≡ Menu

A quick checkdown today, looking at the net points allowed in the playoffs by each of the 50 teams that won the Super Bowl. What do I mean by net points? It’s pretty simple:

(Touchdowns allowed to opposing offenses) * 7 + (Field Goals allowed) * 3 – (Touchdowns scored by the defense) * 7 – (Safeties scored by the defense) * 2

I have decided to ignore special teams touchdowns — both for and against that team — as this is just a look at defenses. And obviously this is a very basic look: it doesn’t incorporate number of drives faced, average starting field position, missed field goal attempts, or quality of opposing offense (or era). But hey, I said it was a quick checkdown!

Here’s how to read the table below. Let’s use the 1985 Bears as an example. You may know that Chicago shut out both NFC opponents en route to the Super Bowl, where the Bears allowed 10 points. But that’s a bit misleading, because Chicago’s defense was better than that. The 1985 Bears played in three playoff games, and the defense scored two touchdowns and recorded a safety (total of 16 points). The defense did allow 10 points, via a touchdown and a field goal, but that means the Bears defense allowed -6 net points in the playoffs, or -2 NP/G.

RkTeamYearGDEF TDsSafetiesTDs Allowed by DFG AllowedNet PointsNet PA/G
1chi198532111-6-2
2rav20004201320.5
3tam20023403451.6
4rai198333042134.3
5nyg198631123144.6
6dal197130013165.3
8den199831024196.3
8sfo198931024196.3
8sfo198430014196.3
10kan196930022206.6
11was198242052276.7
12sfo198830015227.3
13dal197730023237.6
14.5gnb196731041248
14.5mia197230031248
16pit197430132258.3
17mia197330024268.6
18pit197531143289.3
19sea201331151299.6
20clt1970300333010
21.5clt2006410554310.7
21.5rai1980410554310.7
23.5dal1992320543311
23.5nyg1990300343311
25was1991310523411.3
26rai1976310603511.6
27gnb2010430924812
28.5was1987300433712.3
28.5pit1978300433712.3
30.5den2015310463913
30.5nyg2011401645213
32.5nwe2001310544013.3
32.5pit1979300444013.3
34gnb1996310624113.6
35.5nwe2004310634414.6
35.5dal1993310634414.6
38gnb1966210433015
38nyj1968200333015
38pit2008320814515
40pit2005400746115.2
41.5nyg2007400836516.2
41.5den1997400836516.2
43rav2012410786616.5
44nor2009310815217.3
45dal1995300645418
46sfo1994310825518.3
47nwe2003301815719
48ram1999301745919.6
49nwe2014300826220.6
50sfo1981310936521.6

Some quick thoughts:

  • Three teams really stand out here: the ’85 Bears, ’00 Ravens, and ’02 Bucs. Those teams were obviously incredibly dominant during the regular seasons, too, although to somewhat varying degrees. After removing non-offensive touchdowns and adjusting for SOS, the ’02 Bucs rank as the 2nd best defense since 1970, the ’85 Bears ranked 4th, and the ’00 Ravens ranked 13th in points allowed. And based on Z-Scores, the ’02 Bucs rank 1st, the ’85 Bears rank 5th, and the ’00 Ravens rank 34th in terms of standard deviations from the mean, although that is perhaps unfairly influenced by the variation in defensive quality in each year.
  • Chicago’s opponents averaged 24.9 (NYG), 21.2 (LA), and 22.6 (NE) points per game. The 2002 Bucs had it a little tougher, facing teams that allowed 22.9 (SF), 25.9 (PHI), and 28.1 (OAK) points per game. The Ravens faced Denver (30.3), Tennessee (21.6), Oakland (29.9), and the Giants (20.5), although Denver played that game with its second and third string quarterbacks, while the Raiders lost their starting quarterback, Rich Gannon, 17 minutes into the game.
  • The 1981 49ers rank dead last here, which is pretty interesting. One interpretation is that Joe Montana didn’t get a ton of help in winning his first Super Bowl. And while that’s mostly true, the way it’s presented here is probably at least a little misleading. Against the Giants, the 49ers defense allowed 17 points in the first three quarters; then scored and allowed touchdowns in garbage time in the fourth. That’s a mediocre but not bad performance. In the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers allowed 27 points to Dallas, but in the defense’s defense, two of the Cowboys touchdown drives began at the SF 29 and the 50 following 49ers fumbles (San Francisco’s offense had six turnovers in the game, making life not so easy on the 49ers defense). In the Super Bowl, the defense allowed 21 points, but none in the first half or until the 49ers scored 20 points.

