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O’Neil: Does defense win titles? Seahawks should know path to Super Bowl is now led by offense

The Seahawks ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring offense in 2020. (Getty)

Defense wins championships.

What used to be a declarative statement about what really matters in professional football is now kind of a question mark: Defense wins championships? Not necessarily in a league where it is increasingly only the top-tier regular season offenses that tend to play for the title.

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers averaged 30.8 points this season, third-most in the league. The Chiefs averaged 29.6, ranking sixth, which is the lowest a Super Bowl finalist has ranked in scoring since 2015. Think about that for a second. The Chiefs and that nuclear offense, the AFC’s top-seeded team in the playoffs for three successive seasons was – in strictly statistical terms – the least potent scoring offense to play in any of the past five Super Bowls because all of the other finalists ranked in the top five.

Compare that to the previous five years in which only four of the 10 Super Bowl finalists ranked in the top five in regular season scoring. This is important here in Seattle given the crossroads where the Seahawks find themselves because the NFL trends make it pretty clear that however much Seattle’s defense improves – or doesn’t, for that matter – the key to getting back to the Super Bowl is getting that offense to rock and fire the way it did the first eight weeks of this regular season.

Mediocre offenses don’t make the Super Bowl. At least not since the Broncos did it in the 2015 season. You remember that “Weekend at Bernie’s” year, don’t you? When Peyton Manning came face-to-face with his physical limitations to the point that Brock Osweiler started for a little bit

The Broncos were an utterly average offense that season. They gained 355.5 yards per game, 16th-best in a 32-team league. They averaged 22.2 points, which ranked No. 19. Their scoring improved slightly in the postseason, averaging 22.3 points in three playoff victories and won the Super Bowl behind their dominant defense.

But since then? Every single Super Bowl team has ranked among the top six in points scored AND among the top seven in yards gained.

That doesn’t mean defense is irrelevant. The Chiefs only got to the Super Bowl after they significantly improved what was one of the league’s worst defenses in 2018 to the point that they are now slightly above average and arguably good. The Falcons in 2016 and the Rams in 2018 each reached the Super Bowl with a defense that was below average in both yards allowed and points given up.

The point here is that it appears a good, maybe even great offense has become a prerequisite for getting into the Super Bowl. You can debate all you want whether that’s because of the way the game is officiated or the rules that have been put in place to protect players or even the quality of quarterbacks now playing, but the facts speak for themselves. For five years and counting we have been no examples of a dominant defense carrying a mediocre offense into the championship round of the NFL playoffs.

Once you get to the Super Bowl, though, here’s something worth thinking about: The past five Super Bowls have been won by the team that allowed fewer points in the regular season, and for those who are wondering this year that would be the Bucs, who gave up 22.2 points, eighth-fewest in the league. The Chiefs allowed 22.6, which ranked No. 11.

So defense definitely matters in the Super Bowl if – and only if – you’ve got a good enough offense to get you there.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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