With all the recent talk about the Mario vs. Reggie debate (which I think they made the right choice on), I was curious to investigate whether the old addage of defense winning championships was indeed correct. I looked back at the last 20 NFL seasons and this is some of what I found (I realize this is a long post but I think it sheds some light into the debate between building an offense first vs. building a defense first): On average, the team with the #1 ranked scoring defense each year averaged winning 12.20 games per year, while the team with the #1 ranked scoring offense averaged winning 12.25 games each year, a negligible difference. Teams that had the #1 ranked overall defense (yards allowed) won an average of 11.28 games per year, while the #1 overall offense won an average of 11.20 games per year, also a pretty negligible difference. Here's a breakdown of a couple other offensive/defensive rankings and how many wins those teams averaged per season: Ranking...Scoring Off....Scoring Def....Total Off....Total Def top 1..........12.25............12.20..........11.20........11.28 top 5..........11.02............11.24..........10.25........10.15 top 10.........10.35...........10.26............9.55.........9.43 During the regular season, having a top ranked offense vs. having a top ranked defense doesn't seem to matter much in the wins column (although in the last 4 seasons since Houston was added, the team with the 32nd ranked defense has averaged winning only 2.5 games per year while the team with the 32nd ranked offense has averaged 4.5 wins per year). During that same time span, all teams making the playoffs averaged ranking 11.0 in total offense and 11.8 in total defense (8.9 in scoring offense, 9.3 in scoring defense), so that indicates that playoff teams average ranking slightly higher in offense than defense. In the first two rounds of playoffs, the team with a higher ranked offense has won 83 out of 152 games (.546 win percentage) while the higher ranked defense has won just 80 out of 152 games (.526), so that appears to be a pretty negligible difference but the higher ranked offensive teams tend to fair slightly better in the first few rounds of the playoffs. But what about the Super Bowls themselves? In the past 20 Super Bowls, the average offensive rank of all participating teams was 7.7 (for overall offense, 5.3 in scoring offense) and the average defensive rank was 9.7 (for overall defense, 6.3 in scoring defense), so teams making it to the Super Bowl on average have higher ranking offense than defense. However, breaking down Super Bowl winners vs. losers tells a different story: Super Bowl winners have an average offensive rank of 8.3 in total offense and 5.7 in scoring offense, while Super Bowl losers have an average rank of 7.2 in overall offense and 5.0 in scoring offense, so the teams losing the Super Bowls have higher ranked offenses than the teams winning the Super Bowls. Conversely, Super Bowl winners have an average defensive ranking of 6.7 in total defense and 3.6 in scoring defense, while Super Bowl losers have an average defensive ranking of 12.8 in total defense and 8.9 in scoring defense, so Super Bowl winners have significantly stronger defenses on average than the Super Bowl losers, and the winners on average have a stronger defensive ranking than offensive ranking. In the last 20 Super Bowls, the team in that game with the higher ranked overall offense is only 9-11, while the team with the higher ranked overall defense is 16-4, and the team with the higher scoring offense is only 11-9 while the team with the better scoring defense is 17-3. 4 different times the #1 overall ranked offense from the regular season (and one more offense that was ranked #1 in scoring) won the Super Bowl, however the lowest-ranked defense among those 5 teams was ranked 8th (1994 49ers), so even with the best offense in the league all those teams still needed a top-8 defense to win the Super Bowl. 4 different times the #1 overall ranked defense (in yards allowed) from the regular season won the Super Bowl, 2 of those teams had a top-5 offense (1992 Cowboys and 1996 Packers), while the other 2 of those teams had a below-average offense (2000 Ravens had 16th ranked offense, 2002 Buccaneers had 24th ranked offense). Additionally, the 1990 Giants had the #1 scoring defense in the league that year and won the Super Bowl with the 19th ranked offense, and the 2003 Patriots had the #1 scoring defense and won the Super Bowl with the 18th ranked offense, so a #1 defense can carry a mediocre-below average offense to a championship. 6 times in the last 20 years a team with an offense ranked 16th or lower (i.e. in the bottom half of the league) in terms of yards gained during the regular season won the Super Bowl, incidentally 5 of those came in the last 6 years (2005 Steelers ranked 16th in yards gained, 2003 Patriots ranked 18th in yards gained, 2002 Buccaneers ranked 24th in yards gained, 2001 Patriots ranked 19th in yards gained, 2000 Ravens ranked 16th in yards gained, 1990 Giants ranked 19th in yards gained), and among all of those instances other than the 2001 Patriots (I still contend that team was a fluke champion who should not have been in the Super Bowl to begin with-remember the tuck rule?) the champion had a top-7 defense. 4 times a team without a top-10 scoring offense won the Super Bowl (1990 Giants ranked 15th, 2000 Ravens ranked 14th, 2002 Buccaneers ranked 18th, and 2003 Patriots ranked 12th), and all of those had the #1 ranked scoring defense in the league. Only 2 times in the last 20 years has a team without a top-10 defense (in terms of yards allowed during the regular season) won the Super Bowl (2001 Patriots that were ranked 24th in overall defense but 6th in scoring defense, and 1987 Redskins that were ranked 22nd in overall defense but also 6th in scoring defense). No team has won a Super Bowl in the last 20 years with a defense ranked lower than 8th in scoring defense during the regular season. 3 times in the past 20 Super Bowls the #1 overall offense (in yards gained) lost the Super Bowl, the common factor among those teams? A weak defense (1988 Bengals ranked 17th in defense, the 1991 Bills ranked 27th in defense, the 2001 Rams ranked 3rd in defense-they had a solid defense both Super Bowl appearances that people seem to forget about, once again I say this season was a fluke for the Patriots). Add to that the 1990 Bills and the 2005 Seahawks that both had the #1 scoring offense and had the 11th and 17th ranked defense repectively and still lost the Super Bowl. No team with the #1 overall ranked defense (yards allowed) has ever lost a Super Bowl in the last 20 years, the closest was the 1995 Steelers who had the 2nd ranked defense and the 6th ranked offense and lost to the Cowboys. The 1989 Broncos had the #1 scoring defense in the league and got destroyed in the Super Bowl by the 49ers (who had the #1 offense and #4 defense). So what does this tell us? In the regular season and early in the playoffs having a strong offense has historically had a slight edge over having a strong defense, however when it comes down to winning a championship it is clearly advantageous to have a stronger D. While it is obviously ideal to have a balanced team that is strong on both sides of the ball (a strong D will help an offense out, and a strong O will help a defense out), a dominating defense has shown that it can carry a mediocre offense to a championship, while a dominating offense had yet to prove it can win a championship without a strong defense accompanying it.