What stands out to you? What do you think?

  • J.B.

    I know you said “quick and dirty”, but maybe a drive-starting position-adjusted metric is in order? Forcing a FG when the opponent gets the ball with goal to go due to a turnover is more impressive than giving up 60 yards before they kick one. Allowing a TD when they start on your 15 due to a good kick return is more understandable than letting them drive the length of the field. Sort of a “blame assignment” percentage applied to the points.

  • TN

    This may still underrate the 1985 Bears a little bit. In addition to the two defensive touchdowns, they scored a TD on a blocked/whiffed punt in the divisional round against the Giants, which you have understandably not counted here. Plus, the Patriots first scoring drive in Super Bowl XX followed a Walter Payton fumble, and went for zero yards before they kicked a field goal. In other words, the Bears defense didn’t give up a scoring drive consuming positive yards in the entire postseason until the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

    • Agreed – can’t knock the defense for allowing points on a drive that nets 0 yards.

    • Will Durham

      They had a serious imbalance between offense and defense. The defense was beatable by the best teams that could throw the ball (Miami up 31-10 after the first half in the Bears’ biggest game of the season which they try to excuse away claiming they weren’t ready). In general, they played weak teams that year, especially the playoffs where the only solid team the Giants were already psyched out as indicated by the missed punt. I would also say that the team didn’t have one of the central characteristics of the very top teams, intelligence. Rather, they were brutish, which worked against lesser teams they played most of the season. They also benefited greatly from the ongoing hype that year. The mid-70s Pitt defense was better, and the Ravens D was certainly comparable, but those teams just played ball, rather than being attention whores making videos.

  • sn0mm1s

    What stands out to me is Brady’s D’s – not one in the top 1/2 and 2 in the bottom 10%.

    • Tom

      Somehow, no matter how hard we try, all discussions must lead us back to Brady and/or Manning.

      Kidding aside, that is interesting…perhaps suggesting that the weight of the wins fell more on the offense’s shoulders.

      • Richie

        On the other hand, the 2014 Patriots faced teams that averaged 25 (Baltimore), 28 (Indianapolis) and 24 (Seattle) points per game (total points, not offense-only points). But they had a net 21 points allowed against those teams.

        So, their defense seemed to do well against good offenses.

        (I don’t think New England’s defense scored any points that post-season.)

      • Will Durham

        That one’s over for a while, even though many didn’t want to accept it. I’d put Brees ahead of Manning.

        • Tom

          I’m not sure what you’re saying here…didn’t want to accept what? And where does Brees come into the discussion?

    • Richie

      Yeah, I thought this was interesting as well.

      • Will Durham

        Those are all-time rankings, not seasonal. Like the 49ers, NE generally has intelligent, effective defenses that don’t have to be dominant just good, smart.

        • Richie

          “Those are all-time rankings, not seasonal. ”

          Really? The New England season at #49 is the Patriots all-time Net Points allowed in the playoffs??

          I doubt that.

  • Tom

    Been wanting to do something like this for a while, but that Tampa Bay/Oakland Super Bowl always gave me pause. They had three pick-sixes in that game, the second one came with 2:00 remaining, the third came with just 12 seconds left! Somehow, that just seems kind of fluky…it’s at the end of the game, Gannon is trying to make something happen, etc. Now, I have not watched those plays in years, so if they’re just awesome plays, maybe I’d feel differently.

