 vs Pittsburgh Steelers 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Dallas
3
3
Pittsburgh
5
9
The #3 offense defeated the #9 defense.
The #3 defense defeated the #5 offense.
Edge: Defense
(The Cowboys were higher ranked on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to two 2nd half interceptions by CB Larry Brown.)



Super Bowl XXXI -- 1996: Green Bay Packers 35 vs New England Patriots 21 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Green Bay
1
1
New England
2
14
The #1 offense defeated the #14 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Defense
(The Packers were ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to the Green Bay defense which logged 4 interceptions and which never allowed New England past midfield on 4 4th quarter possessions.)



Super Bowl XXXII -- 1997: Denver Broncos 31 vs Green Bay Packers 24 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Denver
1
6
Green Bay
2
5
The #1 offense defeated the #5 defense.
The #6 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Draw
(Denver's higher ranked offense defeated Green Bay's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Packers' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to the power running of Terrell Davis and a defense that intercepted Bret Favre once and knocked away a final Green Bay pass with 32 seconds left.)



Super Bowl XXXIII -- 1998: Denver Broncos 34 vs Atlanta Falcons 19 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Denver
2
8
Atlanta
4
4
The #2 offense defeated the #4 defense.
The #8 defense defeated the #4 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Broncos higher ranked offense defeated Atlanta's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Falcons' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to the passing attack of John Elway and a defensive effort that included 3 interceptions.)



Super Bowl XXXIV -- 1999 St. Louis Rams 23 vs Tennessee Titans 16 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
St Louis
1
4
Tennessee
7
15
The #1 offense defeated the #15 defense.
The #4 defense defeated the #7 offense.
Edge: Draw
(St. Louis was ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to both Kurt Warner's record 414 yards passing and a defensive effort that led to a tackle at the St. Louis 1 yard line as time expired that denied the Titans a chance to tie the score.)



Super Bowl XXXV -- 2000: Baltimore Ravens 34 vs New York Giants 7 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Baltimore
14
1
New York
15
5
The #14 offense defeated the #5 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #15 offense.
Edge: Defense
(Baltimore's lower ranked offense defeated the Giants' higher ranked defense while their higher ranked defense defeated New York's lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to a dominating defense that permitted a mere 152 yards, took the ball away 5 times, sacked Kerry Collins 4 times, and did not allow an offensive touchdown.)



Super Bowl XXXVI -- 2001: New England Patriots 20 vs St. Louis Rams 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New England
6
6
St Louis
1
7
The #6 offense defeated the #7 defense.
The #6 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Defense
(The Patriots' higher ranked offense defeated St. Louis' lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Rams' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the game to the Patriots' defense which created 3 take aways that led to 17 Patriots' points.)



Super Bowl XXXVII -- 2002: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 vs Oakland Raiders 21 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Tampa Bay
18
1
Oakland
2
6
The #18 offense defeated the #6 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Defense
(Tampa Bay's lower ranked offense defeated the Raiders higher ranked defense while their higher ranked defense defeated Oakland's lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to the Buccaneers' defense which forced 5 interceptions -- 3 of which were pick 6's -- and sacked Rich Gannon 5 times.)



Super Bowl XXXVIII -- 2003: New England Patriots 32 vs Carolina Panthers 29 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New England
12
1
Carolina
15
10
The #12 offense defeated the #10 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #15 offense.
Edge: Draw
(New England's lower ranked offense defeated the Panther's higher ranked defense while their higher ranked defense defeated Carolina's lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to both units.  The defenses for both teams held the game scoreless for the first 26:55.  The offenses, however, combined for 868 yards and set a Super Bowl record by scoring a combined 37 points in the 4th quarter.)



Super Bowl XXXIX -- 2004: New England Patriots 24 vs Philadelphia Eagles 21 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New England
4
2
Philadelphia
8
2
The #4 offense defeated the #2 defense.
The #2 defense defeated the #8 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Patriots lower ranked offense defeated Philadelphia's higher ranked defense while their higher ranked defense defeated the Eagles' lower ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to Deion Branch's 133 yards receiving and the Patriots' defense's four take aways.)



Super Bowl XL -- 2005: Pittsburgh Steelers 21 vs Seattle Seahawks 10 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
9
3
Seattle
1
7
The #9 offense defeated the #7 defense.
The #3 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge: Offense
(Pittsburgh was ranked lower on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to the running of Jerome Bettis and a trick play involving receiver Antwaan Randle El who threw a touchdown pass to fellow receiver Hines Ward.)



Super Bowl XLI -- 2006: Indianapolis Colts 29 vs Chicago Bears 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Indianapolis
2
23
Chicago
2
3
The #2 offense defeated the #3 defense.
The #23 defense defeated the #2 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Colts higher ranked offense defeated Chicago's lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Bears' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to solid though unspectacular play by the Colts offense along with a defense that took the ball away 5 times, including a pick 6.)



Super Bowl XLII -- 2007: New York Giants 17 vs New England Patriots 14 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New York
14
17
New England
1
4
The #14 offense defeated the #4 defense.
The #17 defense defeated the #1 offense.
Edge:Defense
(New York was ranked lower on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to the Giants' defense which held the undefeated Patriot's top ranked offense in check throughout the game.)



