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SB XLVIII Is The Best Offense/Defense Super Bowl Ever

This year, the Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game, 14.5 points more than league average. Seattle, meanwhile, allowed just 14.4 points per game, 9.0 points better than league average. That means this is a true clash of the titans in one sense: when the Broncos offense is on the field against the Seattle defense, the two units will have been a combined 23.4 (difference due to rounding) points better than average during the regular season.

As it turns out, that’s the greatest disparity between any two units in Super Bowl history. One nice aspect of comparing a team’s offense to an opponent’s defense is that you don’t need to adjust for era, since a high (or low) scoring environment will equally help and hurt each pairing. You can simply subtract Seattle’s 14.4 PPG average from Denver’s 37.9 PPG average to get that same 23.4 PPG difference. The table below shows the differential between each team offense and opposing defense — measured by points scored and points allowed per game — for each of the 48 Super Bowls. That means the Denver/Seattle battle will replace Super Bowl I for the greatest offense/defense showdown in Super Bowl history.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 1966, the Kansas City offense faced the Green Bay defense in Super Bowl I (hyperlinked to the boxscore at PFR). The Chiefs quarterback was Len Dawson, and Kansas City averaged 32 points per game that year. Meanwhile, the Packers allowed only 11.6 points per game, providing a difference of 20.4 points. In Super Bowl I, however, the Chiefs lost to the Packers, 35-10. This is the first time since Super Bowl XXV that the number one scoring offense is facing the number one ranked scoring defense, but frankly, the Bills/Giants showdown pales in comparison to this one. The difference there was nearly ten points narrower than the Denver/Seattle disparity.

