(last revised 1/22/2009)

I've always been skeptical about this NFL axiom. Afterall, who gets paid the big money? What makes the game more exciting that lots of scoring? You hear this all the time. "DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS." But like most sayings, you're just supposed to take their word for it -- it's infalliable traditional.

So, I ran some queries to disprove this myth. Haven't done any tests of significance yet, but INDEED defense AT LEAST correlates stronger with SB wins. Referring to the chart below, I have calculated SB winner values for each of the last 18 SuperBowls (2008 two weeks away). The chart compares Total Offense (yards), Scoring Offense, Combined Offense, Total Defense (yards), Scoring Defense, Combined Defense, and Overall Combined.

Guess what? The information gives a slight edge supporting the cliche of "DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS". Causation? Or just correlation?

Refer to the chart above, what is the probability, if you flipped a coin, of getting these results?
(used BINOMIAL calculator with N=17 and p=0.5, and N-1 as the value: (you expect 9/18, 50%)

Better Total Offense (wins/losses): 9/9 (.5927 - this may seem confusing, but that IS the value)
Better Scoring Offense: 12/6 (.1189)
Better Combined Offense Won: 10/8 (.4073)

Better Total Defense: 13/5 (.0481)
Better Scoring Defense Won: 14/4 (.0154)
Better Combined Defense Won: 12/6 (.1189)

Better Overall Team: 12/6 (.1189)

So, it doesn't look like this is a coin flip situation in terms of having a) better defense or b) better overall team. Something matters (which we know, of course, but now it's quanitified).

What about teams that dominated on both sides of the ball? There were eight games in which the combined offense and combined defense of one team were better than both on the other team. The better team won six of eight times:

Completely Dominant Team Won: 6/2 (.1445)

What's amazing about this? A dominant scoring defense has historical had a better winning percentage that a completely dominant team, though, the sample of just 8 games (for the completely dominant team) may be too small. Of the 10 games outside of these dominant games, the team with a dominant defense won 6 out of 10, and the team with the dominant offense won 6 out of 10. Then -- take a look at the blue highlights in the graph above. These are instances where a team has one form or another of a #1 offense or defense (total, scoring, or combined). Five teams with some form of #1 offense have won the SuperBowl. Six teams with some form of #1 defense have won the SuperBowl. Pretty close, right? But, not a single team with some form of #1 defense has lost a SuperBowl, and six teams with a #1 offense category have lost a SuperBowl !!! It should be noted that more #1 offensive teams have reached the SuperBowl than defensive teams (11 offensive, 6 defensive). But the defensive teams, if they make it, have a 100% win rate.

No matter how you slice and dice the information, DEFENSE generally WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. What could be the cause of this? Is it a neutral field? Are defenses more consistent than offenses, making it more likely for a defense to show up for the 19th or 20th game of the long season? Is the Super Bowl a reflection of toughness, and are defenses tougher? Why does it seem offenses reach the Super Bowl more often, but succeed at a lesser rate once there? Those questions may be impossible to answer, but the age old addage holds true.

Defense Wins Championships. TRUST or BUST? .... Trust!

Data Source: The statistics above were accessed from:
Combined calculations are original.


What follows is a PARTIAL EXCEPT of a prior revision -- to be integrated with information above.


Average Scoring of teams based on better defense or offense (there is a little overlap because 12 times, the team with the best offense ALSO had the best defense)

Average Score of Better Offensive Teams in SB: 24.86
Average Score of Better Defensive Teams in SB: 27.82
(Correlation: Better Defense scores more in SuperBowl -- causation would require a lot of evaluation, but a rather interesting stat)

Based solely on correlation, there IS is a strong relationship for DEFENSE wins, now the difficult part, is proving causation. It's interesting that DEFENSE has slightly HIGHER correlation to wins than OVERALL TEAMS, too. There are two examples above (one game more for better defensive team than OVERALL team). Defense even has a stronger correlation for winning than teams that are DOMINANT on BOTH SIDES of the ball!!! This has been enlightening -- and I have to say, my opinion has been swayed quite a bit by this info. The #'s appear statistically significant without having to evalutate it further.

Another kind of complicated thing I looked at -- when the better offense wins, the opposing defensive rank is quite a bit under the rank of the winning offense (ie, if the winning team [better offense] was ranked #2, the opposing defense might be ranked #15). When the better defensive teams won, the opposing offenses didn't have as much as a gap (ie, if the winning team [better defense] was ranked #2, the opposing offense might be ranked #10). So, the better defenses are able to withstand better offenses than are offenses able to withstand better defenses....or in other words, when better offense teams win, they aren't challenged as much by defenses -- while when better defenses win, they are challenged by higher ranked offenses.

