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What past Super Bowl-winning defenses tell us about who will win Super Bowl LVI

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

February 8th, 2022

Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow have their respective offenses humming ahead of Super Bowl LVI, but their defenses could be the difference maker in the biggest game of the season.

Sun, February 13 2022, 11:30 PM

CIN Bengals

Moneyline

+160

Spread

+4

Total

O 48.5

LA Rams

Moneyline

-195

Spread

-4

Total

U 48.5

Back in October of 2019, TwinSpires Edge dissected the data on a number of defensive statistics — from opponent yards per game to average time of possession, takeaways, and more — to help predict which defenses had the best shot at leading their team to an NFL title in Super Bowl LIV.

Based on the data, we correctly predicted midseason that the San Francisco 49ers were a top Super Bowl contender because of their ranking in opponent completion percentage, takeaways per game, and scoring defense.

While the Niners ultimately fell in Super Bowl LIV, the winner of that year's title, Kansas City, fit our model in every defensive category but one, which it barely failed to qualify.

With that in mind, let's revisit what Super Bowl-winning defenses have in common and use the data to predict which team should come out on top in Super Bowl LVI.

Opponent completion percentage

SeasonSuper Bowl winnerOpp. completion %Ranking
2020
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
66.96%
22
2019
Kansas City Chiefs
60.98
5
2018
New England Patriots
59.31
2
2017
Philadelphia Eagles
60.08
13
2016
New England Patriots
62.18
12
2015
Denver Broncos
58.42
4
2014
New England Patriots
58.59
4
2013
Seattle Seahawks
58.71
6
2012
Baltimore Ravens
59.32
11
2011
New York Giants
60.26
15

Back in our 2019 research, we found that Super Bowl-winning defenses all ranked in the top 15 in opponent completion percentage, dating back to 2009.

Since 2019, Kansas City won the Super Bowl after ranking fifth in opponent completion percentage (60.98), but last year's champion, Tampa Bay, was a huge outlier.

The Bucs averaged the 11th worst opponent completion percentage (66.96%) and still won a Super Bowl. But the defense also buckled down in the postseason and kept opposing quarterbacks to a 59.85% completion percentage in their final three playoff games. 

Where Tampa Bay especially excelled was against the run, which is a characteristic shared by many of the recent Super Bowl-winning defenses, as well.

The Rams currently rank 14th in opponent completion percentage (64.74%), while opposing QBs average a 65.95% completion percentage (22nd best) against Cincinnati.

Against the run, LA and Cincy are almost evenly matched. The Rams rank fifth in opponent rushing yards per game (95.8), and the Bengals rank eighth (106.2).

Aside from Kansas City in 2019, every Super Bowl winner from 2013 on ranked in the top 10 in opponent rushing yards allowed.

Takeaways per game

SeasonSuper Bowl winnerTakeaways per gameRank
2020
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1.7
2
2019
Kansas City Chiefs
1.4
15
2018
New England Patriots
1.6
9
2017
Philadelphia Eagles
1.8
4
2016
New England Patriots
1.5
12
2015
Denver Broncos
1.8
6
2014
New England Patriots
1.7
10
2013
Seattle Seahawks
2.4
1
2012
Baltimore Ravens
1.7
11
2011
New York Giants
1.9
5

In addition to limiting the arm of opposing quarterbacks, Super Bowl-winning defenses also created turnovers at a higher rate than other defenses in the league.

Each of the last 10 Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 15 in takeaways per game, and four of the last six ranked in the top 10.

The Rams just slightly beat out the Bengals in average takeaways per game (1.5 compared to 1.4), and both rank in the top 15 in that category. 

However, in the postseason, Cincinnati has tallied seven takeaways, the most of any team, while the Rams are ranked third, with five.

Scoring defense

SeasonSuper Bowl winnerOpponent points per gameRank
2020
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
21.7
7
2019
Kansas City Chiefs
20.2
10
2018
New England Patriots
20.4
6
2017
Philadelphia Eagles
18.2
4
2016
New England Patriots
16.4
1
2015
Denver Broncos
17.9
4
2014
New England Patriots
19.5
7
2013
Seattle Seahawks
14.6
1
2012
Baltimore Ravens
21.1
9
2011
New York Giants
23.1
21

With the exception of the New York Giants in 2011, every Super Bowl champion in the last decade boasted a top 10 scoring defense. Since 2013, every team, aside from Kansas City, ranked in the top seven.

To help explain how the Giants were still able to beat the New England Patriots with a poor scoring defense in Super Bowl XLVI, we looked at some offensive statistics, as well.

In the last decade, every Super Bowl champion but Baltimore (11th) and Denver (18th) owned a top 10 scoring offense, and each title winner ranked in the top 10 in average scoring margin.

The Rams rank sixth in scoring offense (27.2), and the Bengals rank eighth (26.6), while these two teams are just as close in scoring margin. LA is fifth, with a +7 average scoring margin, and Cincinnati is eighth (+4.9).

As for scoring defense, the Rams just barely crack the top 10 (21.4 points per game), but the Bengals rank 13th, at 21.8 opponent points per contest.

Who should win Super Bowl LVI based on the trends?

TeamOpp. completion% and rankTakeaways per game and rankScoring defense and rak
Los Angeles Rams
64.74% (14th)
1.5 (8th)
21.4 (10th)
Cincinnati Bengals
65.95% (22nd)
1.4 (14th)
21.8 (13th)

As the data implies, the Bengals and Rams are closely matched, but LA has the slight advantage in every key defensive category.

The discrepancy between Tampa Bay and Kansas City was minimal in the aforementioned categories last season, as well, but the Bucs were just slightly better statistically in the areas in question and ultimately won Super Bowl LV, which was played on their home field at Raymond James Stadium.

Based on the numbers, the Rams should win this year's Super Bowl, which coincidentally is hosted at SoFi Stadium (the Rams' home turf).

But while the data is certainly in favor of LA, outliers are always possible. And no team has been a bigger outlier in 2021 than Cincinnati.

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