Defense Or Offense Wins (AFC) Championships?

The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 3 defense. The Patriots have the No. 2 offense.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

It’s the NFL’s age-old debate.

What wins championships: offense or defense?

More pressing, what will win an AFC championship on Sunday?

It’s a question begged to be asked this week, as the heavily offensive-geared New England Patriots will play host to the defensively-known Baltimore Ravens. It’s strength versus strength.

Fans may have gotten a preview last weekend when the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers knocked off the offensively-mighty Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, helmed by MVP candidate quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, respectively.

The Packers and Saints each had an offense that finished the regular season in the NFL’s top three. The Packers had the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Saints were 24th.

The Patriots are in a similar mold. They own the NFL’s No. 2-ranked offense, but No. 31-ranked defense. They are the last offensive juggernaut remaining.

The Ravens are much more balanced. But their 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round provided the most recent example that their No. 3-ranked defense rules.

The leaders of the defense (linebacker Ray Lewis) and offense (quarterback Joe Flacco) were asked for their take on the subject Wednesday. And, not surprisingly, they had different biased answers.

“Come on now, you got a little trick question,” Lewis said with a grin.

“You know what, I’ve been doing it for so long, when you do watch how the games are played, nine times out of ten, I just truly believe defense is going to find a way to win the championship. You can go back however many years you want to go back, defenses have a way to come out to make a play that changes the outcome of games.”

Problem is, Flacco pointed to the record books to make his point too.

“Look at who has won Super Bowls the last handful of years – great offenses,” Flacco said. “It is an offensive game now. It really is. It is tough to argue that. … If you were to bet, I would definitely bet in the next 10 years more than five teams are going to win it because they have good offenses, not good defenses.”

Here’s a look at the last five Super Bowl champions, who the MVP of the game was and where their offense and defense ranked. Find a more extensive history here:

Super Bowl Winners




Offense Rank

Defense Rank

Super Bowl XLV, 2011

Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

QB Aaron Rodgers

No. 9

No. 5

Super Bowl XLIV, 2010

New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

QB Drew Brees

No. 1

No. 25

Super Bowl XLII, 2009

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

WR Santonio Holmes

No. 22

No. 1

Super Bowl XLII, 2008

New York Giants 17, New England 14

QB Eli Manning

No. 16

No. 7

Super Bowl XLI, 2007

Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

QB Peyton Manning

No. 3

No. 21

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to win a title with purely offense or purely defense. Green Bay turned the tide with an interception return for a touchdown last year. New Orleans sealed the game with the same the year before.

That’s why, even though Flacco shades more towards offense being the trend of defining a title team, he believes balances is the key.

“The bottom line is you have to have both,” he said. “You have to be able to score points. You have to be able to stop teams. You really have to be able to do it in tough games on the road in a lot of different situations.  I think you can win both ways.”

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