In INSTANCES, you can make a case for offense. But in all of these STATISTICS (N = bigger), the correlation DOES favor either defense or the better overall team. Wow. The distribution would be heavy on the defense side -- no perfect bell curve.

(more to come...)

Here are some other queries that are interesting, though they don't really provide correlation in regards to who wins....

Scoring in games where the better offense won vs. games where the better defense won (some overlap, since 8 teams have won that were better on both sides of the ball):

Better Offense Won (less instances) SB Scored, Margin of Victory: 37.92, 16.92
Better Defense Won (more instances) SB Scored, Margin of Victory : 33.84, 15.95

It's interesting because the teams with better defense that end up winning score more in the SB than they generally did (Average) in the games leading up to the SB. It could mean their defense had some scoring, but their offenses stepped it up in the Post Season in order to win. So, the reason defensive teams may win SBs is because they TEND TO PLAY BETTER OFFENSE to go along with their better defense --- interesting.


Integrate regular season records of #1 offense and #1 defense teams for the regular season (though seeds kind of tell the tale).

This page shows TEAM OFFENSE and TEAM DEFENSE, ranks YARDS and TD's (TD's only), then gives an overall rank based on those. It does not include Field Goals, Defensive Scoring, etc -- so, by all means, if someone has a more complete stat to go by, let's do it. Some people like to only evaluate based on scoring, some only on yards, some on both, some on many other factors. I just took what I found and used it (I mentioned this source in my first post).

Before I get myself in trouble --- all stats are just stats. They don't tell the whole story. No single stat is a complete explanation of all the factors. I still personally believe TEAMS win, not offenses or defenses -- but playing around with these numbers has been educational, at least. It could be that with more complete stats we get an entirely different story. The DVOA rankings would be interesting to use, but I don't know if they've gone back in time to analyze the last 28 years


So, what you have to do is get together a bunch of stats like this one, that SEEM to favor defense...because in the SINGLE cases, you could argue that it was because of a poor offense that the turnovers occured, instead the cause being a great defense.

With this stuff I reported, it was easy to think of a way around the facts for one instance -- but then as each one correlated defense with winning the SB, the story became different. I also want to find out if defense appears to mean more in the playoffs than the regular season -- reason is because I don't believe there is a difference in what wins in the post season vs. the regular season. Good teams keep winning -- but this thing about defenses has me thinking a bit differently right now -- will be fun to find out.



Totally over-rated. The logic is about as good as when teams say, "We lost today, they didn't win." Even if your defense keeps the other team from scoring, your offense still needs to score to win. And if your offense barely scores more than the other team, then the other team had great defense, too. So, if your defenses are playing nearly equal, do you then say the offense made the difference? TEAMS WIN. There are always three parts to a team (or more) -- Offense, Defense, Special Teams, etc -- they are all just part of a whole.

Now, you can argue a team should've won -- but you don't take a win away from the winning team. It's lame.


so, what won the game between the Chargers and Bengals last year?

I think what we have here is the case of comparing an exception to the norm. Normally, it takes a good all-around team to win games.

The Ravens, in recent history, HAVE shown that defense can dictate a game...but they haven't won 3 of the last 6 SB's. The Patriots have -- and they have had a strong all around team, which is why they've been able to do it.

Also, I think people tend to latch onto the Defense idea and say that good defense wins games and bad defense loses games. Can't it just as easily be good offense makes defenses look bad and bad offenses make defenses look good (so good offense wins games and bad offense loses games?)


...the Media has SOMEHOW convinced people that defense wins Championships -- there is no way enough evidence could provide that as fact. If I think back to the last many "mini-dynasties" I see 49ers, Broncos, Patriots, Rams, Cowboys. I would be somewhat ironic for me to say OFFENSE wins games, but if you just looked at it on the surface, all these teams have had great offense.

A team focused entirely on defense is at great risk, just like a team focused on offense, because it relies completely on ONE SIDE of the ball to win the game. One bad game on that side, and it's over. You have to have a team that can step it up on one side when the other sucks.

The Ravens, as mentioned, are quite an exception to this rule...but by no means the rule. But look at the Colts, Ravens, and Pats in the last 6 years -- the best records. The Colts have been pretty much strong on offense, the Ravens on defense, the Pats above average on everything. Who wins ???

The Chargers are now very well rounded -- they have the best shot, along with the Pats, to keep winning.



