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Super Bowl history: Falcons will try to buck trend of No. 1 offense losing to No. 1 defense

The No. 1 scoring defense usually comes out on top vs. the No. 1 scoring offense in Super Bowl matchups.

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

No team scored more points in 2016 than the Atlanta Falcons and no team allowed fewer than the New England Patriots. But Super Bowl LI won’t be the first time the NFL’s top defense faces the top offense for all the marbles. It’s happened seven times before and five times since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, the defensive-minded team has typically come out on top.

In the five post-merger matchups, only the 1989 San Francisco 49ers carried a No. 1 offense to victory over the No. 1 defense of the Denver Broncos, 55-10. But in the other four matchups, the No. 1 defense came out on top.

That includes Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, when the Seahawks — led by defensive coordinator, and current Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn — held the Broncos to just eight points in a 43-8 blowout.

Post-merger Super Bowls featuring No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense

Super Bowl No. 1 offense No. 1 defense Winner Score
Super Bowl No. 1 offense No. 1 defense Winner Score
XLVIII (2014) Broncos Seahawks Seahawks 43-8
XXV (1991) Bills Giants Giants 20-19
XXIV (1990) 49ers Broncos 49ers 55-10
XIX (1985) Dolphins 49ers 49ers 38-16
XIII (1979) Cowboys Steelers Steelers 35-31

The No. 1 ranked defenses of the 1966 Green Bay Packers and 1969 Kansas City Chiefs also led their teams to Super Bowl victories; however, they aren’t included because they were each No. 1 in their respective leagues, which had independent rankings.

With 32 teams now in the NFL, the meeting of top units has become more rare and the only time it has happened in the last quarter of a century was three years ago with Quinn at the helm of the top defense.

This time he’ll hope the top-rated Falcons offense can buck the trend of defenses winning and can take down the Patriots. But Atlanta will also have to contend with the fact that New England is far from subpar on offense.

In addition to having the No. 1 scoring defense, the Patriots also boast the No. 3 offense, led by three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. And the Falcons have the second-worst scoring defense in Super Bowl history.

While that sounds like a recipe for disaster for Atlanta, the team’s defense has improved significantly throughout the season:

But it’s still no secret that the Falcons’ best chance at topping the Patriots comes in the form of a high-flying offense with playmakers aplenty. Even if that formula hasn’t worked much in the past.