What Is More Important To NFL Success: Offense or Defense?

This isn’t going to be some mind-blowing revelation, as it turns out, but here are some words and numbers on the subject.

Whether you agree with my official rankings or not, the truth of the matter is, the following teams are the best in the NFL:  Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, New England, Arizona, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and the Giants.

In that creamy middle area, you’ve got the following teams:  Seattle, St. Louis, Green Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Diego, Cincinnati, Denver, Washington, Miami, and Detroit.

Everyone else sucks:  Tampa, Indy, Buffalo, the Jets, New Orleans, Carolina, Kansas City, Oakland, Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee.

So, let’s just forget about the shitty teams for a moment and throw out those teams in the creamy middle area as well.  We only want to look at the ten teams we believe – right now – are good enough to go on to win the Super Bowl this season.  Where do THEY rank offensively and defensively?

I’m going strictly by Yards Per Game, because I think that’s a quality indicator of quality.  Points per game can skew things because what happens when a team gives up a lot of yards but holds another team to minimal points?  You can’t sustain things like turnovers or holding other teams to field goals if they’re shredding your defense all game.  Eventually, THOSE teams get theirs.  Points per game on offense can skew things as well.  After all, what if your defense gets lucky with turnovers and puts you in short fields all day?  Or if your special teams breaks a few more touchdowns than everyone else?  You can’t count on that either, when push comes to shove.

So, here we go.  Yards per game it is.

5 of the top 10 teams in the league have a Top 10 defense, including San Francisco (2nd), Houston (3rd), Pittsburgh (5th), Chicago (6th), Minnesota (7th).  Arizona lands just outside the top 10 at 11th-best.  But, then you’ve got Atlanta (17th), the Giants (21st), New England (22nd), and Baltimore (24th).  Those bottom three are giving up over 370 yards per game!  In that sense, it’s understandable why the Giants and Patriots both have 2 losses already.

On the flipside, 4 of the top 10 teams have a Top 10 offense, including New England (1st), the Giants (2nd), San Francisco (6th), and Baltimore (8th).  Look at what we have here!  New England, Baltimore and the Giants (three of the poorer defensive teams) are elite when it comes to moving the ball up and down the field.  Atlanta, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Chicago all find themselves only in the teens in yards per game.  Minnesota finds themselves 20th, and the lowly Arizona Cardinals (with the 4-1 record) are all the way down to 31st with 273 yards per game.

Obviously, it’s too early to make a definitive conclusion on things after 5 weeks of football.  Certain teams have certain strengths.  For the Pats, Giants, and Ravens, clearly it’s offense.  For the Texans, Steelers, Vikings, and Cardinals it’s defense.

And then you’ve got San Francisco.  2nd in defense and 6th in offense.  Of course, it helps the last two weeks they’ve played the Jets and the Bills (and beat them 79-3 in the process), but you play the schedule you’re dealt.  If San Francisco wasn’t your pick to win the Super Bowl before the season, it should be now.

Since we’re dealing with such a small sample size in 2012, let’s look at 2011.  Keep it in the same era, so we can see just what exactly is more important (because obviously in the first decades of the NFL, defense ruled the day).

The top 4 seeds in the NFL in the 2011 playoffs were Green Bay (3rd in offense, last in defense), San Francisco (26th in offense, 4th in defense), Baltimore (15th in offense, 3rd in defense), and New England (2nd in offense, 31st in defense).  OK, so you’ve got two teams with elite offenses and the worst defenses, and you’ve got two teams with elite defenses and mediocre-to-bad offenses.

Rounding out the playoff teams, we’ve got Detroit (5th in offense & 23rd in defense), New Orleans (1st in offense & 24th in defense), Cincinnati (20th in offense & 7th in defense), Houston (13th in offense & 2nd in defense), Pittsburgh (12th in offense & 1st in defense), Denver (23rd in offense & 20th in defense), Atlanta (10th in offense & 12th in defense), and the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants (8th in offense & 27th in defense).

If you’ve read this far, then you’ve just realized what a complete and total waste of time this exercise is.  Don’t worry, I’m just realizing this fact right along with you.  I’ll try to bring it home with some sort of conclusion, but as you can see, it won’t be entirely satisfying.

The two teams who met in last year’s Super Bowl were Top 10 in offense and Bottom 6 in defense.  Overall, 5 of the top 10 offenses made the playoffs and 5 of the top 10 defenses made the playoffs.  5 of the teams in the Bottom Third in defense made the playoffs (including the two very worst, one of which went all the way to the Super Bowl), but only 2 of the teams in the Bottom Third in offense made the playoffs (Denver & San Francisco).

I’m not going to take this exercise any further than last year because I have better God damned things to do with my time.  I would say, however, that while defense is important, and can even propel you to the heights of a Conference Championship game (or even the occasional Super Bowl), it’s the offense that’s ultimately going to win you championships.

What does that mean for Seattle?  Well, shucks, having the number one defense is fun and all, but unless we’re able to lift ourselves higher than 6th-worst on offense, we’re going to be destined to finish 8-8 and no better.  I mean, for the love of Christ, it’s not like we’ve got Tebow’s magic cock leading this team!

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