History lesson - #1 O and/or #1 D in the Super Bowl

This post grew out of a discussion following the initial look at the Seahawks. As everyone here should already know, the Broncos have the #1 scoring offense in the league this year (and in the history of the NFL) and the Seahawks had the #1 scoring defense. Yards are all well and good, but points are the true measure of a defense and an offense.

#1 Scoring Offense

Going back to the merger here is how the #1 scoring offense in the league did IF that team made it to the super bowl. Note that in many years the #1 scoring offense doesn't make it.

  • 2009 Saints won
  • 2007 Pats lost
  • 2005 Seahawks lost
  • 2001 Rams lost
  • 1999 Rams won
  • 1997 Broncos won
  • 1996 Packers won
  • 1994 49ers won
  • 1991 Skins won
  • 1990 Bills lost
  • 1989 49ers won
  • 1988 Bungals lost
  • 1984 Phins - lost
  • 1983 Skins - lost
  • 1979 Steelers - won
  • 1978 Cowboys - lost
  • 1972 Dolphins - won
  • 1971 Cowboys - won

The NFL's #1 ranked offense is 10-8 in the super bowl, but had lost 3 straight before the Saints won in 2009. When that #1 ranked offense is from the AFC, the record is 3-5. When that #1 ranked offense is from the NFC, the record is 7-3. The #1 ranked offense has reached the super bowl 19 times in 48 seasons (19.8%, since two teams make the super bowl).

#1 Scoring Defense

So what about the #1 scoring defense. How have they fared in the Super Bowl?

  • 2010 Steelers lost
  • 2008 Steelers won
  • 2003 Pats won
  • 2002 Bucs won
  • 2000 Ravens won
  • 1996 Packers won (also had the #1 O)
  • 1990 Giants won
  • 1989 Broncos lost
  • 1985 Bears won
  • 1984 49ers won
  • 1982* Skins won (strike year)
  • 1980 Eagles lost
  • 1978 Steelers won
  • 1973 Dolphins won
  • 1972 Dolphins won (also had the #1 O)

The #1 ranked defense is 12-3 when it reaches the super bowl. When that team is from the AFC, the record is 6-2. When that team is from the the NFC, the record is 6-1. Prior to the 2010 Steelers loss, the #1 D won the last 6 times that it had reached the Superbowl. I had forgotten that the Broncos led the league in scoring D in 1989 (that memory of that super bowl has been erased from my memory). Interestingly, the #1 offense makes it to the super bowl a little more often than the #1 defense (16.7%), but neither has % is great.

When the unstoppable force meets the immovable object

If you were paying attention above you will note that the #1 scoring offense has met the #1 scoring defense four times in the super bowl (leaving out the two years when that was the same team, 1996 and 1972). It hasn't occurred since 1990, but here are the 4 games.

1990: The Giants beat the Bills after Scott Norwood missed a 47 yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the game that would have won it. This was the first of the Bills four super bowl losses in a row. The Giants defense led the league allowing on 211 points on the season (13.2 ppg). The Bills offense scored 428 points that season (26.8 ppg). The Vegas line on this game had the Bills as 6.5 point favorites. 20-19 was the final.

1989: The Broncos came into the game with the #1 ranked scoring D having only allowed 226 points on the season (14.1 ppg). The 49ers roared into the game with not only the #1 scoring offense (442 points, 27.6 ppg) but also the leagues #3 scoring defense. The 49ers offense thoroughly dismantled the Broncos defense while the Broncos offense stalled out of the starting gate and never really had a chance. Vegas had the 49ers as 13 point favorites in the game. 55-10 was the final.

1984: The 49ers came into this game with a juggernaut. They laid claim to the #1 scoring defense (227 points, 14.2 ppg) and the #2 scoring offense (475 points, 29.7 ppg). The #1 scoring offense, of course, belonged to their opponent the Dolphins who put up 513 points (32.1 ppg), which still stand as the 14th most points scored in an NFL season. At the time, 513 points was the second most even scored in an NFL season ('83 Skins held the record at that point). The Dolphins had a fairly stout defense, finishing the season as the #7 scoring D. The Dolphins were undone in this game by their inability to score in the red zone in the first half half and their inability to score at all in the second half. The 49ers were 3 points favorites in this one. 38-16 was the final.

1978: This was a clash of football dynasties. The Steelers had already won two recent super bowls and their defense was one of the best of all time. They only allowed 195 points on the season (12.2 ppg) with the most any team scored on them in one game being 24 (twice). In 6 of their 16 regular season games they held their opponents to less than 10 points. Ofensively the Steelers were 5th in points scored. The Cowboys were almost equally as strong with the #1 ranked O (384 points, 24.0 ppg) and the #3 ranked D (208 points, 13.0 ppg). It is interesting to note that the high point in points allowed on the season by the Steelers was the average scored by the league #1 offense - 24 points. Surprisingly, with the two strong defenses, the game turned into a shootout with PIT winning 35-31 and 28 total points being scored in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys were down 35-17 late in the game, but rallied to make it a close at the end. Dallas scored to make it 35-31 with 26 second left and could not recover the onside kick that would have given them a shot a last second miracle. The Steelers were 3.5 point favorites in this one.

So there you have the history of the 4 times that the #1 scoring O met the #1 scoring D in the super bowl. The #1 D is 3-1 (with the only loss belonging to the Broncos).

All of this is fun to recollect and there might be some insight that can be gained from the history, but none of the teams above were the 2013 Broncos or the 2013 Seahawks. Both teams were significant statistical outliers. In an era of offense, the Seahawks D was able to accomplish some very great things, SEA passing D. The 14.4 ppg allowed by the Seahawks was good for 78th best all-time in league history. I'm not trying to damn with faint praise here. Most of the top 100 of all time in ppg allowed are from prior to 2000. Only 9 of the top 50 are from 2000 or after. So despite only giving up 10 fewer points on the year than the Panthers, the Seahawks D is in some pretty good company.

Even with teams scoring at record setting paces over the past decade, the Broncos were also able to do some things that had never been done before and will be very hard to duplicate. The team scored 606 points even with the second string offense playing one full quarter in one game (PHI) and entire half in another (second Jokeland game). Remember when the 2007 Pats set the old record, they were accused of running up the score by keeping their starters in in the 4th with big leads (and still throwing the ball). This Broncos team finished with 5 players scoring 10 or more TDs (non-QB). In the entire NFL this year there were only 23 players that scored 10 or more TDs. In 2012 there were only 20 guys to score 10 or more (2 Broncos). In 2011 there were only 18. In 2010 there were 22. You get the point, there are only roughly 20 players per year that score 10 or more. To have 5 on one team is mind-boggling and speaks not only to the efficiency of the our scoring offense, but also the ability of PFM to get everyone involved on offense.

History class is over. Class dismissed.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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