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What Does it Take to Make it to the Super Bowl?

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An examination of the last 10 SuperBowl teams, and what it may take to be a champion.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

By the time the final snap was taken in the last Super Bowl, fans were proudly echoing the long heard words that "Defense wins championships." After all, the latest Super Bowl featured the best offense in the league going against the best defense in the league - and the defensive team won, and they won big. But if we look objectively at the last 10 Super Bowls, and the teams that made it there, what is the real story? Is the age-old adage true, or is there more to the story?

To get a better idea, I decided to take a look at the AFC and NFC teams that have been to the big dance over the last 10 years. I wanted to see how those teams ranked in key statistics during the season, to see if there were any patterns to be found. Specifically, I looked at their rankings in offensive points scored, offensive turnovers, defensive sacks, defensive points allowed, defensive turnovers and defensive run stopping. Below are the results:

* Denotes SuperBowl winners

AFC Team Off Rank Off Turnover Rank Sacks Rank Def Pts Rank Turnover Rank Run-stop Rank
2013 Broncos 1 18 14 22 16 7
2012 *Ravens 10 3 16 12 15 20
2011 Patriots 3 3 14 15 3 17
2010 Steelers 12 4 1 1 3 1
2009 Colts 7 11 17 8 18 24
2008 *Steelers 20 15 2 1 9 2
2007 Patriots 1 1 2 4 9 10
2006 *Colts 2 4 30 23 23 32
2005 *Steelers 9 8 4 4 11 3
2004 *Patriots 4 16 5 2 3 6
Avg 6.9 8.3 10.5 9.2 11.0 12.2
Outlier Avg 5.4 7.2 8.3 7.7 9.7 10.0

NFC Team Off Rank Off Turnover Rank Sacks Rank Def Pts Rank Turnover Rank Run-stop Rank
2013 *Seahawks 9 6 8 1 1 8
2012 49ers 11 2 11 2 14 4
2011 *Giants 9 17 4 25 8 19
2010 *Packers 10 10 4 2 6 18
2009 *Saints 1 18 15 20 2 21
2008 Cardinals 4 26 15 28 8 16
2007 *Giants 14 26 1 17 23 8
2006 Bears 3 28 10 3 1 6
2005 Seahawks 1 3 1 7 18 5
2004 Eagles 8 8 2 3 17 16
Avg 7.0 14.4 7.1 10.8 9.8 12.1
Outlier Avg 6.2 12.9 6.2 8.9 8.3 11.1

So, given the data above, what might we assume about what it takes to get to the SuperBowl?

1. Having a top 10 offense is critical

Of the 20 teams to make it to the big dance over the last 10 years, only 4 did not have a top-10 offense. Of those 4 teams, only 2 won the SuperBowl. The 2007 Giants appear to be a statistical anomaly, having both an average offense and average defense (in terms of points allowed). The 2008 Steelers may have ranked 20th in offensive points, but they were clearly the top defense in the league, ranking 1st in points allowed, 2nd in sacks and 2nd in run-stopping.

Of the SuperBowl winners, 8 out of the 10 had a top-10 offense. So, don't let the pundits fool you - teams still have to be able to score points.

2. Getting to the other QB is very important

Maybe somewhat surprisingly, SuperBowl teams tend to be highly ranked in sacks, with an outlier average of 8.3 for the AFC and 6.2 for the NFC. Of the winners, 7 out of the 10 were in the top-10 of defensive sacks. But there is some wiggle room here. Teams who were around the league average or lower (15th and worst) tended to have a top-5 offense, with the exception of the 2012 Ravens and 2009 Colts.

So, if you're not able to get to the other teams QB consistently, it's in your best interest to be a top-scoring offense to help make up for it.

3. Having the top scoring offense is not enough

With all of that said, being number one in offense does not appear to be a great way to go. Of the 4 teams that had the number 1 ranked offense that played in a Super Bowl, only 1 took home the Lombardi (the 2009 Saints). Though this is a relatively small sample size, and no firm conclusions can be drawn, this statistic does stand out. The fact that only 4 teams of the 20 had the number one offense speaks volumes.

Perhaps it's an indication that putting all your eggs in one basket is not a great team-building strategy, though I hesitate to say this definitively.

4. Run-stopping isn't that important

For the Falcons fans hoping that an improved run defense will help turn our defense around, it may not be enough. Of the teams in the last 10 SuperBowls, only 10 of the 20 were in the top-10 in rushing yards allowed. In other words, it's a coin-flip. In fact, 9 of the 20 teams featured a run defense that was at or below the league average. Of all the metrics, it's the one that seemed to carry the least amount of influence.

5. Turnovers are important, but not critically so

For offensive turnovers, 8 of the 20 teams were at or below the league average. From the winners, 5 of the 10 were in the top-10 in protecting the football. On the other side of the ball, 7 of the 20 teams were at or below the league average. From the winners, 6 of the 10 were in the top-10 in taking the ball away. So, there's reason to believe that ball security is important, but it's weight may be overstated somewhat.

So what's your take? Given the data in front of you, what other conclusions could we draw?