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The Rams and Patriots are just OK on defense. Here’s what Super Bowl history has to say about that

Rams vs. Patriots is a rare Super Bowl matchup between below-average defenses.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Defense supposedly wins championships. That’s how the timeless football cliché goes, anyway.

It’s an offensive age, though. There were more touchdowns scored in 2018 than any other season in NFL history. So it’s only fitting that the winner of Super Bowl 53 will have a defense that finished the regular season below the league average. The Los Angeles Rams were No. 20 in points allowed and No. 19 in yards allowed, while the New England Patriots were No. 7 in points and No. 21 in yards.

That dichotomy isn’t unusual for the Patriots. They were fifth in points allowed a year ago, but No. 29 in yards allowed. New England has a tendency to bend, but not break and control the time of possession with its Tom Brady-led offense. But for most of this season, its subpar defense has struggled to stop the run.

The good news is that points are fun, and we’re well set up for an entertaining Super Bowl between two good offensive teams.

The Rams won the NFC thanks to an offense that averaged 32.9 points per game and scored 56 points in two playoff wins. It was a similar story for the Patriots offense, which finished No. 4 in scoring offense and put 78 points on the board in their two postseason victories.

A matchup of lackluster defenses in the Super isn’t unprecedented, but it’s rare. It’s only the third time that neither defense in the Super Bowl is top 10 in yards allowed. The only other examples were Super Bowl 46 — a rematch for the Patriots and Giants — and Super Bowl 44 between the Colts and Saints.

As such, oddsmakers are expecting a lot of points in Super Bowl 53. The betting line for the scoring total opened at 57.5 points — which would be the highest ever if it doesn’t drop before kickoff. The meeting between the Rams and Patriots in Atlanta will probably be decided by which underwhelming defense can step up its play — or make enough big plays — against an offense that’s difficult to stop.

The better defense in the Super Bowl usually wins

Defensive rankings are really only applicable dating back to Super Bowl 5, because the first four were meetings of the AFL and NFL champions. The leagues didn’t play each other during the regular season at that point, and the defensive rankings were split.

So since the Super Bowl in January 1971:

  • The team that allowed fewer points in the regular season is 31-16 (that doesn’t include Super Bowl 39, because the Eagles and Patriots each allowed exactly 260 points).
  • The team that allowed fewer yards in the regular season is 32-16.
  • Teams that finished in the bottom half of the NFL in scoring defense are 4-6 in the Super Bowl.
  • Teams that finished in the bottom half of the NFL in yards allowed are 6-11 in the Super Bowl.

Here are the defensive rankings of every team that has played in the Super Bowl since 1971:

Defensive rankings of teams in the Super Bowl

Year Winner Pts Yds Loser Pts Yds
Year Winner Pts Yds Loser Pts Yds
2018 Eagles 4 4 Patriots 5 29
2017 Patriots 1 8 Falcons 27 25
2016 Broncos 4 1 Panthers 6 6
2015 Patriots 8 13 Seahawks 1 1
2014 Seahawks 1 1 Broncos 22 19
2013 Ravens 12 17 49ers 2 3
2012 Giants 25 27 Patriots 15 31
2011 Packers 2 5 Steelers 1 2
2010 Saints 20 25 Colts 8 18
2009 Steelers 1 1 Cardinals 28 19
2008 Giants 17 7 Patriots 4 4
2007 Colts 23 21 Bears 3 5
2006 Steelers 3 4 Seahawks 7 16
2005 Patriots 2 9 Eagles 2 10
2004 Patriots 1 7 Panthers 10 8
2003 Buccaneers 1 1 Raiders 6 11
2002 Patriots 6 24 Rams 7 3
2001 Ravens 1 2 Giants 5 5
2000 Rams 4 6 Titans 15 17
1999 Broncos 8 11 Falcons 4 8
1998 Broncos 6 5 Packers 5 7
1997 Packers 1 1 Patriots 14 19
1996 Cowboys 3 9 Steelers 9 3
1995 49ers 6 8 Chargers 9 14
1994 Cowboys 2 10 Bills 5 27
1993 Cowboys 5 1 Bills 14 12
1992 Washington 2 3 Bills 19 27
1991 Giants 1 2 Bills 6 8
1990 49ers 3 4 Broncos 1 3
1989 49ers 8 3 Bengals 16 15
1988 Washington 6 18 Broncos 7 9
1987 Giants 2 2 Broncos 15 9
1986 Bears 1 1 Patriots 6 7
1985 49ers 1 10 Dolphins 7 19
1984 Raiders 13 4 Washington 11 12
1983 Washington 1 4 Dolphins 2 1
1982 49ers 2 2 Bengals 12 12
1981 Raiders 10 11 Eagles 1 2
1980 Steelers 5 2 Rams 11 7
1979 Steelers 1 3 Cowboys 3 2
1978 Cowboys 8 1 Broncos 3 9
1977 Raiders 12 18 Vikings 2 6
1976 Steelers 2 4 Cowboys 9 5
1975 Steelers 2 1 Vikings 3 10
1974 Dolphins 1 3 Vikings 2 12
1973 Dolphins 1 1 Washington 3 4
1972 Cowboys 7 3 Dolphins 3 5
1971 Colts 7 9 Cowboys 4 4

The Patriots have done well this season to keep offenses from turning yards into points. The Rams defense has managed to create chaos in the form of turnovers and sacks — often from defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Offense got the two teams to Atlanta, but it’ll probably be on the pair of mediocre defenses to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.