Top Defenses Usually Dominate in Super Bowl
Top Defenses Usually Dominate in Super Bowl
Photo: Drew McKenzie (SportsPress NorthWest)

Steve Rudman (SportsPress NorthWest)

A No. 1-ranked defense has appeared in the Super Bowl 10 times and come away with nine victories, including last year's 35-point win by Seattle over the Denver Broncos.

After losing Red Bryant and Chris Clemons in free agency, Brandon Mebane to a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 10, and Bobby Wagner for five weeks at mid-year, it seemed unlikely the Seahawks would duplicate last year's feat of leading the NFL in total defense. But by allowing 39 points in their final six games, the Seahawks finished No. 1 again in fewest points (15.9) and yards (267.1) allowed, only the fourth franchise since the 1950s to do so.

En route, the Seahawks defeated two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, survived a rare home loss to Pro Bowler Tony Romo, rallied four times in the fourth quarter or overtime, and held opponents without a fourth-quarter touchdown for six weeks.

"I can't speak for anybody else, but I think this season has definitely been more rewarding than last year," said Wagner. "I appreciate it a lot more because we have been through a lot. Everybody was facing injuries. We were having a lot more doubters than we were used to. You have to appreciate all the moments -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- and run with it. Teams definitely gave us their best shot, but we withstood it. We're here now and those moments made us grow."

"There are always going to be challenges because you have new people every year," added DL Michael Bennett. "Everyone expected us not to be in the championship again, but we always expected to be right back here. We had great leadership and played great football over the last few weeks."

The Seahawks are the first franchise in NFL history to send the league's No.-1 ranked defense to the Super Bowl for two years in a row. The only other to twice send a No. 1 was Pittsburgh, the Steelers doing so in 2008 and in 1974. Pittsburgh won both games.

In the Super Bowl era, a No. 1 defense has appeared in the Super Bowl 10 times. Nine times the team with the No. 1 defense won, by an average of 18.5 points, a number inflated by Seattle's 35-point victory last year over Denver:

Year Game Team YPG PA W/L Super Bowl Margin
Source: NFL
1972VIIDolphins235.512.2WDef. Wash 14-77
1974IXSteelers219.613.5WDef. Minn 16-610
1977XIICowboys229.515.1WDef. Den 27-1017
1982XVIIDolphins256.914.6LL Wash 27-1710
1985XIXBears258.412.4WDef. NE 46-1036
1992XXVIICowboys245.715.2WDef. Buff 52-1735
1996XXXIPackers259.813.1WDef. NE 25-214
2002XXXVIIBuccaneers252.812.2WDef. Oak 48-2127
2008XLIIISteelers237.213.9WDef. AZ 27-234
2013XLVIIISeahawks273.614.4WDef. Den 43-835

The only loss suffered by a team with a No. 1 defense occurred in 1982, when the season was reduced to nine games due to a labor dispute. Other than that, the team with the No. 1 defense has won by double digits seven times.

The key number

Aside from heaps of fluff (to say nothing of all the entertainment provided by Marshawn Lynch), especially the kind manufactured on Media Day, Super Bowl week is all about breaking down individual matchups, assessing offenses vs. defenses, rating the quarterbacks and delving into analytics.

Never does hype or deep statistical probes involve turnovers, odd since they often determine the outcome of games between evenly matched teams, and predictable since, well, they can't be predicted.

Prior to last year's Super Bowl, the major talking points had to do with how Denver's No. 1-ranked offense would fare against Seattle's No.-1 ranked defense. But a 43-8 avalanche by the Seahawks started with a safety and snowballed with an interception return TD and a special-teams TD -- in other words, turnovers.

The Seahawks nearly blew the NFC championship 10 days ago against Green Bay with five turnovers — four interceptions and a fumbled kickoff return — but rallied to win by recovering an onside kick Green Bay should have had, and that tilted the game in Seattle's favor.

Much of Seattle's success the past three years stems from converting turnovers into points, such as Kam Chancellor's pick-six TD against Carolina in the divisional round.

Since 2012, when the Seahawks first announced themselves as potential Super Bowl contenders, they are +51 in turnover differential, including regular and postseason. This won't help with a Super Bowl prediction, but over the same span, the New England Patriots are also +51. No other team is close:

Team Coach 3-Yr. Rec. 2012 2013 2014 Total
Source: NFL
Seattle SeahawksPete Carroll42-13+14+27+10+51
New England PatriotsBill Belichick40-14+23+13+15+51
San Francisco 49ersJim Harbaugh35-18+10+11+7+28
Chicago BearsMarc Trestman23-25+20+5-5+20
Green Bay PackersMike McCarthy33-19-1+9-2+11+18
Baltimore RavensJohn Harbaugh32-21+15-5+3+13
Carolina PanthersRon Rivera26-23-1+1+90+10

 

"This is a stat that's crucial," Carroll emphasized earlier this week. "You can't play successfully unless you have a lot of fundamental aspects of your game together. To have a football team that plays with this kind of focus and that kind of concentration, it crosses the entire gamut. Guys have to appreciate and understand what fundamentals in this game are all about.

"We want teams that play without mistakes and play with great intensity and focus and toughness. I would like to think we are very similar to New England in that regard."

At +51 each, the Seahawks and Patriots couldn't be more similar.

 

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