Does every Super Bowl winner share a common denominator? History indicates a combination of both efficient offense and a potent defense are often necessary for a team to reach the NFL’s ultimate achievement.
Since defense is most often identified as the key to success (hence the old adage, “defense wins championships”), we dissected the data on a multitude of defensive statistics—from opponent yards per game to average time of possession, turnovers, and much more—to determine if any trends emerged among Super Bowl winners.
Not all Super Bowl defenses are made the same
Looking back over the last decade, several patterns surfaced among the champions, but most included an outlier or two. Still, three main defensive categories demonstrated a strong trend.
Below we break down each statistic and look ahead to 2019 to uncover which teams are most likely to claim Super Bowl LIV.
Opponent completion percentage
|Season||Super Bowl winner||Opp. Completion %||Ranking|
|2018||New England Patriots||59.31||2|
|2016||New England Patriots||62.18||12|
|2014||New England Patriots||58.59||4|
|2011||New York Giants||60.26||15|
|2010||Green Bay Packers||56.72||4|
|2009||New Orleans Saints||58.92||10|
It is important to stop opponents both on the ground and through the air, but when it came to rushing defense, a strong pattern formed only from 2013 to this season. The last six Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 10 in opponent rushing yards per game, but before that, New Orleans (22nd), the New York Giants (19th) and Baltimore (19th) were less efficient at stopping the run. Green Bay also ranked 12th in opponent rushing yardage.
Turning to pass defense, one statistic demonstrated a correlation among the last 10 Super Bowl winners. Since 2009 every champion ranked in the top 15 in opponent completion percentage. Green Bay held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest completion percentage in 2010 and the Patriots allowed the highest percentage (62.18) in 2016.
— SofaScore🌐 (@SofaScoreINT) February 4, 2019
Takeaways per game
|Season||Super Bowl winner||Takeaways per game||Ranking|
|2018||New England Patriots||1.6||9|
|2016||New England Patriots||1.5||12|
|2014||New England Patriots||1.7||10|
|2011||New York Giants||1.9||5|
|2010||Green Bay Packers||2.1||3|
|2009||New Orleans Saints||2.5||1|
Super Bowl-winning defenses not only hindered opposing quarterbacks, but they created turnovers at a higher rate than other defenses in the league. Teams like New Orleans, Baltimore or New York could get away with a low ranking in opponent yards per game or opponent time of possession, because they created mistakes to keep the other team from scoring.
Each of the last 10 Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 12 in takeaways per game, with New Orleans and Seattle both averaging at least two per contest.
|Season||Super Bowl winner||Opponent points per game||Ranking|
|2018||New England Patriots||20.4||6|
|2016||New England Patriots||16.4||1|
|2014||New England Patriots||19.5||7|
|2011||New York Giants||23.1||21|
|2010||Green Bay Packers||15.8||1|
|2009||New Orleans Saints||21.1||18|
It should come as no surprise that defenses that keep opposing teams from scoring not only win games but earn Super Bowl titles. With the exception of New Orleans and New York, each champion in the last decade boasted a top 10 scoring defense. Since 2013 every winner ranked in the top seven.
To help explain how the Saints and Giants still managed to win Super Bowls even with a poor scoring defense, we looked at a few offensive statistics as well.
In the last decade, every Super Bowl winner but Baltimore (11th) and Denver (18th) owned a top 10 scoring offense, and each champion ranked in the top 10 in average scoring margin.
Who should win in 2019 based on the trends?
|Team||Opp. Completion % and ranking||Takeaways per game and ranking||Scoring defense and ranking||Average scoring margin and ranking|
|New England||53.33% (1)||2.7 (1)||8.0 (1)||+23.7 (1)|
|San Francisco||53.59% (2)||2.4 (4)||12.8 (2)||+16.6 (2)|
|Buffalo||57.38% (4)||1.6 (12)||14.0 (4)||+4.0 (10)|
|Green Bay||57.89% (5)||1.8 (8)||19.2 (8)||+4.5 (9)|
|Carolina||61.09% (7)||2.5 (3)||22.2 (15)||+5.5 (7)|
|Kansas City||64.03% (13)||1.6 (14)||21.4 (12)||+7.4 (4)|
Combining the above statistics and looking at which defenses rank in the top 15 in completion percentage, top 12 in takeaways, top 10 in average scoring margin and top 10 in scoring defense, only four teams fit all of the trends through Week 6 in 2019.
The New England Patriots (+190) currently feature the best defense in the NFL, with San Francisco (+1250) close behind in second. Green Bay (+1275) and Buffalo (+4000) also fit the four categories above.
The offseason additions of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have been a huge difference make for the #49ers’ defense.
Wrecking Linemen like the Super Smash Bros. pic.twitter.com/iKxKoKthqp
— ourSF49ers (@OSf49ers) October 16, 2019
Carolina (+3000) fits every trend but scoring defense (15th), while a defense you may be surprised is performing well (Kansas City, +1050) nearly fit every trend but is right outside the top 12 in takeaways and top 10 in scoring defense. The Chiefs, however, rank poorly in rushing defense (29th), as does Carolina (29th) and Green Bay (23rd).
Another interesting fact to note—the team that allowed the fewest points during the regular season has reached the Super Bowl just 18 times and is 13-5 in the championship game. The average NFL defensive rank for an eventual Super Bowl champion is seventh, according to NFL.com.
It’s still early in the season, but according to the numbers, the Patriots, 49ers, Packers or Bills have the best chance to secure the Lombardi Trophy. There’s plenty of football left to be played, though, but it’s never too early to get in on a futures bet now that you’ve discovered the key to the last 10 Super Bowl-winning defenses.