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Money $ides with ‘D’

Oct 21, 2003 1:49 AM

So what’s your preference in pro football ”” offense or defense?

Most fans like offense. The championship Rams club of 1999 that averaged 32.8 points per game behind MVP Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk are remembered more fondly, for example, than the 2000 Ravens team that went five games without an offensive touchdown, yet also won the Super Bowl.

When it comes to winning championships, defense is much more important than offense. There’s no better example than that 2000 Ravens team, which struggled to score points all season (16th ranked offense), but allowed the fewest points (10.3 points pg allowed).

There are plenty of other examples, too. The Patriots won the Super Bowl two years ago with an offense that scored just 16, 10 and 13 points in three playoff games, including the Super Bowl. Last season the Bucs roared through the postseason much the same way as the 2000 Ravens with a monster defense.

January’s Super Bowl made a statement, too, about which side of the ball should be the strongest. The unstoppable Raiders offense got smacked by the No. 1 defense in Tampa Bay’s impressive 48-21 rout.

What’s also interesting is how teams fair the following season, either after winning the Super Bowl or coming close. You’ll often find the better defensive teams fair well, but teams that rely more on offense don’t. This is something to keep in mind when making futures bets. It’s better to take your chances with a strong defensive team than one with a great offense and a lousy "D".

For example, the 2000 Rams had an incredible offense and a horrible defense. That team backed into playoffs and was upset in the first round by the Saints. The 2001 Ravens were still offensively challenged, but made it back into the playoffs, upsetting the Dolphins in the Wild Card before losing to Pittsburgh.

Nearly halfway through this NFL season, which team looks better to make it back to the Super Bowl ”” Tampa Bay or Oakland? The better defensive team, of course. Here’s a look at some teams that are playing strong defense.

CAROLINA: Coach John Fox likes conservative offense and hard-nosed "D".. Not very exciting, huh? Well, the bottom line is winning and this team has been a great story. Last season the Panthers had the 31st ranked offense in the NFL, but the defense was No. 2 overall.

This team is winning with defense. Before the season began, the OVER/UNDER for Carolina wins was 7½, and they were 75-1 to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens were 50-1 three years ago and won with the same formula ”” an offense that likes to run and not make mistakes, and a sensational "D".

DENVER: Last season, the Broncos seemed to have everything in place to make a deep run into the playoffs. The offense was loaded (No. 3 in the NFL), but they fell short of even making the playoffs largely because of a pass defense that ranked 17th.

This season, they look just as strong on offense, but first-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has revamped the "D". and it’s been much better. The poor defense prevented them from making the postseason, but perhaps they’ve fixed the problem. Four of Denver’s first six games went UNDER the total.

DALLAS: The Cowboys don’t have a flashy offense, but Bill Parcells has helped instill confidence in this young team. Dallas has had a surprise start mainly because of defense (ranked No. 3 in the NFL after its 4-1 start).

They’ve been particularly strong against the run, which is always the building block of championship teams. The Tuna likely doesn’t yet have all the pieces in place to make a run at the title this year, but notice Dallas was 35-1 to win the Super Bowl in August. Those odds have since been cut in half.

MIAMI: With the demise of the Raiders, there’s a race to fill the vacuum in the AFC. Miami is making a run after missing the playoffs last year despite having the No. 3 overall defense in the NFL.

Zach Thomas, Sam Madison, Brock Marion, Jason Taylor and newcomer Junior Seau anchor a veteran defense that has lived up to its billing, outside of that 21-20 loss to Houston to open the season. After that defeat, Miami went 4-0 SU/ATS with all four games going UNDER the total.

KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs still win with offense and special teams, but notice that the defense has improved. Kansas City gave up just over 19 points per game during its 6-0 start, which was lost in the shadows of its incredible offense (31 ppg).

Remember that last season, KC failed to make the playoffs because of a defense that ranked last in the NFL. They gave up 4.8 yards per rushing attempt, second worst in the league. They’re giving up far fewer points this season, but notice they were allowing 4.9 yards per carry ”” a shade worse than last season. So they still have some work to do.