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D not sexy, but pays

Nov 6, 2007 3:53 AM

Offense is sexy, but defense (still) rules.

So what do you prefer: offense or defense? Most casual bettors like offense, which is why Monday night football games often take more action on the over.

There have been some terrific offensive football teams the last few years, such as USC and Texas in 2005, Ohio State last year, and pro passing attacks like the Rams, Colts, Dick Vermeil’s Chiefs and this year’s Patriots.

However, which two teams played for the Super Bowl last season? The Bears and Colts.

Indy was unusual, in that their run defense was poor during the regular season, then caught fire in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bears were No. 1 in total defense.

Back in 2005, the Steelers and Seahawks met in the Super Bowl. They were two of the top run defenses in the league and Pittsburgh was No. 4 in total defense.

The Patriots won three Super Bowls with a better defense than offense. Their 2002 team didn’t make the playoffs and the reason was obvious — the second worst run defense, a flaw they fixed and the result was back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

That 2002 season the Super Bowl was a fascinating match-up that pitted the No. 1 offense — Oakland — against the No. 1 defense in Tampa Bay. The Raiders averaged 28.1 points per game, while the Bucs ranked 18th in scoring with 21.6 ppg. This is partly why the Raiders were a 4-point favorite on Super Sunday, but what was the outcome? Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.

Defense still rules. Defense in all sports doesn’t get the publicity that a flashy, exciting offense does, but there is so much truth in that age-old adage "Defense wins championships."

Pittsburgh won four Super Bowl titles in six years from 1975-80 with Hall-of-Famers Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris on offense. But the cornerstone of that run was a defense for the ages led by L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Jack Ham.

Note that five of the last seven Super Bowl champions had deficiencies on offense, yet won with strong all-around defenses. The 2005 Steelers were 23rd in passing. Many laughed at the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 when they went five straight games without an offensive touchdown, but the Ravens laughed all the way to the Super Bowl, going 14-5-1 against the spread and dominating with a ferocious defense.

All the champs were statistically very strong defensively, with the exception of the 2001 Patriots and last year’s Colts. Both those teams got better defensively in the later stages of the season and were stellar in the playoffs.

In 2001, New England struggled early with injuries and new personnel, but in the second half the ”˜D’ held their final nine opponents to 17 points or less. Contrast those numbers with the offensive rankings of the last seven Super Bowl champs: The Ravens were 16th offensively, the Patriots were 19th, Tampa Bay was 22nd, the 03’ Pats were 17th, the ’04 Pats 7th, the Steelers 15th and the Colts third.

The 1999 Rams had a devastating offense (No. 1), but it was easy to overlook the fact that the Rams had the No. 6 overall defense (No. 1 against the run). The strong offense and defense helped the Rams go 16-3 SU and 14-4-1 ATS on the way to beating Tennessee, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV.

The 2000 Rams offense was even better, No. 1, averaging 33.7 points per game. The defense lost head coach Dick Vermiel, defensive coordinator John Bunting, as well as an early-season injury to defensive leader D’Marco Farr. That was plenty, as the unit completely disintegrated, finishing 23rd overall, 27th against the pass while giving up the most points in the NFL (29.4 points per game).

Even though the offense was unstoppable, the defensive collapse caused the Rams to limp into the playoffs as a Wild Card team, where they were quickly eliminated by the Saints, 31-28, as a 6-point favorite. The bad ”˜D’made them a bad bet, as well, going 6-10-1 against the spread. Clearly, defense is still the key to football success.