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Winning Football: 'D' Comes Before 'O'

   by Jim Feist - 10/28/2013


So what do you prefer: offense or defense? Most casual bettors examining NFL picks like offense, which is why Monday night football games often take more action on the over. There have been some terrific offensive football teams that last decade, such as Oregon, USC, along with pro passing attacks like the Broncos, the no-huddle Patriots and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.
However, name the last few Super Bowl winners? The Ravens, Giants (twice), Packers, Saints, Steelers (twice), Colts, Pats (thrice) and Bucs. The last two seasons everyone was impressed with no-huddle Patriots, but the defense was second worst in yards allowed in 2011 and 25th last season. They got bounced from the AFC title game as a favorite in January and two years ago the better defensive team shut them down in the Super Bowl.
Last season the Ravens used their experienced defense to make a remarkable run through the postseason, upsetting the far better offensive teams (Broncos, Patriots), then came up with a goal line stand to win the Super Bowl. How appropriate.
Three years ago everyone was impressed with the high flying Green Bay offense, but the fact is their defense was very talented under Dom Capers in 2010, ranked 5th in total defense, 5th against the pass. The team they beat in the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh, was second in total defense, No. 1 against the run.
Four years ago was a bit of an aberration with the high flying Saints and Colts meeting in the Super Bowl, but more often than not the superior defensive team stands out. In 2008 the Arizona Cardinals had the flashy offense and were the big surprise, but the top defensive team in the league, Pittsburgh, topped them in the big game. In 2007 defense shut down offense as the Giants topped the record-setting Patriots' offense.
The 2002 season the Super Bowl was a fascinating match-up that pitted the No. 1 offense, Oakland, against the No. 1 defense in Tampa Bay. The Raiders averaged 28.1 points per game, while the Bucs ranked 18th in scoring with 21.6 ppg. This is partly why the Raiders were a 4-point favorite on Super Sunday, but what was the outcome? Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.
Defense still rules and is an important factor when assessing NFL picks. Defense, in all sports, doesn't get the publicity that a flashy, exciting offense does, but there is so much truth in that age-old adage "Defense wins championships." Pittsburgh won four Super Bowl titles in six years from 1975-80 with Hall-of-Famers Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris on offense. But the cornerstone of that run was a defense for the ages led by L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Jack Ham.
Note that six of the last 12 Super Bowl champions had major deficiencies on offense, yet won with strong all-around defenses. Last season the Ravens were 16th in total offense, and in an age where passing is all the rage they ranked only 15th in passing. Two years ago the Giants were dead last in rushing the football. Many laughed at the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 when they went five straight games without an offensive touchdown, but the Ravens laughed all the way to the Super Bowl, going 14-5-1 against the spread dominating with a ferocious defense. Here are the defensive rankings of the last 16 Super Bowl champions and their spread marks:

Super Bowl Champs - ATS Record - Defensive Rank
1996 Packers: 12-6-1 ATS - No. 1 (4th rushing, 1st passing)
1997 Broncos: 13-7 ATS - No. 5 (16th rushing, 5th passing)
1998 Broncos: - 12-7 ATS - No. 11 (3rd rushing, 25th passing)
1999 Rams: 14-4-1 ATS - No. 6 (1st rushing, 23rd passing)
2000 Ravens: 14-5-1 ATS - No. 2 (1st rushing, 9th passing)
2001 Patriots: 13-5-1 ATS - No. 24 (18th rushing, 24th passing)
2002 Bucs: 12-6 ATS - No. 1 (6th rushing, 1st passing)
2003 Patriots: 14-4-1 ATS - No. 7 (3rd rushing, 18th passing)
2004 Patriots: 13-5-1 ATS - No. 9 (6th rushing, 17th passing)
2005 Steelers: 13-7 ATS - No. 4 (3rd rushing, 16th passing)
2006 Colts: 12-8 ATS- No. 15 (32nd rushing, 3rd passing)
2007 Giants: 14-6 ATS - No. 7 (8th rushing, 11th passing)
2008 Steelers: 11-8 ATS - No. 1 (2nd rushing, 1st passing)
2009 Saints: 10-9 ATS - No. 25 (21st rushing, 26th passing)
2010 Packers: 12-8 ATS - No. 5 (18st rushing, 5th passing)
2011 Giants: 13-7 ATS - No. 5 (19th rushing, 29th passing)
2012 Ravens: 10-9-1 ATS - No. 17 (17th rushing, 17th passing)

Last year’s Ravens were tied for 7th in the league in TDs allowed and 12th in points allowed. The last two years the Giants and Ravens had injuries and some clunker defensive games in the first half of the season, but were beasts down the stretch. Offense may get all the TV highlights, but defense is still the more likely key to football success.

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