    Guess I’m somewhat on the fence with this…return TD’s are rare, but at the same time, dominant defenses DO make those plays. Just not sure how much weight I’d give them when ranking defenses, etc.

    All that being said, I like that we have this data to look at, gives us another angle on how we rank these guys, etc.

    • Richie

      Yeah, Von Miller had 2 strip sacks in the Super Bowl this year. One, the defense turned into a TD. The other, they did not, but it gave Denver the ball on the 4-yard line, which the offense turned into a TD.

      Doesn’t seem like the second one was any less valuable of a play (though it did basically clinch the win).

      • Ya’ll are not really following the concept of being a good enougher, are you? 🙂

        • Tom

          So you post this, tell us right from the get go that it’s a “quick checkdown”, and we proceed to nitpick it. Maybe we’re bored…

          • Nah, it’s all right. Unfortunately, I’m short on time these days, but I understand the thirst for more/better info.

        • Richie

          I am fine with good enougher. I think this post still had interesting information.

  • Johhny Ohrl

    This 85 Bears defense was awesome to watch. The last and first I really enjoyed. And they were a complete team (other than, for example the latest of all those shitty 2000+ defensive teams, a certain team led by an undeserved 224-Mio-$-QB)…
    The starting QB posted a 106.6 rating in those playoffs, gaining a whopping 8.7 Y/PP in a league were sacks were more common than ever before or after.
    Basically opponents had no chance before the Bears stepped onto the field. Those were the times. They are greatly missed. True Football…

    • Will Durham

      They had a serious imbalance between offense and defense. The defense was beatable by the best teams that could throw the ball (Miami up 31-10 after the first half in the Bears’ biggest game of the season which they try to excuse away claiming they weren’t ready). In general, they played weak teams that year, especially the playoffs where the only solid team the Giants were already psyched out as indicated by the missed punt. I would also say that the team didn’t have one of the central characteristics of the very top teams, intelligence. Rather, they were brutish, which worked against lesser teams they played most of the season. They also benefited greatly from the ongoing hype that year. The mid-70s Pitt defense was better, and the Ravens D was certainly comparable, but those teams just played ball, rather than being attention whores making videos.

      • Richie

        Maybe I am biased because I am a Dolphins fan, but I think the Dolphins losing the AFC Championship Game to New England (at home) in 1985 is one of the most disappointing NFL scenarios of all time.

        A Dolphins-Bears rematch in Super Bowl XX would have been incredible.

        • Tom

          Richie – not sure why I’d never thought of this, but damn, you’re right, that would have been awesome. How the hell did the Pats beat them? Gotta find that game on YouTube…

          • Richie

            I saw the game, but I was young and don’t remember many details.

            According to PFR, the Dolphins lost 4 fumbles AND Marino threw 2 interceptions. I seem to recall that the game was a bit rainy.

            I think one of Marino’s interceptions came late in the game and was a bit of a hail mary play.

            The Patriots rushed for 255 yards, which seemed like a common problem by Marino’s defenses.

            I looked it up – from 1983-1999, the Dolphins allowed 200+ rushing yards 35 times (including playoffs). League average was about one 200+ rushing game every 14 games. The Dolphins allowed one every 8 games, including 7 of their 18 playoff games during that stretch!

            • Richie

              Looking closer, this is the typical chicken-egg thing with rushing yards. But in Marino’s 18 playoff games, when the defense allowed over 150 rushing yards, they were 1-9. When they allowed fewer than 150, they were 7-1.

              The Dolphins allowed 341 rushing yards to the Bills in 1995 playoffs. I believe the 381 rushing yards by the Bears in the 73-0 championship game in 1940 is the only playoff game with more rushing yards than the Dolphins allowed.

            • Tom

              Hmmm…yeah…that sounds like a real problem. I would think after a few years of that, they would catch on and figure out how to stop the run? Or maybe they did and the guys they drafted were busts? But man, I know it’s a passing league, but you can’t survive giving up all those rushing yards…wow.

