Thursday, April 9, 2009

What REALLY Wins Championships?

So does Defense really win championships? As Lions fans debate OT vs QB vs LB at the top of the draft, and with multitudes of Detroit Lions fans clamoring for a defense only draft, the question comes in to top focus.

What better way to do that, then to look at the past 7 Superbowls, and see where each team (the winner an loser) ranked in regards to Offense and Defense. The defensive rating is based on points allowed (fewer points allowed, fewer points needed to win), and points per game for the offensive side (more points scored, more points defense can allow and still win).

[thanks to RedZone on Mlive Lions Forum for the research]

If we look at both teams the average range for offense is 8.0 and defense is 7.6. If we look at winners and losers then the average offensive range for winners is 11.3 and defensive rank is 6.6. The average ranking for the SB losers is 4.9 on offense and 8.6 on defense.

The stats are all from the regular season, and the winning team is listed first with Offense Rank [O] and Defense Rank [D] in parenthesis following.

2008(regular season year): Pittsburgh O(20th), D(1st); Arizona O(3rd), D(28th)
2007: Giants O(14th) D(17th); New England O (1st) D (4th)
2006: Indy O(2nd) D(23rd); Chicago O(2nd) D(3rd)
2005: Pittsburgh O(9th) D(3rd); Seattle O(1st) D(7th)
2004: New England O(4th) D(2nd); Philly O(8th) D(2nd)
2003: New England O(12th) D(1st); Carolina O(15th) D(10th)
2002: Tampa O(18th) D(1st); Oakland O(2nd) D(6th)

If you look at this chart, a couple of things stick out. the most glaring is that other than Indy and Giants the team that won the Super Bowl either had the 1st, 2nd or 3rd ranked defense.

2003 and 2004 are the only two years where one of the top 3 ranked offenses didn't make it to the Superbowl -- and in 2004 NE was 4th.

So when you are looking at the numbers, having a top 3 defense or offense will give you roughly a 30% (slightly less than one in 3 chance) or going to the Superbowl. However, to win the Superbowl, having the top 3 defense led to a win 5 of 7 times.

Take from this what you will -- I'm sure Lions fans would be happy to make the playoffs, much less the Superbowl. However, since I'm sure that at least getting there is the goal of the new Lions front office, these types of stats will be in the forefront as they are building their team.

One more thing to note: The teams with top offenses seemed to vary in who made it each year, where the teams with top defenses were most likely to make it to the game multiple times if accompanied by just a top 20 offense or better...

My read on this? Offense will get you a championship just as likely as Defense, but defense is more likely to win it. Defense is also more consistent than offense.

So if it were me, I would build a spectacular defense and pair it with an average to above average offense. Because as this history shows, not only is that the way to get to the Superbowl, it's the most probable way to win it. Isn't Schwartz a real numbers guy? Makes you wonder...

What are your thoughts on this? And don't forget to do your mock drafts as well -- PLEASE put them on the mock draft article as I don't want mock drafts cluttering every article for the next three weeks. I will be linking to it on the sidebar soon, if not already.

Also, I will begin posting the mailbag answers tomorrow (Friday) morning. They were all pretty in-depth questions, so I will do a short piece on one or two at a time, and spread them out over the Easter weekend.

Keep Emailing them in -- I will be interspersing them into the blogging as we go along. Also, best to email them to me versus posting them in comments -- then I can put my thoughts out there, and garner all the reader thoughts at the same time versus being somewhat spread out over several stories. (I'm referring to mailbag style questions. Please keep up the usual back and forth relating to each story, events in the comments as we have been. The intelligent comments and dialogue is what I want to encourage and maintain on this site.)


Isphet said...

Don't forget the Colt's defense in '06 when they won. they stunk all year and it was supposed to be their Achilles' heel, but then in the playoffs, Freeney and crew suddenly went buck wild and played at an incredibly higher level than they did in the regular season.

The Giants kind of did the same thing, but not as severely the year they won. Their numbers were skewed by their first two games where they gave up 80+ points in those two, then they settled in and were more like a top ten defense for the rest of the year, and also kicked it up a notch in the playoffs.

