Sports Outside the Beltway

Scoring Defense Key to NFL Success

Rick Gosselin explains that, while the NFL ranks defenses by the number of yards they give up, what’s really important is points allowed. That’s fairly untuitive. After all, the object is to prevent the other team from scoring. What’s not so obvious, though, is how little correlation exists between yards and scoring.

You don’t need a great defense to win an NFL championship. The New England Patriots proved that in 2001, finishing 24th in the NFL in defense on the way to their first Super Bowl victory.


To win an NFL championship, you must limit the points you allow. The last 22 Super Bowl champions have all ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense. There have been no exceptions. Fourteen of those 22 champions ranked in the top three in scoring defense.

You have to go back to 1983 to find an NFL champion that finished outside of the top 10 in scoring defense – the Los Angeles Raiders, who finished 13th. Since then, 37 of the 44 teams that reached the Super Bowl have ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense.

Three of the six champions this decade led the NFL in scoring defense: Baltimore in 2000, Tampa Bay in 2002 and New England in 2003. The 2004 Patriots finished second in scoring defense and the 2005 Steelers finished third.

Indeed, the 2003 Dallas Cowboys led the league defensively, ranked #1 for yards allowed. They managed only a Wild Card berth and a first round playoff exit.

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