Can a Great Offense Win Championships Without a High-Caliber Defense?

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Can a Great Offense Win Championships Without a High-Caliber Defense?

You often hear people say defense wins championships, but you never hear anyone say that offense wins championships.

Why, not?

Is the old cliche true about the necessity to play quality defense, or is it a myth that many people have come to adopt simply to glorify the sometimes less-exciting side of the ball?

In an effort to get a better understanding on this subject, I looked back to history.

Sometimes, teams have Cinderella seasons but for the most part, you would imagine that history should provide an accurate gauge for us to determine whether NFL teams truly need a championship-caliber defense to become champions.

Has any sort of pattern been established?

Has every team been different and found their own ways to win, regardless of exceptional performance on either one side of the ball?

These are the questions that I hope to answer.

What I did was research the 43 Super Bowl-winning teams.

I recorded where each team ranked in the league in each of their Super Bowl-winning seasons in terms of points-per-game scored and points-per-game allowed.

Instead of ranking these teams based on the actual amount of points they scored and gave up, I tracked where they ranked among the league in their championship seasons.

The reason being that since the rules of the game have changed so much, scoring 25 points per game in 1978 would have been much more impressive than scoring 25 points per game in 2008.

The same could be said in the sense that holding your opponent to 13 points per game in 2008 would be much more impressive than holding your opponent to 13 points per game in 1978.

Point totals vary from season to season, while the overall rankings provide a more accurate indication of where these teams ranked among the rest of the league in each of their respective championship seasons.

Now, before I unveil the rankings, how many people think that there have been a number of a teams to win Super Bowls without quality defensive squads?

How many teams do you think may have won Super Bowls without quality offensive units?

For the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to say that ranking in the top-ten on either side of the ball is a pretty solid indication that the specific unit played at a quality level.

Other readers may have a different criteria.

Without any further ado, here are both the offensive and defensive rankings of all 43 Super Bowl winning teams...1966 Green Bay Packers

  • Fourth on offense
  • First on defense

1967 Green Bay Packers

  • Ninth on offense
  • Third on defense

1968 New York Jets

  • Second on offense
  • Fourth on defense

1969 Kansas City Chiefs

  • Second on offense
  • First on defense

1970 Baltimore Colts

  • Sixth on offense
  • Seventh on defense

1971 Dallas Cowboys

  • First on offense
  • Seventh on defense

1972 Miami Dolphins

  • First on offense
  • First on defense

1973 Miami Dolphins

  • Fifth on offense
  • First on defense

1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Sixth on offense
  • Second on defense

1975 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Fifth on offense
  • Second on defense

1976 Oakland Raiders

  • Fourth on offense
  • 12th on defense

1977 Dallas Cowboys

  • Second on offense
  • Eighth on defense

1978 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Fifth on offense
  • First on defense

1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • First on offense
  • Fifth on defense

1980 Oakland Raiders

  • Seventh on offense
  • Tenth on defense

1981 San Francisco 49ers

  • Seventh on offense
  • Second on defense

1982 Washington Redskins

  • 12th on offense
  • First on defense

1983 Oakland Raiders

  • Third on offense
  • 13th on defense

1984 San Francisco 49ers

  • Second on offense
  • First on defense

1985 Chicago Bears

  • Second on offense
  • First on defense

1986 New York Giants

  • Eighth on offense
  • Second on defense

1987 Washington Redskins

  • Fourth on offense
  • Sixth on defense

1988 San Francisco 49ers

  • Seventh on offense
  • Eighth on defense

1989 San Francisco 49ers

  • First on offense
  • Third on defense

1990 New York Giants

  • 15th on offense
  • First on defense

1991 Washington Redskins

  • First on offense
  • Second on defense

1992 Dallas Cowboys

  • Second on offense
  • Fifth on defense

1993 Dallas Cowboys

  • Second on offense
  • Second on defense

1994 San Francisco 49ers

  • First on offense
  • Sixth on defense

1995 Dallas Cowboys

  • Third on offense
  • Third on defense

1996 Green Bay Packers

  • First on offense
  • First on defense

1997 Denver Broncos

  • First on offense
  • Sixth on defense

1998 Denver Broncos

  • Second on offense
  • Eighth on defense

1999 St. Louis Rams

  • First on offense
  • Fourth on defense

2000 Baltimore Ravens

  • 14th on offense
  • First on defense

2001 New England Patriots

  • Sixth on offense
  • Sixth on defense

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • 18th on offense
  • First on defense

2003 New England Patriots

  • 12th on offense
  • First on defense

2004 New England Patriots

  • Fourth on offense
  • Second on defense

2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Ninth on offense
  • Third on defense

2006 Indianapolis Colts

  • Second on offense
  • 23rd on defense

2007 New York Giants

  • 14th on offense
  • 17th on defense

2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

  • 20th on offense
  • First on defense

So what does all of this tell us?

Allow me to lay it out, so we can get a quicker glance at the big picture.

 

The No. 1 offense ended up winning nine of the 43 Super Bowls (20.9 percent).

The No. 1 defense ended up winning 14 of the 43 Super Bowls (32.5 percent).

Top-five offenses won 27 out of the 43 Super Bowls (62.8 percent).

Top-five defenses won 29 out of the 43 Super Bowls (67.4 percent).

Top-ten offenses won 36 out of the 43 Super Bowls (83.7 percent).

Top-ten defense won 39 out of the 43 Super Bowls (90.6 percent).

The average Super Bowl winning offense ranked 6.4th overall.

The average Super Bowl winning defense ranked 4.5th overall.

 

The numbers seem to indicate a slight advantage going to the defensive side of the ball.

Still, they also appear to indicate that Super Bowl-winning teams must be of a high caliber on both sides of the ball with few exceptions (The 2006 Colts defense & The 2008 Steelers offense come to mind).

Now, you might be wondering why this article seems to focus more on the value of defenses winning championships than offense winning championships.

Truth be told, both units appear to be quite equal in terms of value needed to win the Super Bowl.

The reason why I'm taking a closer look on the value of defense is due to how society has treated both units.

You rarely hear a great defensive squad criticized for their lack of winning championships when they get stuck with poor to mediocre offensive units.

Conversely, you often hear players on the offensive side of the ball (especially quarterbacks) criticized for not winning championships even though they end up playing with poor to mediocre defensive units.

Let's face it, both sides need the other to succeed but one side takes more heat for the lack of doing so.

Realistically speaking, you're going to win a Super Bowl without having a defense ranked in the top ten.

It's only happened four times in 43 years, so I wouldn't bank on any miracles happening if I were the quarterback of a team who possesses a struggling defense.

Yet, you often hear quarterbacks criticized for their lack of winning championships, regardless of the defensive units they played with.

I could understand that criticism if they had the benefit of playing with top defensive units for the greater part of their careers but if those seasons come few and far between, the window of opportunity they have is significantly less than that of other quarterbacks.

The best example that I can think of is Peyton Manning.

Since his team has won more games in a single decade than any other team led by any one quarterback in NFL history, people have expected to see more of the same in the postseason.

The reality of the matter is that Manning has only played with top-ten defensive units in four times in his 11-year career.

The Colts managed to win many games they logically shouldn't have due to exceptional production from the Colts offense. This (in my view) led to unrealistic expectations in the postseason.

All people could think of is that they won during the regular season so they should be able to win in the postseason just as easily.

The problem is, one dimensional teams get shut down in the playoffs.

Defenses single out their greatest strength (in this case, the passing offense) and force the rest of the team to beat them. Meanwhile they rack up points and force the quarterback to play from behind.

It's a losing combination.

No matter how good Peyton Manning and the Colts offense was, they really didn't have much of a realistic chance at winning championships during seven of Manning's 11 seasons.

History shows us that no matter how good the offense is, it won't travel far without a quality defense to balance the attack.

That goes for Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, or any other quarterback stuck in these kinds of situations who takes the heat for it anyway.

The issue is, people expect these individuals to carry their teams in a way that isn't very logical.

That is, if history has anything to say about the matter.

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