6/19/99 - Defense Wins Championships?

Defense wins championships. Or so the saying goes that has always been ingrained in our heads and we are likely to repeat. But does it really? Let's take a look at that statement and how it has faired during the 1990s. First, let's examine all of the Super Bowl winners and where they rank in defense according to the modified drive value:
1998 - Denver, 12th
1997 - Denver, 5th
1996 - Green Bay, 1st
1995 - Dallas, 22nd
1994 - San Francisco, 8th
1993 - Dallas, 18th
1992 - Dallas, 5th
1991 - Washington, 3rd
1990 - N.Y. Giants, 4th
So, while there certainly have been some excellent defensive teams (5 of the 9 rank in the top 5 defensively for their particular season), there have also been some teams that are hardly worth a mention. And how have those same teams fared offensively? Let's find out:
1998 - Denver, 2nd
1997 - Denver, 1st
1996 - Green Bay, 1st
1995 - Dallas, 1st
1994 - San Francisco, 1st
1993 - Dallas, 2nd
1992 - Dallas, 2nd
1991 - Washington, 4th
1990 - N.Y. Giants, 4th
So, all nine teams ranked 4th or better in offensive modified drive value, and four of them ranked first, including Green Bay '96, who was the only one to have a defensive MDV ranking of 1st. The only teams that ranked below average on the defensive MDV were Dallas '95 and Dallas '93 (at 22nd and 18th respectively). However, it is probably not fair to only rank them with MDV. How did their TPPD rank? In 1995, Dallas ranked 10th in defensive TPPD and in 1993, Dallas ranked an extremely high 3rd, suggesting that Dallas may have been giving up yards in those two seasons, but not the points. However, when looking at San Francisco '94, the same cannot be said, as the team ranked 8th in MDV drops to 19th in TPPD.

Overall, this suggests that the best teams are usually the best offensively, not defensively. Of course, it is important to have both a good offense and a good defesne, but the old adage "Defense wins championships" does not ring true when put up to the test. Still, what about the teams with good offenses or defenses that failed to win? How did they fair in a given season? Let's find out. First, teams that ranked #1 in defense by MDV not listed above:
1998 - San Diego, 5-11
1997 - San Francisco, 13-3
1995 - Houston, 7-9
1994 - Arizona, 8-8
1993 - Green Bay, 9-7
1992 - Philadelphia, 11-5
1991 - Philadelphia, 10-6
1990 - Pittsburgh, 9-7
'98 San Diego, at 5-11, is probably an anomaly, but '97 San Francisco is the only truly outstanding team on the list. Most of the rest are mostly only average or at best playoff contenders. How about the same for offense? Here it is:
1998 - Minnesota, 15-1
1993 - San Francisco, 10-6
1992 - San Francisco, 14-2
1991 - Kansas City, 10-6
1990 - Houston, 9-7
In this case, two teams ('98 Minnesota and '92 San Francisco) were outstanding teams, while the other three were simply above average teams. Unlike the defensive case, there were no losing teams. The second part of the analysis also suggests that, in general, it is a team with a good offense that tends to be outstanding. And along with that is another old saying: "The best defense is a good offense."

Now, this demonstration is only a partial study and only involves the '90s, but I think it still goes a long way towards debunking the original statement. Remember, defense cannot do it alone. You'd like a team that is superior in both, such as '96 Green Bay (which explains why they made my list of great modern teams).

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