We're kidding, right? The Colts defense won the Championship?



...the word COMPLEMENTED is the key here.

The Colts BARELY decided to start playing defense for the post season. And BY NO MEANS are you going to argue that their defense was on par with their offense, right? It was getting closer, which was important for the Colts in order to hold off that incredible offensive attack of the Bears and Ravens They didn't exactly stop the Pats.

This is the first time the Colts were able to put games together in the playoffs. That's why they won. Did their defense play better? Yes.

If the Bears offense were a bit better, it probably would've been a closer game, because the Colts defense gives up points, and then outscores their opponents to win. That's their game.



Exception vs. rule...


...exactly right SUNDIEGO -- and yet examples keep coming that it's the Colts DEFENSE that won the championship. No -- their defense stepped up, but their offense stayed right up there as one of the best.

Saying we need to keep our scoring defense under 15??? Why not zero??? Why 15 when we score friggin 30 points a game? You only HAVE to be ahead by one to win...sure, it's not comfortable.

The team just needs to score more than the other team, no matter how it happens. TEAMS WITH A GOOD BALANCE win championships...and they win during the regular season. That's not to say some team can't win a bunch of games with a great defense or offense only, but they are the ones that will have trouble stringing three or four together (which spells trouble for the post season). The Coryell era Chargers showed us that over and over.


...can't figure it out -- win a game in their old city (ha)...

Tell us, because honestly, there could be a million of these kinds of stats and if it's something that happens once in 24 years, it probably has little bearing on the norm. (unless that's exactly your point, that something they did ISN'T a reason teams generally win championships??? #1 offense to win SuperBowl? -- I guess that's not right/Indy wasn't #1)



because in explaining all you have in RELATIVE terms it becomes very clear that a TEAM wins -- not a defense, not an offense, not special teams, not an individual, not talent, not coaches. TEAMS win. It takes a collective effort. If a defense has a negative impact, but the offense has a positive impact, you can go ahead and say GOOD THING the OFFENSE was on fire -- I understand that. Or if the offense is off one day, maybe the defense needs to be thanked.

But still, everything contributes, whether positive or negative, and the end result is based on all contributions. Even the '85 Bears, who they say won because of defense, put up PLENTY of points with McMahon at the helm. They were 6th in total offense and 1st in defense.

Cool stats site, by the way, if you have seen it...



Total offense and total defense ranks for SB Champs since 1979:

2006 Colts: Off 3, Def 17
2005 Steelers: Off 16, Def 5
2004 Patriots: Off 7, Def 9
2003 Patriots: Off 18, Def 7
2002 Tampa Bay: Off 24, Def 1
2001 Patriots: Off 19, Def 24 (ANOMOLY, both below average)
2000 Ravens: Off 16, Def 1
1999 STL: Off 1, Def 7
1998 Den: Off 3, Def 12
1997 Den: Off 1, Def 4
1996 Green Bay: Off 5, Def 1
1995 Dallas: Off 7, Def 8
1994 SF: Off 1, Def 8
1993 Dallas: Off 4, Def 8
1992 Dallas: Off 4, Def 1
1991 Redskins: Off 4, Def 3
1990 Giants: Off 19, Def 2
1989 SF: Off 1, Def 4
1988 SF: Off 3, Def 3
1987 Redskins: Off 3, Def 22
1986 Giants: Off 9, Def 4
1985 Chicago: Off 6, Def 1
1984 SF: Off 4, Def 9
1983 LA Raiders: Off 7, Def 4
1982 Redskins: Off 6, Def 5
1981 SF: Off 14, Def 2
1980 Raiders: Off 15, Def 14
1979 Pittsburgh: Off 6, Def 10

So, what do we see here? Balance wins championships -- and usually that balance is a good mix of ABOVE AVERAGE offense with ABOVE AVERAGE DEFENSE.

Total Points Above:

Offense: 226 Defense: 196

Average Rank:

Off: 8.07
Def: 7

...I'm guessing the difference isn't statisitically significant in favor of defense wins championships... To me it spells BALANCE, and above average on both sides of the ball, or very high in one and near middle of the pack in the other. Four #1 ranked offenses have won, and five #1 ranked defenses. The Ravens and Bucs are the only two out of these 9 #1 ranked instances where the other was out of whack -- but both teams put up plenty of offense to win the SB.

Only New England won with a totally under average team.

