Many roads lead to the Super Bowl

Based on recent champions, it's clear defense wins championships, but home-field advantage might be overrated.

Updated: August 26, 2003, 4:16 PM ET
By By Ryan Early | NFL Insider
In our quest to identify what makes a champion, we can start by looking at the recent Super Bowl winners to see what they have in common. We also can examine popular NFL myths to see if they hold water. Does having a top defense -- or one of the best running games, or home-field advantage through the playoffs -- give a team an advantage in winning the Super Bowl? Or has the complete randomness of parity taken over the league?

Defense wins championships
This is a common belief among NFL experts, and there's certainly a large amount of truth behind it. But it's certainly not the only factor. Of the last 10 top-ranked defenses (in terms of points allowed), only three won Super Bowls. So leading the league in scoring defense is no guarantor of a championship. But the lowest-ranked defense to win a title in that same period was the '98 Broncos, who were ranked ninth. And they were the lowest by a fair margin. The last 10 champions have averaged a No. 4 ranking in scoring defense. The '02 Bucs and '00 Ravens proved that a defense can carry a team to a title. But every other champion has needed an offense ranked at least sixth to win it all.

You have to run the football
Another popular belief in the NFL, hearkening back to the days of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, is that a championship teams needs a strong running game. Ironically, the goal of a ball-possession strategy is to play it safe and avoid losing the game rather than to be aggressive and actually try to win it. Fortunately, that has changed in recent years with the advent of offenses such as the West Coast scheme, which believes a high-percentage pass is better than a run, as it puts the ball carrier in the open field and away from the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage.