BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 01/28/2014

No. 1 Offense Vs. No. 1 Defense: The Winner Is . . .

Super Bowl XLVIII will feature the top-scoring offense (Denver) vs. the No. 1 defense (Seattle). In six previous such SB matchups, the top defense won five times.

Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos scored an average of 37.9 points per game during the regular season and will be the highest-scoring team to reach the Super Bowl. / Wiki Commons

No NFL team scored as many regular-season points (606) or gained as many yards (6,317) as the Denver Broncos. No team allowed fewer points (213) or yards (4,378) as the Seattle Seahawks. No teams won as many games this season as the Broncos or Seahawks.

When the AFC champions (15-3) and NFC titlists (15-3) clash Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ., it will mark only the second pairing of No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl in the last 20 years and the first since 1991 to pit the highest-scoring team in the regular season against the team that was scored upon the least.

Who wins such matchups? Before delving into that, let’s examine some research provided by Chase Stuart of Football

Stuart took Denver’s scoring offense number of 37.9 points  (14.5 more than the league average) and subtracted Seattle’s scoring defense number of 14.4 (9.0 better than the league average) The difference of 23.4 is the greatest disparity between any two units in Super Bowl history.

Stuart arrived at his “greatest disparity” conclusion by examining the offensive and defensive stats of all 96 Super Bowl teams. He found that in only two Super Bowls was there a disparity of at least 20 points.

The second-greatest gap between offenses and defenses was in Super Bowl I (1967) when the NFL’s Green Bay Packers played the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Although in different leagues (the NFL and AFL didn’t merge until 1970), the Chiefs came in with the AFL’s No. 1 scoring offense at 32.0 points per game, while the Packers featured the NFL’s No. 1 defense, allowing 11.6. The 20.4 difference is less than the margin between Denver and Seattle (Green Bay won 35-10).

Stuart confined his research strictly to the difference between scoring offenses and scoring defenses, leaving for another day the task of offering commentary on which units prevailed most often.

Turns out, in the 10 Super Bowls with the largest statistical disparities between offenses and defenses, the defensive unit won eight:

Year SB Offense Defense Diff Winner
1966 I Chiefs (32.0) Packers (11.6) 20.4 GB / Defense
1968 III Jets (29.9) Colts (13.4) 19.6 NYJ / Offense
1967 II Raiders (33.4) Packers (14.9) 18.5 GB / Defense
1984 XIX Dolphins (32.1) 49ers (14.2) 17.1 SF / Defense
1971 VI Cowboys (29.0) Dolphins (12.4) 16.6 Dal / Offense
2002 XXXVII Raiders (28.1) Buccaneers (12.3) 15.9 TB / Defense
2007 XLII Patriots (36.8) Giants (21.9) 14.9 NYG / Defense
1991 XXVI Bills (28.6) Redskins (14.0) 14.6 WASH / Defense
1969 IV Vikings (27.1) Chiefs (12.6) 14.4 KC / Defense
2001 XXXVI Rams (31.4) Patriots (17.0) 14.4 NE / Defense

Whether the trend of defenses prevailing continues in Super Bowl XLVIII depends on Seattle’s ability to force turnovers, and the degree to which the Seahawks can keep Manning off the field.

Sunday’s Super Bowl will be the sixth to feature the league’s No. 1 offense vs. its No. 1 defense. The last time, in 1991, was when Buffalo Bills brought to Tampa Stadium an offense averaging 28.6 points behind quarterback Jim Kelly to face a New York Giants defense that allowed 13.2.

Lawrence Taylor’s Giants won, barely, 20-19, continuing a trend. In the five previous Super Bowls that featured a No. 1 offense vs. a No. 1 defense, the defense prevailed every time but once, 1989, when Joe Montana threw five touchdown passes, three to Jerry Rice, in a 55-10 win over John Elway’s Denver Broncos. No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense in the Super Bowl:

Year SB No. 1 Offense No. 1 Defense Result
1966 I Chiefs (32.0) Packers (11.6) Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10
1969 IV Vikings (27.1) Chiefs (12.6) Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7
1978 XIII Cowboys (24.0) Steelers (12.2) Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31
1984 XIX Dolphins (32.1) 49ers (14.2) San Francisco 38, Miami 16
1989 XXIV 49ers (27.6) Broncos (14.1) San Francisco 55, Denver 10
1990 XXV Bills (26.8) Giants (13.3) New York 20, Buffalo 19
2013 XLVIII Broncos (37.9) Seahawks (14.4) Denver favored by 3 points

The Broncos are the highest-scoring team to reach the Super Bowl, eclipsing by a point the 2007 New England Patriots (36.8) who had a 16-0 regular-season record. But the Patriots scored only 14 points in a 17-14 loss to Eli Manning and the Giants on Super Sunday.

A dozen teams that averaged 30 or more points in the regular season have played in the Super Bowl. Seven lost, most recently the 2011 Patriots, who didn’t come close to their 32.1 average in a 21-17 loss, also to Manning’s Giants.

Of the five 30-point teams that won the Super Bowl — 1991 Redskins (30.3), 1994 49ers (31.6), 1998 Broncos (31.3), 1999 Rams (32.9), 2009 Saints (31.9) — only the Rams failed to score 30 on Super Sunday, managing 23 in a 23-16 victory over Tennessee.

While No. 1 defenses have had more success in the Super Bowl than No. 1 offenses, the team with the best rushing offense usually has the advantage. In 47 previous Super Bowls, the team that won the rushing battle won the game 37 times.

The Seahawks allowed 101.6 rushing yards per game this season. The Broncos? Also 101.6.



  • jafabian

    If I take away the Seahawks uniforms and replace them with, say, the Rams but keep the same personnel I’d still go with the NFC team over the Broncos because of the defense. Historically the Super Bowl favors the better defensive team and since 2002 that have consistently been true. What stands out to me is the key to the Broncos success. They’re primarily a passing team which I think plays into the Seahawk’s defensive strength. The only top 10 defensive teams the Broncos played this season were the Giants and Cardinals. (imagine my surprise that the Giants were a top ten team) And I think teams forget how good the Hawks defensive line is. There’s no huge sack machine on the line but as Richard Sherman has pointed out the Legion’s success comes from the work of the defensive line.

    The difference between this years Seahawks team and the one from SB XL is that this one is defensive orientated where as the Holmgren team was offensive orientated. However both relied on the run as their primary offensive weapon and Shaun Alexander didn’t have a strong game in SB XL. But Beastmode is a different kind of RB and if he’s in the red zone I don’t think he can be denied. I’m predicting a 21-10 win by the Hawks. Same score as SB XL, just to shock da world!

    Hmm…Super Bowl XL was in Detroit, this one in Jersey. AGAIN the Hawks get stuck with the lousy location. They need to have a Super Bowl in Honolulu. Seriously.

    • John

      Actually, 4 out of the last 5 SB winners have been won by the worse defense and a top 10 offense. Giants, Saints, and Baltimore didn’t even have top 10 defenses yet they all played against top 15 defenses and won!

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Jamaica ,mon….they need to have it in Jamaica. A SuperBowl helping a fellow north american economy out.

    There are many good defensive teams in the NFC(who helped prepare the Hawks for toughing it and and getting the “W”)…any team in the nfc west would give Denver fits… i can already hear 49er fans whining(monday) that those should be our rings instead of Seattle ,we would have beat Denver worse than 31~17.

    Prepare to utter happy words monday. Defense does win championships.

    Seattle Seahawks~SuperBowl champs.

    Believe it.

    Go Hawks.

  • BieberSucks

    N/M I read it wrong.