In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys etched their name in the record book for the second time in three years. While they have not hoisted the Lombardi since Google was created, they have found ways to remain relevant. Last season, with 6,919 total yards, the Cowboys now hold the fifth and sixth spot for most yards in a season.
Moving downfield more often than the other teams in the league is certainly not a bad thing. A team won’t score points unless they can put up yardage and continue to move the chains. But who else ranks highly in this metric?
Most offensive yards by a team in a season in #NFL history— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) July 7, 2022
‘11 #Saints - 7,474
‘13 #Broncos - 7,317
‘00 #Rams - 7,075
‘84 #Dolphins - 6,936
‘21 #Cowboys - 6,919
‘19 #Cowboys - 6,904
‘21 #Buccaneers - 6,901 pic.twitter.com/gF4wFdFQ8z
The teams that land on this list are a few of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. The ‘84 Dolphins were led by Dan Marino, who put up arguably the best season for a quarterback in NFL history. The ‘13 Broncos saw Peyton Manning shatter the record for most passing touchdowns in league history. The 2000 Rams were in the “Greatest Show on Turf” era. And Drew Brees led the ‘11 Saints with the most passing yards in a season until that record fell to 2013 Peyton Manning.
But all seven teams listed above have one thing in common, they couldn't win it all.
The Cowboys continue to dominate this meaningless statistic
As the overused saying goes “defense wins championships.” While that is somewhat true, a team likely won’t win without help from the offense. While the 2015 Broncos and 2012 Ravens might suggest otherwise, these are rare exceptions. The general rule is that a team needs a good defense and a good offense to win championships or have a generational defense (note how a generational offense is not included in this rule).
Offenses play a significant role in earning a championship. Few would argue against that. More yards frequently mean more points. Another seemingly undebatable statement. However, the teams who put up the most yards rarely win it all.
Across NFL history, 33 teams have exceeded 6,500 yards in a season. This includes offenses such as the seven listed above, the 2007 undefeated Patriots, the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, and three different Chiefs teams led by Patrick Mahomes. None of the 33 teams won the Super Bowl.
The 2009 Saints is the team to put up the most yards in a season (6,461) and win it all. With that yardage, they barely made the top 40 all-time. The only other teams to land inside the top 70 and still hoist the Lombardi are the 1999 Rams (45th), the 1984 49ers (53rd), and the 2021 Rams (68th).
But what if we turn it into a per-game metric? After all, the Cowboys putting up 6,919 yards in 17 games is less impressive than the ‘61 Oilers putting up 6,288 yards in just 14 games. If we turn it into a per-game statistic, the results are similar. The 2009 Saints still have the most yards per game while winning the Super Bowl, coming in at 38th all-time. The 1999 Rams and 49ers still fall inside the top 50, but they are at the bottom of the list. The 2021 Rams come in at 178th by yards per game. It is worth noting that the 2021 Cowboys drop to 30th when measuring by yards per game, but the 2019 Dallas team is still in the top six.
Okay, so yardage is a pretty meaningless stat when attempting to predict the Super Bowl winner. But surely points scored is more indicative right? Well, somewhat but it is still a weak relationship.
The 2021 Cowboys put up their best season by points scored, making them the 12th highest scoring team of all time. Similar to yarage, no team inside the top ten has won the Super Bowl. The ‘99 Rams make another appearance; at 14th, they are the highest-scoring team to win a championship. They are one of seven teams to both land inside the top 50 by points scored and win the Super Bowl.
While seven teams winning it is certainly more than the yardage leaders inside the top 50, that is only 14% of the field. This means that if at the end of 2022, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the top fifty highest scoring teams of all time, there is about a one in seven chance they will win the Super Bowl based on historical results. The results are the same when converting it to points per game. Six teams inside the top 60 have won it all.
As you might have guessed, the results are significantly more meaningful when taking the point differential per game. Five teams inside the top 11 in this statistic went on to win the Super Bowl. And if you want optimism, the 2021 Dallas Cowboys finished 54th all-time by point differential per game, landing right below the 2009 Saints. So if you want a stat to be impressed by, it should be that one.
While this might seem like an elaborate way of saying that defenses are important, it is more of an exercise in explaining meaningful and meaningless statistics. Fans should not get too wrapped up in the latter. Because the 2021 Dallas Cowboys were superb at putting up points and yards, in fact, they did it at a historic clip. But those two stats alone mean practically nothing when considering the ultimate goal.
This should actually breed optimism. Because for the first time in two and a half decades, Dallas has a formidable defense that will complement the offense. Both sides of the ball need to contribute if Dallas is going to compete because a high-flying offense alone means next to nothing.