Is it Offenses or Defenses that win championships?
Posted Jan. 14 at 01:32 AM
I noticed the other day that Pittsburgh and Arizona managed to make it to the conference championship games despite having unusually unbalanced teams. The Steelers became the just the third team in the last 30 years to make it to the conference championship level without ranking higher than 20th in scoring, while the Cardinals became just the third team ever to do it with a bottom-5 defense.
And note that three of the four semifinals this year rank in the top 4 in defenses (along with the Titans, the Steelers, Ravens and Eagles were the best at not allowing points).
It got me thinking. Which teams have more success: those with high-scoring offenses, or those with tough defenses?
On the topic, I pulled up the following numbers.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule 30 years ago, there is no strongly pro-offense or pro-defense trend that emerges. Of the last 124 teams to make it to an AFC or NFC Championhip game, 63 had a top-5 offense and 63 had a top-5 defense (that’s in terms of scoring).
If you want to look at top 10 rather than top 5, I’m seeing 98 offensive teams (out of 124 total) versus 89 defensive – still not much of a difference.
Teams that were heavily skewed towards offense -- ranking 10 spots higher in offense than defense -- went 7-8 in conference championship games. (Arizona fits this mold).
Teams that were heavily skewed towards defense – 10-plus spots higher in defense than offense – went 6-8 in these games (Pittsburgh fits this mold).
Of our 124 teams, 53 ranked higher in defense (and this group includes Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia). That cross section of teams went 29-21 at the conference championship level.
A few more teams – 62 including Arizona – ranked higher offensively. That group was less successful in conference championship games, with a composite record of 27-34.
So in this admittedly quick and non-scientific glance, I’m not seeing strong numbers either way that suggest that it’s best to try to win a championship by focusing on bulking up one side of the ball. Surprising, even teams that were strong on both sides of the ball weren’t as dominant as you might expect. Those were ranked in the top 4 on both offense and defense have gone only 13-6 in conference championship games.
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