This year’s Super Bowl will be the seventh in history that pits the highest-scoring team in the regular season (Atlanta Falcons) against the team that allowed the fewest points (New England Patriots).
It’s also the second such matchup in the past four games with the Lombardi Trophy at stake, following a 23-year gap without one.
And a pattern has emerged, no matter the era: The top “D” almost always prevails against the top “O,” going 5-1 so far when those teams meet to determine a champion — even though each offense was led by a quarterback who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (or, in the most recent case, is expected to be).
Here is a look at the previous instances:
SUPER BOWL 48 in 2014
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 43, DENVER BRONCOS 8
No. 1 defense: Seahawks, 14.4 ppg
No. 1 offense: Broncos, 37.9 ppg
Peyton Manning helped Denver become the first NFL team to score more than 600 points during a regular season, while Richard Sherman led Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense that also featured Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. It took all of one play for Seattle to gain the upper hand: 12 seconds in, center Manny Ramirez’s opening snap sailed past Manning and into the end zone, resulting in a safety. An interception by Chancellor set up Seattle’s first touchdown, and MVP Malcolm Smith’s 69-yard interception return for a TD helped build a 36-0 lead for the Seahawks.
SUPER BOWL 25 in 1991
NEW YORK GIANTS 20, BUFFALO BILLS 19
No. 1 defense: Giants, 14.2 ppg
No. 1 offense: Bills, 26.8 ppg
This game will always be remembered for Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field-goal attempt that sailed wide right at the end, but it might be most remarkable for the way the Giants slowed down Buffalo QB Jim Kelly’s offense, holding him without a touchdown throw. The Giants were willing to let RB Thurman Thomas have a big day (135 yards, TD), using an extra linebacker to clog up the Bills’ pass routes. The defensive coordinator who drew up that scheme for New York? Bill Belichick, now New England’s head coach.
SUPER BOWL 24 in 1990
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 55, DENVER BRONCOS 10
No. 1 defense: Broncos, 14.1 ppg
No. 1 offense: 49ers, 26.8
This was the most lopsided Super Bowl ever — and the only time the league’s best offense got the better of the league’s best defense in the big game. Joe Montana set a record by throwing for five TDs, three to fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, to lead San Francisco to its second consecutive NFL championship.
SUPER BOWL 19 in 1985
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 38, MIAMI DOLPHINS 16
No. 1 defense: 49ers, 14.2 ppg
No. 1 offense: Dolphins, 32.1 ppg
As good as San Francisco’s offense was (see above), it was its defense, led by Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, that dominated this game against Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino in what would turn out to be his only Super Bowl appearance. Marino was intercepted twice and sacked four times.
SUPER BOWL 13 in 1979
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 35, DALLAS COWBOYS 31
No. 1 defense: Steelers, 12.2 ppg
No. 1 offense: Cowboys, 24 ppg
Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll’s Steel Curtain defense just barely held on in this one, despite allowing Dallas QB Roger Staubach’s pair of TD passes in the final 2½ minutes. A big reason for the Steelers victory was not its defense, of course, but its offense: Its Hall of Fame quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, threw for four scores.
AFL-NFL CHAMPIONSHIP in 1967
GREEN BAY PACKERS 35, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10
No. 1 defense: Packers, 11.6 ppg
No. 1 offense: Chiefs, 32 ppg
The first edition of what only later would become known as the Super Bowl featured an MVP performance by Green Bay QB Bart Starr, yes, and a memorable game from WR Max McGee, too. But the key might have been the way the Packers defense harassed Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson of the Chiefs, intercepting him once and compiling a half-dozen sacks.
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