              • Richie

                After that game, from 1986-1993, the Dolphins had 18 draft picks in the first and second rounds. They used 11 of them on defensive players.

                In 87 and 88 they took defensive ends in the first round (Eric Kumerow and Joey Bosa) and both were busts.
                In 86 they took Offerdahl in the 2nd round. He was good, but injuries hampered his career.

                They finally started adding some good defensive players in 1989 with Louis Oliver. Then Troy Vincent, Marco Coleman and Tim Bowens. That improved the Dolphins defense up to “mediocre” for the final few Shula seasons.

                • sacramento gold miners

                  In 1990, the “Miami Pound Machine” was a roughly top five defense in terms of points allowed, but gave up 40 plus to Buffalo in the AFC TG in 1991. The other issue with those Miami teams was the lack of a bell-cow running back. Shula just couldn’t find a consistent, quality back.

            • Tom

              OK…I found the game on YouTube, checking it out now. Dick Enberg, Merlin Olsen, Bob Griese on the field commentating…here we go.

              • Richie

                Did you end up watching the game? Any thoughts? (I haven’t seen it in 30 years.)

                • Tom

                  I half watched it, half listened to it (I was working). For starters, I totally dig the old logo and uniform…but then again, I like all the old uniforms. Not a bad game: some guy that I kind of recognized in the pregame show, Pete Axthelm, seemed to think that the soggy field would help the Dolphins, and he took them to win (and cover the 6-point spread I think). It was one of those games where both teams’ yardage stats weren’t that different (326 NWE, 302 MIA), but one team, New England in this case, dominated time of possession (40 minutes to 20 for Miami) and won the turnover battle, 6 to 2. Marino wasn’t that great, but really the whole team was off…you can’t give the ball away 6 times and expect to be competitive…Tony Nathan fumbled on their very first possession, setting up an early Patriots field goal. And as you’ve been lamenting, this was one of those “over-200-yard” games for Miami’s opponents. They just ran all over them…

                  One thing though that is still incredible to watch – Marino unloading the ball so quick you barely see his arm move (well, that might be because the video is from a home-recorded VHS tape).

                  One last thing – Don Strock was his back up…I’d thought he was already out of the league by then!

      • Tom

        Well, I’m ambivalent about the Bears, but I gotta tell you, the numbers say they were absolutely dominant, and they weren’t as imbalanced as you say. 5th in yards/play and (surprisingly) 4th in yards/play allowed. There’s a bunch of other things to look at, but according to PFR (http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/1985/), their strength of schedule was about average.

        Per this post (yes, it’s my post, but it’s just numbers, no special sauce), their defense is ranked 4th all time:

        http://www.footballperspective.com/data-dump-defensive-points-allowed-srs/

        As far as the mid-70’s Steelers go, yes, I’d put them in the same group; I’d rank the 2000 Ravens below them, as they really did have a (somewhat) soft schedule.

        Yeah, they did the “Shuffle” and all that nonsense (and Payton didn’t get a TD in the SB which is about the lamest thing ever), but they were the real deal, one of the most dominant teams the league has ever seen.

    • Tom

      Johnny is back!

      Well, I for one don’t miss the ’80’s and ’90’s at all, at least as far as the Super Bowls are concerned…a lot of those games were absolute crap, including the 1985 Super Bowl…what a blast watching Tony Eason get thrown around (oh yeah, I forgot, they then put in Steve Grogan so he could get tossed around).

      Actually, to be fair, I love watching the NFC championship games on YouTube from that time…Madden, Summerall…those are cool.

  • Pingback: It’s All Orange, Fat Man: 02/13/16 | Thin Air()

  • Pingback: Great Seahawks Articles Of The Day For February 16, 2016 | Seahawks - NFC Wild West | Seattle Seahawks Blog()

  • Pingback: Guest Post: How Do The Broncos Stack Up With Other Playoff Defenses?()