When TB won, they had incredible defense. They scored 21 points on interceptions. But their offense STILL outscored the Raiders 27-14 (Raiders also had a defensive TD, I think, or maybe it was something like a recovery on a punt or something -- dont' remember). TB Interception Return Yardage 172. WOW!
[edit] sorry if I made any mistakes up there -- I think it's all right


...has that information available -- not gonna say it's really fast.

Go do that research -- it should be interesting...I thought about doing it myself, so save me some time Clock on the team's name, then their name on the year you want to look at, then just a bit below it shows total offense and defense.

If you use this page, it will help...

WITHOUT EVEN SEEING the data, I would guess the runner up teams are going to have a combined total of about 5-10 point lower (complete off/def rank average) than the winners. Remember, you don't take INSTANCES for N (sample) gets larger, the data starts to develop meaning

Dang --- now I've got the itch to do this bit of research -- here I go...LOSERS of Superbowl....coming...




The average NFL rank for LOSING teams:

OFF Winner (as shown previous post): 8.07
OFF Loser: 7.85

DEF Winner: 7.0 (as shown previous post)
DEF Loser: 11.85 (uh, oh -- is my theory blown??)

15.07 combined (off/def) for winners
19.70 combined (off/def) for losers

(Combined rank of winning teams is better than losing teams)

There appears to be a gap between the quality of the defense on winning teams and losing teams (for the SuperBowl), right? So, DEFENSE wins Championships, right? Were we wrong??? Or, do we ask different questions...Do you say the winning offenses won the games by exploiting poor defense? Do you say the lesser defense lost the game? Do you say the better defense won? Or do you say the defense factored in enough to win the game?

Or do you look at what's more obvious -- the BETTER OVERALL team has won???

Well, look at the breakdown below...

Breakdown -- I did a quick spreadsheet to find out the instances for each of the following -- simply, if the team that won had a better offense, then they get a point, etc. There will be 56 total instances (either the better offense won or lost, for each of 28 SuperBowls, and same for defense)

Better Offensive Team Won (same as Worse Offense Lost): 13
Better Offensive Team Lost (same as Worse Offense Won): 15
(totaling 28)

Better Defensive Team Won (same as Worse Defense Lost): 19
Better Defensive Team Lost (sames as Worse Defense Won): 9
(totaling 28)

So, what wins SuperBowls? There might be a better case for defense than I previously assumed. The BETTER OVERALL team has won 18 out of 28 Superbowls, while the team with better defense has won 19 out of 28. It would be interesting to see how special teams factors into this, also. Or do well rounded teams that make it to the playoffs tend to win with defense (that would be shocking to me)? Maybe defense really is the x-factor? (but still not the main reason teams make it to the playoffs to begin with)...great, more research...

A couple other questions to think about -- has it been the defense that has actually won the SB games, or has it been another part of the team that's stepped up and won it? A better defense certainly makes the overall team better, but do you give all the credit to the defense?

Expanding the thought of BEST defense and OFFENSE -- as stated, four teams with #1 offenses have won SuperBowls (in last 28), and five teams with #1 defense have won. A total of eight #1 offense teams have made the SB (won 4, lost 4), while 5 #1 defenses have made it to the SB (won 5 of 5). Of the four #1 offenses that have lost, three have had below average defenses. Of the four that won, each has had a very complementary offense. Of the 5 #1 defenses that won, three had very complementary offenses, while TB had a 24 rank offense and Baltimore was right on par at 16.

CHI 16 5
SEA 2 19
PHI 8 12
CAR 16 8
OAK 2 12
STL 1 3
NYG 12 5
TEN 15 18
ATL 6 8
GBx 5 9
Nex 7 20
PIT 6 2
SDx 11 14
BUF 7 28
BUF 2 13
BUF 1 27
BUF 7 11
DEN 16 3
CIN 1 17
DEN 2 9
DEN 17 21
NEX 9 5
MIA 1 19
WAS 3 16
MIA 25 2
CIN 4 16
PHI 8 2
STL 10 8



A large part of winning in the playoffs is a MARATHON-like attitude -- you play consistent ball throughout the season, maintain that in the post-season, and throughout the SB game. People say (so-called) "playoff experience" matters, but I think the key to the playoffs is being able to play like you've played all year (instead of starting off with a lot of energy and losing it by the end of the day -- A.K.A. getting too hyped and spazzing out). In boxing, the guy that comes out spending all his energy better get the job done quick, or he's gonna lose in the end. It "can" work, however. Wasting punches, missing,'s gonna wear you down.


I'm retarded -- simple search...I haven't read all this yet, so I don't have an opionion -- but looked like a great read (I think it may rely a bit too much on the unknown...)