Super Bowl XLIII -- 2008: Pittsburgh Steelers 27 vs Arizona Cardinals 23 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
Pittsburgh
20
1
Arizona
3
28
The #20 offense defeated the #28 defense.
The #1 defense defeated the #3 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Steeler were ranked higher on both sides of the ball.  Game recap credited the win to strong play on both sides of the ball by the Steelers.)



Super Bowl XLIV -- 2009: New Orleans Saints 31 vs Indianapolis Colts 17 

Winner
Offense
Defense
Loser
Offense
Defense
Comment
New Orleans
1
20
Indianapolis
7
8
The #1 offense defeated the #8 defense.
The #20 defense defeated the 7 offense.
Edge: Draw
(The Saints higher ranked offense defeated Indianapolis' lower ranked defense while their lower ranked defense defeated the Colts' higher ranked offense.  Game recap credited the win to an explosive 2nd half performance by the offense, as well as a defense that held Manning and the Colts' offense in check.)


    We started this study with a question as to whether or not the NFL has become a passing league.  We saw how over the years, and particularly in the years since 1978, the NFL has made rule changes that have had the effect of emphasizing the passing game.  We also saw how that increase in passing production, by and large, did not come at the expense of the running game.  That being the case, it would not be unreasonable to expect to see the offense become a dominating factor in the championship games.  So, we raised the question of whether or not the football truism "Defense wins games" still holds true.  Our initial look suggested that it did.  I offered a look at each Super Bowl, and based on the unit rankings and the game recaps available at NFL.com, I attempted to evaluate whether the offense or defense was being given more credit for the wins.  I found that a number of times, both units were equally credited with the winning team's success (what I chose to call a "draw").  When I compared these evaluations to the time periods used to look at the passing and running games, I found something interesting:

Years
Offense
Draw
Defense
1966-69
2
2
0
1970-79
3
3
4
1980-89
3
5
2
1990-99
3
4
3
2000-09
1
5
4


The reason I find this interesting is that, given the shift in emphasis to favor the passing game, I would have expected defenses credited with more wins in the early Super Bowl years, with the offenses gradually catching then surpassing the defenses in the more recent ones.  Overall, this did not happen.  In fact, the numbers for the first 34 years of the Super Bowl era were remarkable consistent with the edge going to the Draw/Offense side of the equation.  It is only in the last decade -- where we have had unprecedented offensive production across the league -- that we have see the defenses take an overwhelming edge in the championship game.

    I found this to be an interesting look at the Super Bowls.  What seemed to be the case is that the winning team's offense was credited with 12 of the wins, their defense with 13 and both units were credited with 19 wins.  It would appear that the team that was the most effective on both sides of the ball was more likely to win.  Now I know that sounds like a rather obvious statement, but I believe it is a more important one than we tend to think.  It underscores the fact that football is a team sport.  Some would argue that it is the ultimate team sport.  In the cases where the offense or the defense is credited with the win, it is hard to determine what role the other unit played in the victory. 

    Where this entire series has led me is towards the idea that we are dealing with something of a "chicken or the egg" type question when we try to evaluate offense versus defense as being more responsible for a team's success or failure.  Certainly, there is a tremendous body of data that can underscore the idea that a team was successful because their offense or defense was dominant (i.e. 2009 New Orleans #1 offense/#18 defense, or 2002 Tampa Bay #18 offense/#1 defense).  Yet there are also cases wherein teams with relatively low ranking on both sides of the ball have won (i.e. SB XI - Oakland #4 offense/#12 defense defeated a higher ranked Minnesota team, or SB XLII where the Giants (#14/#17) defeated the Patriots (#1/#4).  It is my belief that we cannot look at offenses nor defenses in isolation.  Would the 2002 Buccaneers' defense have been as dominating had the Tampa Bay offense not protected the ball and scored points (TB was 18th in points scored that year and 15th in fewest give aways)?  Would the 2009 Saints' offense have been so effective without their defense managing to make stands when they needed to (NO was 20th in points given up and 15th in take aways)? 

    Football, IMHO, is the most complex professional sport currently being played.  As such, I believe there is a need for an improved system of analyzing what occurs in the games.  There are many great sites on the internet that offer statistical evaluations of the games, so that fans may choose for themselves which quarterback is better than another, or which team is better.  Yet, as recent discussions here at MHR have indicated, each of these sites has its strengths and each has it weaknesses.  Perhaps there is no good answer given the complexity of the game. 
    
    It is also important to note that not everyone wants to go digging into the hows and whys behind their team's successes and failures.  Some fans find their enjoyment of the team in following the career of a player or simply rooting for their team, and really have no interest in statistics, film study, terminology, etc.  Please read this carefully: the previous statement was neither sarcastic nor a slam. I love statistics and trying to see why the Broncos won or lost (beyond the point differential).  My wife, on the other hand, just likes to watch the games and cheer the Broncos on.  And we're each okay with the other one being that way.

    So to all of you who came with me on this journey of three posts, I thank you for taking the time to skim, peruse, read, study and critique what has been written.  Whether you're a stats fanatic or a fan who just likes to see the Broncos win a M-F game, I want to say thanks for your contribution to the community that is MHR.

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