The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are the two best teams in football this season. They proved it during the regular season when they tied for the league lead with 13 wins and they’ve proved it again in the playoffs.
While the two teams are clearly the cream of the crop in the NFL, the paths they have taken to the top of the league have been radically different. Denver has built the best offense in the league (and one of the most dominant in league history) with a bevy of talented receivers at the disposal of a quarterback savant.
Seattle, on the other hand, has assembled the NFL’s premier defense, led by a hard-hitting, trash-talking secondary with a tremendous nickname (seriously, it’s right up there with the Purple People Eaters) and a vastly underrated front seven.
While there are a number of fascinating matchups to watch during the game, most of the attention will inevitably be paid to the chess match between grandmasters Peyton Manning and the Legion of Boom. This matchup of best offense against best defense has been a rarity in the Super Bowl, happening only six times previously. Let’s take a quick at each of these contests and see what insight they provide.
Kansas City Chiefs Offense (32.0 PPG) vs. Green Bay Packers Defense (11.6 PPG)
Winner: Green Bay, 35-10
This one is a special case because it was before the AFL/NFL merger, but the Packers led the NFL in points allowed and the Chiefs led the upstart league in points scored. The game was close at halftime (14-10), but the Packers defense completely shut down quarterback Len Dawson and the Chiefs in the second half. Kansas City’s pass-heavy attack only ran one play in Green Bay territory after the first half.
Minnesota Vikings Offense (27.1 PPG) vs. Kansas City Chiefs Defense (12.6 PPG)
Winner: Kansas City, 23-7
Just three years after Green Bay embarrassed the Chiefs’ vaunted offense, Kansas City turned the tables on their NFL counterparts. Hank Stram’s team shut out the heavily-favored Vikings in the first half and picked off three fourth-quarter passes to seal the win. The Chiefs also knocked out Minnesota’s “indestructible” quarterback Joe Kapp (you might remember Kapp better as a YouTube sensation).
Dallas Cowboys Offense (24.0 PPG) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Defense (12.2 PPG)
Winner: Pittsburgh, 35-31
The first Super Bowl rematch unexpectedly turned into a shootout, as Terry Bradshaw set Super Bowl records of 318 yards and four touchdowns for the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s dominant “Steel Curtain” defense was able to do just enough to win, forcing a Roger Staubach interception that led to the go-ahead Pittsburgh TD.
Miami Dolphins Offense (32.1 PPG) vs. San Francisco 49ers Defense (14.2 PPG)
Winner: San Francisco, 38-16
Dan Marino’s only Super Bowl appearance didn’t go as planned for the Dolphins quarterback. The second-year signal-caller threw just one touchdown after setting an NFL record with 48 in the regular season. He also threw two interceptions and his struggles can be attributed to a ‘Niners secondary that had all four starters-Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson, and Dwight Hicks-selected to the Pro Bowl. San Fran also received a boost from their quarterback, some guy named Joseph Clifford Montana, Jr.
San Francisco 49ers Offense (27.6 PPG) vs. Denver Broncos Defense (14.1 PPG)
Winner: San Francisco, 55-10
Montana’s fourth and final Super Bowl was his crowning achievement as a 49er. The ‘Niner offense, led by Joe Cool and receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor completely overwhelmed the Denver defense, scoring on six of its first eight possessions before taking its foot off the gas. Montana set a Super Bowl record with five touchdown passes (predictably three were to Rice) in the most lopsided game in Super Bowl history.
Buffalo Bills Offense (26.8 PPG) vs. New York Giants Defense (13.3 PPG)
Winner: New York, 20-19
The Giants used a ball-control game plan to keep the ball out of the hands of quarterback Jim Kelly and the rest of Buffalo’s face-paced no-huddle offense. New York set a record, holding the ball for over 40 minutes in the game and limiting the explosive offense to 19 points just a week after it had dropped 51 on the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Championship game. The defense, led by Lawrence Taylor, had a hand in that, as well, as they had held defending champion Montana and the 49ers to just 13 points in the NFC Championship game a week earlier Of course, Buffalo still had a chance to win at the end, but Scott Norwood missed it WIDE RIGHT.
It turns out that, in Super Bowls between the best offense and the best defense in the league, the defenses have historically dominated, winning five of the six games. In fact, in three of those contests, the defense controlled the game to such an extent that it held the offense to fewer points than the defense’s average allowed for the season.
There is a disclaimer on those wins for the defense, however. In four of the five wins for the defense, the team with the best defense also featured a Hall of Fame quarterback (Bart Starr, Len Dawson, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana) at the helm of its offense. Whether Seattle’s Russell Wilson is at that level is yet to be determined, but he might have to support his defense with a great game.
One final note-the Broncos averaged an NFL record 37.9 PPG this season and Seattle allowed just 14.4 per game on average. The 23.5 differential between the two figures is the largest in Super Bowl history. That makes Super Bowl XLVIII truly a matchup of two ultra-elite units when Denver has the ball.
Photo Credit: Getty