YearOffDefBoxscoreQBPF/G OPA/G DDiffPFPAW/L
2013DENSEASuper Bowl XLVIIIPeyton Manning37.914.423.4
1966KANGNBSuper Bowl ILen Dawson3211.620.41035L
1968NYJBALSuper Bowl IIIJoe Namath29.910.319.6167W
1967OAKGNBSuper Bowl IIDaryle Lamonica33.414.918.51433L
1984MIASFOSuper Bowl XIXDan Marino32.114.217.91638L
1971DALMIASuper Bowl VIRoger Staubach2912.416.6243W
1969KANMINSuper Bowl IVLen Dawson25.69.516.1237W
2002OAKTAMSuper Bowl XXXVIIRich Gannon28.112.315.92148L
2007NWENYGSuper Bowl XLIITom Brady36.821.914.91417L
1991BUFWASSuper Bowl XXVIJim Kelly28.61414.62437L
2001STLNWESuper Bowl XXXVIKurt Warner31.41714.41720L
1969MINKANSuper Bowl IVJoe Kapp27.112.614.4723L
1977DALDENSuper Bowl XIIRoger Staubach24.610.614.12710W
1990BUFNYGSuper Bowl XXVJim Kelly26.813.213.61920L
1989SFODENSuper Bowl XXIVJoe Montana27.614.113.55510W
1975DALPITSuper Bowl XRoger Staubach2511.613.41721L
1998DENATLSuper Bowl XXXIIIJohn Elway31.318.113.33419W
1996NWEGNBSuper Bowl XXXIDrew Bledsoe26.113.1132135L
2008ARIPITSuper Bowl XLIIIKurt Warner26.713.912.82327L
1983WASRAISuper Bowl XVIIIJoe Theismann33.821.112.7938L
2009NORINDSuper Bowl XLIVDrew Brees31.919.212.73117W
1999STLTENSuper Bowl XXXIVKurt Warner32.920.312.62316W
1973MIAMINSuper Bowl VIIIBob Griese24.51212.5247W
1994SFOSDGSuper Bowl XXIXSteve Young31.619.112.44926W
1976OAKMINSuper Bowl XIKen Stabler2512.612.43214W
2005SEAPITSuper Bowl XLMatt Hasselbeck28.316.112.11021L
1972MIAWASSuper Bowl VIIBob Griese27.515.611.9147W
1997DENGNBSuper Bowl XXXIIJohn Elway29.517.611.93124W
1978DALPITSuper Bowl XIIIRoger Staubach2412.211.83135L
1972WASMIASuper Bowl VIIBilly Kilmer2412.211.8714L
1984SFOMIASuper Bowl XIXJoe Montana29.718.611.13816W
2004NWEPHISuper Bowl XXXIXTom Brady27.316.311.12421W
2006INDCHISuper Bowl XLIPeyton Manning26.715.910.82917W
1981CINSFOSuper Bowl XVIKen Anderson26.315.610.72126L
1991WASBUFSuper Bowl XXVIMark Rypien30.319.910.43724W
1973MINMIASuper Bowl VIIIFran Tarkenton21.110.710.4724L
1985CHINWESuper Bowl XXJim McMahon28.518.110.44610W
1985NWECHISuper Bowl XXTony Eason22.612.410.31046L
2000NYGBALSuper Bowl XXXVKerry Collins20.510.310.2734L
2010GNBPITSuper Bowl XLVAaron Rodgers24.314.59.83125W
1988CINSFOSuper Bowl XXIIIBoomer Esiason2818.49.61620L
1999TENSTLSuper Bowl XXXIVSteve McNair24.515.19.41623L
1978PITDALSuper Bowl XIIITerry Bradshaw22.3139.33531W
1996GNBNWESuper Bowl XXXIBrett Favre28.519.68.93521W
1980OAKPHISuper Bowl XVJim Plunkett22.813.98.92710W
1986DENNYGSuper Bowl XXIJohn Elway23.614.88.92039L
1968BALNYJSuper Bowl IIIEarl Morrall28.7208.7716L
1974MINPITSuper Bowl IXFran Tarkenton22.113.58.6616L
1992BUFDALSuper Bowl XXVIIJim Kelly23.815.28.61752L
2010PITGNBSuper Bowl XLVBen Roethlisberger23.4158.42531L
1997GNBDENSuper Bowl XXXIIBrett Favre26.417.98.42431L
1993DALBUFSuper Bowl XXVIIITroy Aikman23.515.18.43013W
1998ATLDENSuper Bowl XXXIIIChris Chandler27.619.38.31934L
1992DALBUFSuper Bowl XXVIITroy Aikman25.617.77.95217W
2004PHINWESuper Bowl XXXIXDonovan McNabb24.116.37.92124L
1974PITMINSuper Bowl IXTerry Bradshaw21.813.97.9166W
2012BALSFOSuper Bowl XLVIIJoe Flacco24.917.17.83431W
1982MIAWASSuper Bowl XVIIDavid Woodley2214.27.81727L
1975PITDALSuper Bowl XTerry Bradshaw26.619.17.52117W
2005PITSEASuper Bowl XLBen Roethlisberger24.316.97.42110W
1995PITDALSuper Bowl XXXNeil O'Donnell25.418.27.31727L
1970BALDALSuper Bowl VJohnny Unitas22.915.87.11613W
1967GNBOAKSuper Bowl IIBart Starr23.716.67.13314W
2011NWENYGSuper Bowl XLVITom Brady32.1257.11721L
1983RAIWASSuper Bowl XVIIIJim Plunkett27.620.86.9389W
1989DENSFOSuper Bowl XXIVJohn Elway22.615.86.81055L
1995DALPITSuper Bowl XXXTroy Aikman27.220.46.82717W
1979PITRAMSuper Bowl XIVTerry Bradshaw2619.36.73119W
1971MIADALSuper Bowl VIBob Griese22.515.96.6324L
1982WASMIASuper Bowl XVIIJoe Theismann21.114.66.62717W
1987DENWASSuper Bowl XXIIJohn Elway25.3196.31042L
1993BUFDALSuper Bowl XXVIIIJim Kelly20.614.36.31330L
2007NYGNWESuper Bowl XLIIEli Manning23.317.16.21714W
2001NWESTLSuper Bowl XXXVITom Brady23.217.16.12017W
1987WASDENSuper Bowl XXIIDoug Williams25.319.26.14210W
2000BALNYGSuper Bowl XXXVTrent Dilfer20.815.45.4347W
2003CARNWESuper Bowl XXXVIIIJake Delhomme20.314.95.42932L
1994SDGSFOSuper Bowl XXIXStan Humphries23.818.55.32649L
1980PHIOAKSuper Bowl XVRon Jaworski2419.14.91027L
1976MINOAKSuper Bowl XIFran Tarkenton21.816.94.91432L
2009INDNORSuper Bowl XLIVPeyton Manning2621.34.71731L
1970DALBALSuper Bowl VCraig Morton21.416.74.61316L
1990NYGBUFSuper Bowl XXVJeff Hostetler20.916.44.52019W
1977DENDALSuper Bowl XIICraig Morton19.615.14.41027L
1966GNBKANSuper Bowl IBart Starr23.919.74.23510W
2006CHIINDSuper Bowl XLIRex Grossman26.722.54.21729L
1979RAMPITSuper Bowl XIVVince Ferragamo20.216.43.81931L
2012SFOBALSuper Bowl XLVIIColin Kaepernick24.821.53.33134L
1981SFOCINSuper Bowl XVIJoe Montana22.3193.32621W
2011NYGNWESuper Bowl XLVIEli Manning24.621.43.32117W
1986NYGDENSuper Bowl XXIPhil Simms23.220.42.83920W
2003NWECARSuper Bowl XXXVIIITom Brady21.8192.83229W
2002TAMOAKSuper Bowl XXXVIIBrad Johnson21.6192.64821W
1988SFOCINSuper Bowl XXIIIJoe Montana23.120.62.52016W
2013SEADENSuper Bowl XLVIIIRussell Wilson26.124.91.1
2008PITARISuper Bowl XLIIIBen Roethlisberger21.726.6-4.92723W

