Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics.com looks at the credibility of the old adage “Defense wins championships.” In light of this past weekend’s big event, its always interesting to dissect the importance of defense and offense and the impact each has on winning football games; more specifically, the impact each has on winning a Super Bowl. In addition, this season in the NFL there have been a few times that have had great success while having poorly ranked defenses. Two of these teams, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, made it to the Super Bowl. Dubner, because of the recent surge of good football teams with mediocre defenses, decided to dwelve a little deeper into statistical findings that help to disprove something those around the game of football have blindly (more or less) believed in.While we have seen some great defenses (maybe most recently the Buccaneers in 2002 and the Ravens in 2000) win championships, we also have seen prolific offenses win championships more recently. In addition, I disagree with isolating defenses and offenses as separate factors to winning a football game. Special teams is a grossly overlooked facet of a team that can win games on just one play. In addition, coaching specialties and preparations as well as willingness to adapt game plans can also contribute greatly to winning football games. Breaking a team down to just defenses and offenses mistates the matchup, and overlooks key parts of the game that have significant implications for victory or defeat.
However, I also think maybe one of the most important factors in winning championships is luck. I realize this is general and highly unscientific, but there is a specific type of luck that is important for teams – avoiding injuries. If an elite team can be lucky enough to have most of their players healthy at the end of the season, there are surely poised for success in the postseason. I also realize that injuries will happen, this is football we’re talking about! But when you look at teams that lose players to injury, especially important players for a prolonged period of time, the entire season is in jeopardy.
Looking at an article published on the Bleacher Report, one can see that every team is greatly affected by injuries. One might even say that injuries happen to every team, and therefore they are somewhat negligible when deciding what is important to winning championships. However, while I understand this point of view, I still believe that they should be taken into account because of the impact they have on great teams. Injuries decimated the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, and they have been to three Super Bowls (winning two of them). It was clear their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger was unable to play well in their playoff loss this season because of leg/ankle problems. One injury destroyed the Steelers’ season; I would argue that if Roethlisberger wasn’t as injured, the Steelers may have been in the Super Bowl.
But we do have to understand that injuries are part of the game and at some point we have to turn our attention to analyzing other aspects of the game (although still keeping in mind the importance of injuries). I just wanted to explain my beliefs as to what is important when trying to win a championship. To go back to Dubner’s argument, we can also look at the last 3 Super Bowl winners: the Giants, the Green Bay Packers, and the New Orleans Saints. These offenses, were prolific in the postseason. Eli Manning put in one of the greatest offensive performances this month, and Aaron Rodgers (Packers) along with Drew Brees (Saints) are some of the most impressive quarterbacks to ever play the game. Offense dominated these Super Bowls, and this is no coincidence. ESPN decided to dedicate this past year as The Year of the Quarterback, evidence that offense might deserve more glory, and more believers. ESPN chronicles how each great quarterback was so instrumental to their team, and maybe the most responsible for winning big games. People are beginning to see that offenses, and not defenses, contribute more to championships.