Offense or defense?
That question has been coming up everywhere since it was determined that Super Bowl 51 will feature the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons (33.4 ppg), vs. the No. 1 scoring defense, the New England Patriots (15.7 pts against/gm).
Well the short answer is kind of easy. This situation hardly ever happens.
A No. 1 scoring offense has only played the No. 1 scoring defense once since 2002, which is when the current playoff format began. That came in 2013 when the Seattle Seahawks and their top defense dismantled the Denver Broncos’ league-leading offense 43-8 as 2-point underdogs.
From there, things get slightly fuzzier but I feel the edge goes to the defense. Here are three things we can say for sure going back to 2002:
- No. 1 offenses have won the Super Bowl only once while No. 1 defenses have won four times.
- No. 1 offenses have lost in the Super Bowl four times, while No. 1 defenses have lost only twice.
- No. 1 offenses are 1-4 against the spread in Super Bowls while No. 1 defenses are 4-2 against the spread.
What we also know is that that if the Falcons win, they will be the worst scoring defense (27th in the NFL) to win the Super Bowl in the new playoff era. Atlanta gives up 25.4 points per game, which went a long way in helping the team become the best OVER bet in NFL history this season at 16-2 OVER/UNDER.
There have only been two other scoring defenses since 2002 that rated in the bottom quarter of the NFL that made it to the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants beat the Patriots 21-17 with the 25th ranked scoring defense and the 2008 Cardinals lost to the Steelers 27-23 with the 28th ranked scoring D.
It is notable that both teams were underdogs (2.5 and 7 points) and both sloppy defenses managed to cover the spread and mop up the cash.
That all may not make the answer to our question any clearer. What should you bet on – offense or defense?
The better defense went 8-6 straight up while the better offense went 6-8 in the Super Bowl over the last 14 years.
We also felt there have been 10 times over the last 14 Super Bowls where there was a more offense-oriented team against a more defense-oriented team. These teams went 5-5 straight up and the defense held the slight betting advantage at 6-4 against the spread.
It’s open to your own interpretation though based on scoring offense and defense alone so here’s a look at the rankings over the past 14 Super Bowls if you want to evaluate for yourself:
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