Let's look at playoff stats for the last 7 superbowl winners

2008: Pittsburgh: 20.3 points per game
2007: Giants: 16.2 points per game
2006: Colts 16.2 points per game (!)
2005: Pit: 15.5 points/game
2004: NE: 17.0 ppg
2003: NE: 19 ppg
2002: TB: 12.3 ppg

So it looks like the magic number is 20 points per game average in the playoffs maximum to win the super bowl. The regular season is kinda important, but both your outliers clearly played better D in the playoffs when they won.

Oh, the Ravens in 2000 averaged 5.8 per game, lol. That's how you win with Trent Dilfer. And even the Rams with the greatest show on turf held their opponents to under 20 ppg in the playoffs. The last team to win the superbowl with more than 20 ppg was the 49ers in 1995 with 23 points per game; but they scored 43.7 per game doing it. The Bears in 1985 gave up 3.3! Lol.

So, get the defense to hold teams to 20 ppg or less, then we can talk about the offense.

Isphet said...

I was curious so decided to look at the other side of the ball. Offensive points scored per game by championship team in playoffs.

08 pit: 28.3
07 giants: 21.2
06 colts: 26.2
05 pit: 26.8
04 NE: 28.3
03 NE: 24.3
02 TB: 35.3 (!)
01 NE: 20 (!)
00 Ravens: 23.8
99 Rams: 27.7 (really? wow.)

So you need to score an average of 24 points+ to win the super bowl, generally. The Lions are one heck of a lot closer to scoring 24 a game than they are holding teams to 20 or less. Heck, maybe if the Lions' D actually.. you know.. gave the offense a short field or scored some points itself, that difference would be made up. It would certainly lessen the offensive gap.

You should see some of the teams' offensive ppg that DIDN'T win some years.. it's pretty interesting, but kinda meaningless to this study.

08 AZ: 29.5
07 GB: 31.0
06 NE: 31.7
05 Den/Car 22
04 ATL 28.5
03 IND/KC 31.0 (!)
02 5 teams @ 29 points+ (!)
01 Rams 30.3

DetFan1979 said...

Thanks for the added research Isphet! I seemed to remember that being the case with Indy and NYG.

So it still totalyl supports the theory that while a top 3 offense or defense in the regular season has about a 30% chance to get you to the game, it is the defensive that wins the game an overwhelming amount of the time.

Build a great D, with the Lions current level of O and Superbowl is a possibility.

I mean, how bad is the offensive line when Kevin Smith ran for almost 1000 yards -- as a half time starter who was contantly being pulled??

RIP said...

Seen this year's opponents and where they play. Not too bad for a schedule.
The big negative is we have 2 games on the west coast. As a person who has flown often, always preferred the jet lag while traveling east instead of going west.

The game of interest to me will be New Orleans. The team scored at will with last year's coaching staff and roster. Is there going to be a noticeable difference when we play them this year?

Riley said...

This types of analysis is a good starting point, but ultimately it's much very simplistic.

It's simplistic because the effectiveness of the offense and defense on a team feed off of one another. For instance, a defense that produces a lot of turn-overs gives the offense more opportunities to score, and an offense that protects the ball well tends to give the defense a long field to defend.

Overall, the ability of an offense to produce long, slow, clock-eating drives without turning the ball over, is the type of offense that is most beneficial to a defense; it can make the defense appear to be better than it really is. And yet such an offense usually scores fewer points than an offense that includes a lot of big plays. To my way of thinking, a "plodding" offense that produces a lot of sustained drives, should be considered a better offense than many of the other offenses that are scoring more points, but either not sustaining long drives or turning the ball over more often.

For example, I would say that the New England Patriots, prior to Randy Moss, was a plodding-style of offense. Yes, New England also had a very good defense, but I think (at least in 2004) their offense was even more extraordinary, in the sense of what it could do: it could sustain long clock-eating drives without turning the ball over, and yet (unlike most other plodding style offenses) still had a very high efficiency rating in the red zone. This put a lot of pressure on the other team's offense, who had very few possessions when playing against the Patriots.

So, the conventional wisdom would be to say that in 2004, the Indianapolis Colts, who averaged a gaudy 32.6 points per game that season, but I would say that the best offense in the league that year was the New England Patriots offense because in 2004, the Patriot dominated their opponent in time of possession while at the same time remaining efficient with scoring. In fact, I would say the New England.

I think it's been the New England Patriots Offense that has been keeping them consistently in the playoff most of this past decade.