For a number of years the NFL has come to be far more attack minded on offense.
The game at the top level has developed into a passing league and to a degree like no other in its history, so much so that some say it has diminished the importance of the run game. Personally, I’m not as sure it has diminished as teams still need to run well to be successful and there are some very good running backs in the sport at the moment.
This increase in offensive production has meant a recent rise in the ability of both teams and individuals to rewrite NFL records. Some of which had stood for decades. Quarterbacks appear able to drive downfield more often and throwing 300 yards in a game or 4,000 yards in a season has become more normal than I remember when I first became a fan.
Despite these thoughts of admiration for how teams are with the ball, there is one piece of ancient NFL prophecy that still rings true…
Defense Wins Championships.
No matter how awesome it is to watch modern offenses produce the big numbers, defense does indeed win championships. And in the Super Bowl era these defenses become legendary, like the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. In terms of a Super Bowl game; a one-on-one match-up, I prefer to say “A great defense beats a great offense”.
Look no further than two of the most recent Super Bowls to see how true that line is. At Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks totally dominated a record-breaking Denver Broncos offense to claim the win. Then last year at Super Bowl 50 the Broncos came in with the number one ranked defense and won the title by taking apart a strong Carolina Panthers offense, an offense that had looked awesome up to that point.
However, defense does not win championships this year – 2016 was the season of the offense.
Throughout the year it was predominantly offensive units making the highlight reels and pushing their respective teams into the playoffs. An example is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense rolling over their division; the Dallas Cowboys (with a rookie quarterback and rookie running back) did the same in theirs. Quarterbacks Derek Carr (who was cruelly injured before the playoffs) with the Oakland Raiders and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers appeared to put their teams on their backs and drag them towards the post-season.
As the great recent defense in Denver didn’t even make the playoffs and the one in Seattle battled injuries, the top two defenses entering the playoffs this year belonged to the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs. But these dangerous units gave up big plays early in the divisional round and were left chasing games they could not overcome.
The two franchises left to play in Super Bowl LI – the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots – have the two most explosive and well-coached offenses in the league right now. It is perhaps no coincidence then that these are the sides ready to go head-to-head in the big one.
Both quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, have had stellar seasons and are the top two names in the MVP race. They are helped by excellent offensive lines and great receiving weapons; Julio Jones of the Falcons has had a tremendous year and will be one of the main worries for the Patriots defense.
It should also be noted that both defenses ended the year as two of the best. There will be some great match-ups all over the field and it will probably come down to the old saying of who makes the least mistakes will win, as these offenses will be difficult to stop. I have never been for making predictions, but this Super Bowl could be an absolute classic.
For all the talent that will be on show in Super Bowl LI and all the offensive triumphs of this season, “Defense Wins Championships” has by no means been devalued. Be warned: Defenses will come storming back!
As for 2016? Chalk that one up for the offense.