...brings up one point that I thought about (but forgot to mention) -- that is, that defense and offense rankings can also be misleading, though in general they tell a good amount of the story. A team might give up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points. An offense can be so good that the defense also looks good because they don't spend much time on the field. Have #1 defense teams played teams with a good offense in the SB? And have #1 offenses played good defenses? All that good stuff. I think the above article is based on SCORING (not total defense and offense).

"Of course, offense and defense are fundamentally inseparable. What happens on offense affects what happens on defense and vice versa"

Incidentally -- it's tough to write an OBJECTIVE article in favor of how defense wins games, since they generally don't score, and numbers aren't available to extrapolate good conclusions.

More articles: (don't really agree with the "data" presented here). (run defense approach)

"Berry said the greatest lesson any statistician could give is that the winner of the Super Bowl should not be anointed as a team of destiny. In reality, Berry said, the teams in this year’s Super Bowl and in most Super Bowls are close to evenly matched. Winning one game does not necessarily make the winning team superior." (fun article -- this quote is what I argued a lot when peeps were arguing PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE, RANKINGS, etc)'s pretty funny that after this article was written, the reason it was written, was then followed up by the Colts winning the game.

Quotes like this don't prove a thing one way or the other, unless they are backed up by good data:

"If it is true that offense wins games but defense wins championships, Bears Coach Lovie Smith will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy tonight."


...except on those occasions when an offense scores more than the other teams offense and wins (lol). How do you point to the defense as the difference maker? Again, did a good offense exploit a poor defense? Did a good defense stop a poor offense? Where does one place the "blame" or "credit"? Sometimes kickers "win" games. It's all to intertwined to say one way or the other. As I just mentioned, it's tough to make an OBJECTIVE argument in favor of defense -- not really enough numbers to play around with. It's guess work. Fans of all sports get sucked into these "axioms" and get emotionally tied to them without any hard proof.

"The Super Bowl is a quarterback's game."

...anybody want to add some others??? Again, Rivers (above post) tells the tale.


...I was writing the post you responded to late last night, right after getting home from a long road trip -- I was editing it, etc, then ended up deleting it (checked to make sure there weren't posts yet) because I wanted to revamp it a bit. I guess you had your reply started and posted it after my deletion...

Anyway -- to the point -- I've been running all sorts of queries on these SuperBowl games. Last night I was making modifications to that post that put a bit of the "devil's advocate" (he he) part of the post aside a bit in favor of stats that support the cliche. I have still not come to a complete conclusion on this matter, and probably never will -- but there are some interesting facts that support the defensive strategy.

Strong defense DOES SEEM TO CORRELATE with winning the SuperBowl -- hoever, in almost every case, there is another correlation, which is that the BETTER OVERALL TEAM tends to win the SuperBowl. I think what I will find after further evaluation is basically the most important part of statistics -- CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION. One of the correlations (defense) is probably not the cause. The other, an overall good team, is probably the cause. Of course, the data could show that BOTH are the cause...who knows.

Anyway -- "I'll be back." And I apologize for deleting my post. I was including SOME information in that original post that agrees with much of what you just said. Also, the first article you posted was part of my post on page 7 -- so I have read that one. I don't really agree with it because it isn't taking the facts and evaluating them -- it takes facts then tries to use them as a predictor. Why not just use the history and take conclusions, fact, as you mention, the article pretty much says offense will have the best chance, but then disproves it somewhat with the actual history.




But I think TO differential...

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- just another one of those stats that occurs WHILE the real cause is happening. It's like a good offense -- GOOD POINTS FOLLOW a good offense, but the POINTS are not the cause of the good offense. Turnovers happen because a defense is doing other things right, so they tend to correlate with winning. This is where the REAL study comes in -- we've found all these stats that say DEFENSE is a HUGE part of winning -- now you have to filter through and find out determine the true cause of the could be something totally different, but you follow the correlations and test them for significance, etc....












...has that information available -- not gonna say it's really fast.

Go do that research -- it should be interesting...I thought about doing it myself, so save me some time Clock on the team's name, then their name on the year you want to look at, then just a bit below it shows total offense and defense.

If you use this page, it will help...

WITHOUT EVEN SEEING the data, I would guess the runner up teams are going to have a combined total of about 5-10 point lower (complete off/def rank average) than the winners. Remember, you don't take INSTANCES for N (sample) gets larger, the data starts to develop meaning

Dang --- now I've got the itch to do this bit of research -- here I go...LOSERS of Superbowl....coming...