I've followed up a hunch and decided to handicap this season's playoff field, based on the ratings of past Super Bowl contestants. I've decided to use just two metrics -- points scored and points allowed. I've assesed all 78 Super Bowl teams and have found some interesting stats to chew on:
1. 60 of the 78 Super Bowl teams ranked in the top ten in both points scored and points allowed. So about three quarters of the Super Bowl teams were outstanding on both sides of the ball. Does this give us some insight as to who the front runners might be?
In the NFC, the answer is a resounding no. There is not a single team that ranks in the NFL's top 10 in both categories. Of the eight teams with winning records, you have teams with strong defenses and weak offenses, like Chicago, Tampa Bay and Washington, or teams that have high-powered offenses but so-so defenses, like New York, Carolina and Seattle.
Dallas has a highly-ranked scoring defense (6th) but sits at a lowly 15th in scoring offense.
In the AFC, there are two teams that produce the double at the halfway point, the Colts and Steelers. Indy has the top scoring defense and the third highest scoring offense, while the Steelers are ninth in points scored and fifth in points allowed.
2. Of the two factors, points allowed is the more important for determining who will go the Super Bowl. Of the 39 NFL/NFC champs, only two did not have a defense ranked in the top ten. The lowest ranked defenses from the conference to ever play in a Super Bowl were the '79 Rams and the '83 Redskins. Both were ranked 11th in the league.
This should make Dallas fans feel optimistic. There are only three NFC teams in the top ten, with Chicago 2nd, Tampa Bay 3rd and Dallas 6th. The Seahawks, Redskins and Falcons have chances to clamp their way into the top 10, as they rank 11th, 12th and 13th respectively.
In the AFL/AFC, only nine teams have advanced to the Super Bowl with a defense ranked outside the top ten. Seven of those lost. In fact, the '76 Raiders and the '83 Raiders are the only NFL Champions to have defenses ranked outside the top ten in points allowed.
This stat should again give heart to Colts and Steelers fans. The Bengals, who rank fourth in scoring defense, the Jags at nine and Denver at twelve can also harbor dark-horse dreams.
Given these two formulas, here are my rankings of each conference's field:
1. Colts (3rd offense, 1st defense)
2. Steelers (9th offense, 5th defense)
3. Broncos ( 7th offense, 12th defense)
4. Pats (14th offense, 26th defense)
5. Bengals (11th offense, 4th defense)
6. Chargers (2nd offense, 20th defense)
7. Jags (20th offense, 9th defense)
8. Chiefs (9th offense, 23rd defense)
I'm giving a lot more credit to the Pats than they deserve, statistically speaking. How have they kept winning big games with that defense? I should probably create tiers, with the Colts and Steelers in the top, the Pats joining Denver in the second (I give a lot of weight to winning memory) and the rest in a muddle.
1. Seahawks (6th offense, 11th defense)
2. Cowboys (15th offense, 6th defense)
3. Falcons (8th offense, 13th defense)
4. Giants (1st offense, 15th defense)
5. Panthers (4th offense, 21st defense)
6. Bears (23rd offense, 2nd defense)
7. Redskins (19th offense, 12th defense)
8. Bucs (22nd offense, 3rd defense)
Am I overrating the Cowboys? Perhaps. They're 2-2 against this list, and the Seahawks and Redskins losses still stick in the craw. They'll get rematches against the Giants and Redskins and face Denver, Kansas City and Carolina late. Still, the Dallas defense has allowed 12.2 points per game the past month, which would top the NFL. If you take Sheldon Brown's interception return out of the equation, that number drops to 10.5 points per game. And Dallas didn't beat up on weaklings either. The Eagles, Giants and Seahawks all entered their games with Dallas ranked #1 in yards. The Giants and Seahawks rank first and sixth in points, with Philadelphia 12th.
The youth is blending nicely with the veteran talent on this unit. More points would be welcome. If the offensive line can be sorted out, and the running game improved, even modestly, Dallas has as good a chance as any to win the conference.