ramdrumaster's Blog

There's a trend here on FanNation, and really in the sports public at large, to support your ideas with cliche's.  Much of the time these cliche's are reasonable, and well founded.  It seems as though once a cliche has been around long enough and has never really been challenged, it passes from "cliche" to "obvious truth."

This is dangerous territory.  Topics passing from theory to fact without verification leads to "the world is flat" type thinking, burning people because they are witches, and the death of intelligent dissent.  Before you know it, the idea has made it to the magical land of "You're and idiot if you don't agree that (fill in the blank)."


The topic I will be taking on with my statistics wizardy, geeky spreadsheets, logic, and unfortunatly for you cliche lovers...facts instead of opinions....is the grand-daddy of all sports cliche's:

Defense wins Championships!

Does it?  Does anyone really know?  Has anyone looked into it? 

Here's an example of my main problem (one of many, I admit):

Fannation dope (Pre-Super Bowl 41):  "Defense wins championships!  That's why the Bears and their awesome defense will beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in the Super Bowl!"

Fannation dope (Post-Super Bowl 41):  "Defense wins championships!  The Colts defense out-played the Bears defense, that's the reason Indy won the Super Bowl!"

Anyone see a problem here?  This is like "Heads-I-Win, Tails-you-Lose" when flipping a coin.  No matter what happened, people would have walked away from that game believing that what happend on the field PROVED that defense wins championships.  If the final score of the game were 55-52 Chicago, people still would be stating "Yeah that Bears defense was able to make one more stop than Indy's.  That was the difference in the game.  Defense wins Championships."  No matter what happens...the cliche thrives.

You may remember examples, games where an offense struggled and the defense made the difference, but those are just examples.  Single instances.  Case studies.  Nothing more.  Anyone who has taken psychology 101 has learned the fallacy of applying a case study to the whole of the population.  Example: If an alien were to abduct a bipolar, transvestite "Jerry Springer" guest, what they learned about human behavior/anatomy/sanity would lead them to draw incorrect conclusions about the whole of the human race.

The only intellectually honest way to determine whether or not defense is more important than offense when winning championships is to look at the big picture.  That is the meat of this blog.

Here are the numbers.

From Super Bowl 5 on (NFL.com doesn't have stats from before then) the average Super bowl team has a defense ranked 7.8 in the League (by ypg).  The average Super Bowl team has an offense ranked 7.1 in the League (by ypg).  The average Super Bowl team has a better offense than defense.  However, the difference is so minimal that it is statistically pretty insignificant.

Let's look at some other measures:

Super Bowl team ranks by ppg instead of ypg:
Defense: 5.9
Offense: 5.4

Same story here.  If you think a more accurate measure of how good teams are is ppg...the offense of Super Bowl teams is still marginally better than their defense.

What about who wins?

By yards per game:
The winning Super Bowl team has the number 7.24 offense and the number 6.18 defense.  The losing team has the number 6.97 offense and the 9.39 defense.  There is a bit of significance there. The defense for the winning team is slightly better than that of the losing team, but it's still so small that it is hard to have any confidence behind it.

By points per game:
The winning Super Bowl team has the number 5.18 offense and the number 4.87 defense.  The losing team has the number 5.55 offense and the number 6.97 defense.

Does all of this tell us much of anything.  I believe it does.  The teams that win the Super Bowl are balanced.  Defensive oriented teams are no more successful than offensive oriented teams.  Defense does not win championships alone.  It takes a good offense as well.

Before the peanut gallery starts spouting off about the 85 Bears, and how great defenses can single handedly carry teams to a championship where an offense cannot, let me head a few arguments off at the pass.  History has a funny way of being distorted.  The 85 Bears defense has received so much praise and been the topic of excessive folklore to the point that it is a common perception that they won they Superbowl while weighted down by a inept offense.  Like a the Hulk winning a three legged race even though he has a coma patient for a partner. 

That 1985 Bears offense scored 28.5 ppg, second best in the league that season.  They could do a heck of a lot more than the "Super Bowl Shuffle," they put points on the board. 

 Other surprising facts about the Super Bowl that history seems to have forgetten:

The 2006 Bears scored 26.7 points per game with Rex Grossman at qb.  That was tied for second in the League with........the Colts.

The 70's Steelers are rememberd for their ferocious defense carrying them to 4 titles.  What no one seems to remember is that their offense was 6th, 5th, 5th. and 1st in the league the years they won the Super Bowl.

This goes both ways, though.  Many teams are remembered for their great offenses when their defenses had just as much contribution to winning a championship.  Examples are:

1999 Rams.  Known for the high scoring "Greatest Show on Turf," but their defense was ranked 4th when they won the Super Bowl.

90's Cowboys.  Best known for the trifecta of Aikman, Irvin, and Emmit Smith, their defense was 5th, 2nd, and 3rd in their championship years.

The worst Offense to ever win a Super Bowl: 2002 Tampa Bay-ranked 18th (ppg)
Worst defense to win: 2006 Colts-ranked 23rd (ppg)

No defense has ever carried an offense worse than 18 to a Super Bowl win.  A good defense does not mystically have the power to drag an offense to success whether they are crappy or not.  The offense has just as much capability in that regard.

Here are some more stats that are quite damaging to the "Defense win Championships legions":

[The official "Defense wins Championships" mob.  Pack up your torches boys.  Nothing to see here]

By yards per game:
The number 1 offense in the league has made 13 of the last 38 Super Bowls and is 7-6 in those games.

The number 1 Defense has made 8 Super Bowls and is 7-1 in those games.

By points per game:
The number 1 offense in the league has made 17 of the last 38 Super Bowls and is 9-8 in those games.

The number 1 Defense has made 13 Super Bowls and is 11-2 in those games.

Initially, this looks like it supports the "defense wins champions" parrots.  After all, that's a much better winning pct. for the defense than it is for the offense.  However, a little more thinking will illuminate the following: if you finish the season with the number 1 Offense you have a better chance of making the Super Bowl than the team with the number 1 defense does.  Also, the number 1 offense wins the Super Bowl just as often as the number 1 defense does.  The only reason the number 1 defense has a better win pct is because they get booted from the playoffs before they even reach the Super Bowl far more often than the number 1 offense is.

That's all for now, folks.  Feel free to post your thoughts/objections/praise/death threats below.


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