Where does the Bucs' D rank
among the all-time greats?

Updated: January 24, 2003, 7:50 AM ET
By By Ryan Early
The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten to the NFL's biggest game on the strength of their defense. They have the first defense to lead the league in points, yards and interceptions since the great 1985 Bears team. Obviously, comparisons to previous great defenses are already being made. Are the Bucs worthy of being included among the best defenses of all time?

In 1978, the NFL liberalized its passing rules and went to a 16-game schedule. That milestone year is considered the beginning of the modern era of pro football. Comparing teams from an earlier era statistically to modern teams is thus impossible as they were playing under a different set of rules and strategies. Since 1978, there have been 39 teams that have allowed fewer than 240 points and 4,800 yards in a given season. Those numbers are rather arbitrary, but the cutoff line has to be drawn somewhere. It may be surprising to know that of those 39 teams, only a third of them even made it to the Super Bowl. Football is a team game and sometimes even a dominating defense is not enough to take a team all the way. Three of the 39 didn't even make the playoffs, and one (the 1993 Bears) didn't even have a winning record.

We could go through these teams and compare them subjectively, using our combined experience, knowledge and judgment to come up with the best defenses of all time, but it would still stand solely as an opinion. To make a better case, a statistical comparison should give an unbiased result. These 39 defenses that met our initial criteria were compared in several different statistical categories that are commonly used to show a defense's ability -- points allowed, yards allowed, takeaways, sacks, rushing yards per attempt, net passing yards per attempt (which includes sack yards) and points scored. That final category is the points actually scored by the team when the offense was not on the field. For many people, a team that doesn't win the Super Bowl should not even merit consideration. We'll list the five-best defenses among NFL champions and the 10 overall based on these results and you can be the judge.