With 48 Super Bowls, that means there are 96 offense vs. defense matchups. And while the Denver offense against the Seattle defense ranks #1, the Seattle offense against the Denver defense ranks…. 95th.

Update: In fact, the 23.4 PPG difference is the largest in any game, regular or postseason, since 1950.

  • James

    Just curious, is this game the greatest offense/defense showdown in playoff history? I wouldn’t be surprised if its higher than any regular season game in history either.

    • Chase Stuart

      Won’t be able to check on this, but perhaps someone else can.

    • Chase Stuart

      I lied. In fact, it *is* the biggest discrepancy of any game since 1950. However:

      The 1950 Rams (38.8 PPG) against the Eagles (11.75) and Browns (12.0) come in with bigger differences. As do the ’41 Bears against the Giants and Packers, and the ’42 Bears against Washington. Otherwise, that’s it.

  • James

    As far as regular season, the biggest difference I found was the 07 Patriots vs 07 Colts defense (20.4 PPG difference). For playoffs both the 2011 Saints O vs 49ers D was 19.9 PPG and the 2000 Broncos O vs 2000 Ravens D was ~20 PPG. If the 2000 Ravens defense faced the 2000 Rams offense, it would have tied this superbowl matchup with 23.4 PPG. I’m pretty sure that this superbowl is a bigger disparity than any regular season or postseason game in history.

  • Daddy Love

    Over the last eight games, including playoffs, Denver has scored 32.25 points per game. And that average is skewed because 51 of their points in the last eight games came in one game against the Tennessee Titans. If you throw out their best game and their worst game (20 points in a loss to the Chargers) over the last eight, then they are averaging 31.16 points per game in the other six and just 25 points per game in the playoffs. Also, their special teams play is deplorable and they’re -2 in turnovers in the playoffs, while Seattle is +3, forcing turnovers in each playoff game.

    • James

      I believe the Broncos have had 33% fewer drives in the playoff than in the regular season, which would more than explain their drop in points scored.

      • George

        This is kind of what I was trying to get at last night in a roundabout way. I’m not doubting Denver’s Offense has been the best Offense this season (statistically) but what I’m trying to get at is has the margin by which they are rated the best (I have their Offense about 8 points better than the Patriots in 2nd and about 8.5 better than Seattle in 3rd) been earned in a legit manner in terms of the strength of opponents D’s (I’m not even sure if this is the right way to look at it or if that would affect the rating)?

        I think Seattle’s Defense is legit (given that it has been earned playing games against the NFC West amongst others – I have the Card’s and 49ers as top 10 Offense’s) and I just feel more comfortable with where my rating places them (if that makes sense).

        • Kwash

          Sorry, but I don’t see how anyone can trust a rating that has the Cardinals offense as a top-10 unit.

          • George

            I totally know where you are coming from and I felt the same way, but using the Winston method I had them 10th offensively (about 2.61 points better than average), and I think pro-football reference had them about 7th or 8th at 2.7 points better than average doing it in an SRS style. I guess that’s just down to life in the current NFC West where every game must be tough.

  • Richie

    Are there any possible matchups (regular season or Super Bowl) that could have had a bigger discrepancy? In other words, what are the largest discrepancies between highest scoring team and lowest scoring defense in the same season?

    Also, out of curiosity, do the pre-merger Super Bowls compare points-per-game to the whole league or to each “conference” only?

  • Danish

    So only one single QB has ever faced af defense that gave up more points during the season than he himself produced, ie. a negative score. That seems like an incredible stat to me. Or it goes to show how unlikely that layoff run was/how great that Arizona offense was.