Look, none of us wants to even entertain the possibility of the Falcons getting to the Super Bowl, lest we jinx it. So rather than say it out loud, I’m going to suggest that if some team with one of the best offenses in the league and one of the worst defenses were to make the big game, they could win. There is precedence!
The old saw that defense wins championships has held up pretty well over the life of the NFL, and the last four Super Bowl winners have all had terrific defenses that pushed them into the championship and helped them win it. You have to go back five years to find a Super Bowl winner that didn’t boast a tremendous defense, but it has happened twice in the last seven seasons.
Let’s keep this simple and go with points allowed, which is an imperfect but useful enough metric. Here’s where each of the last eight Super Bowl winners ranked:
2015: Denver Broncos, 4th
2014: New England Patriots, 8th
2013: Seattle Seahawks, 1st
2012: Baltimore Ravens, 12th
2011: New York Giants, 25th
2010: Green Bay Packers, 2nd
2009: New Orleans Saints, 20th
2008: Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st
Some of the defenses on this list are obviously better than others, and the 2012 Baltimore Ravens were a better defense than their ranking in points allows indicates. Still, it’s obvious from looking at this list that the only two truly weak defenses that wound up hoisting Lombardi Trophies were the Giants and Saints, who had amazing offenses to compensate for it. Both defenses (but particularly New Orleans) were also opportunistic when they needed to be.
You should feel heartened by that, but you should also realize that lousy defenses getting to the championship (much less winning it) is the rarer outcome in today’s NFL. Elite defenses tend to carry teams a long way, and in a matchup against an elite defense and an elite offense, the former tends to carry the day.
This points a way forward for a hypothetical team with a tremendous offense and bad defense, whoever they may be. Recent NFL history indicates, though, that a championship win is not the likeliest outcome.