The most recent Super Bowl notwithstanding, defense doesn’t win NFL championships anymore. Instead, you need to be good on offense and defense. And, as Chase Stuart notes, you need to be good for a number of seasons, not just a one-hit wonder.
The playoffs are a random mess, and the best way to win a Super Bowl is to have as many lottery tickets as possible. In 2004, the Steelers went 15-1, but they did not win the Super Bowl until a year later. In 2005, the Colts started 13-0, but Indianapolis didn’t win the Super Bowl until a year later, either. In 2011, the Packers went 15-1, but Green Bay won the Super Bowl the prior year; in ’11, the Packers lost to the Giants in the team’s first playoff game. The Patriots had a number of great teams from 2005 to 2013, but none of them won it all; the 2014 version was not the best team New England had during that stretch (and maybe not even the 2nd or 3rd best), but that was the one that won the title.No team exemplifies this more than Baltimore. The Flacco Ravens made the playoffs year after year — in ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, and ’14 — giving the Ravens a bunch of lottery tickets. The one team that pulled through in 2012 didn’t stand out — during the regular season — as much different than any of the other Baltimore teams.
According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent, the Broncos were the eighth best team this season, with their No. 1 defense making up for a No. 25 ranked offense.
But the Broncos were good for a number of years, ranking No. 2 overall from 2012 to 2014, giving Denver a few bites at the apple before finally breaking through.
The Seattle Seahawks also fit this mold, having been No. 1 in DVOA for four straight seasons, justifying their place among the Super Bowl LI favorites. Same with New England, who never ranked lower than No. 6 for DVOA in each of the past four seasons.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is a team on the rise, seeing their DVOA go from an 18th best minus-1.0 percent in 2012 to No. 7 in 2015 (21.3 percent above average). And their dominant showing in 2015 illustrates that they, too, are a team to watch next season.
But there is one other team to keep an eye on next season, the Kansas City Chiefs, who — at 20-to-1 odds to win Super Bowl LI — offer some good value.
After being the worst team rated by football Outsiders in 2012, they have maintained a top 10 rating in each of the three subsequent seasons. Last year they ranked No. 5 overall in DVOA and had the seventh highest net points per drive (0.50). They were also the No. 1 team in net averaging starting position, 6.87 yards per drive better than their opponents.
We are not even through the offseason yet so things could certainly change as we enter the 2016 season, but based on what Denver showed us over the past few years, there are only a handful of teams that are poised to follow in their footsteps as Super Bowl champs.