There has been a ton of speculation as to who the Panthers may take in the 2014 draft. As a fan I both love and hate this time of year. I love it because of all of the conversation that arises around the draft and the anticipation of a new season. I hate it because I’ve got to wait so long for next season.
In reading through various posts and threads I’ve seen a couple of people pose the question: "Is it better to be good on offense and defense or elite in one aspect?" I think this is an interesting question and one that could shape our draft board depending on how our front office chooses to answer it. My initial thought was surely it is better to be balanced with a good offense and defense after all there is a reason that is considered traditional wisdom. I decided to examine the question a little more closely by looking at the last 16 seasons in the NFL. For the sake of this discussion when I refer to an offensive ranking it is [points scored] and when I refer to defensive ranking it is [points allowed] because ultimately those are the most important numbers.
First I took a quick look at over all records. Over the last sixteen seasons the teams with the #1 offense have a combined record of 203-53 averaging 12.69 (13) wins per season while teams with the #1 defense have a combined record of 196-60 averaging 12.25 (12) wins per season. So using regular season records there is little difference between the #1 offense and the #1 defense.
Next I looked at Super Bowl appearances. Here I looked at teams that have "elite" offenses or defenses. In this case I chose to look at teams who ranked #3 or higher in either of those categories as being elite. So when you look at teams with elite offenses they made it to the SB 10 of the last 16 years and managed to win the championship 4 times. Over that same period of time teams with elite defenses made it to the SB 12 times and won 7 titles. During that time frame there was only one team that played in the SB with both an elite offense and defense and that was the 06 Bears who had the #3 offense and the #3 defense. They lost the SB to the Colts (#2 offense, #23 defense).
So in terms of the Super Bowl teams with an elite defense held a slight edge in appearances and almost double the number of titles. If you expand out to top 5 offense or defense then there has not been a Super Bowl played in the last 16 years that did not have a team who fell in that category.
Based on this I believe it is safe to predict that if you are able to dominate even one side of the ball it increases the odds of you making it to the Super Bowl. If you consider average to be the top half of the league #16 or higher then there have been 8 teams in the last 16 years that were below average on either offense (2 teams) or defense (6 teams) and played in the Super Bowl. The 2 below average teams on offense were ranked #18 and #20 however both were ranked #1 on defense and subsequently won the title.
The 6 below average teams on defense were ranked from #17 through #28 and managed to win the title 4 times. Two of those teams 06 Colts (#23 defense- #2 offense) and 09 Saints (#20 defense- #1 offense) had elite offenses. Two of them the 07 Giants (#17 defense- #14 offense) and the 11 Giants (#25 defense- #9 offense) were only average on offense and managed to win. The two losing teams with below average defenses 08 Cardinals (#28 defense- #4 offense) and the 13 Broncos (#22 defense- #1 offense) both had strong offenses.
Over the last 16 years there have only been 4 occasions where the Championship team was not #5 or higher on one or both sides of the ball. The 01 Patriots who were ranked #6 on both offense and defense, which is pretty strong. The 12 Ravens who were #10 offensively and #12 defensively and the aforementioned Giants from 07 and 11. So in general it would seem that while anything can happen once the whistle blows, you increase your odds of earning a championship if you are exceptional on at least one side of the ball.
How does this potentially impact draft strategy for the Panthers? This year we finished ranked #2 defensively and #18 offensively (although it seemed much worse at times). It would seem that our best course of action would be to improve our offense but not at the expense of our defense. I believe our offense could have been substantially higher (#8 - #12) if we simply got better play from our offensive line.
I’m being very optimistic (possibly blindly so) about the guard position next year, with people coming back from injury we should have good competition there and end up with serviceable guards. OT is far more concerning as many people pointed out in various threads and should be a major focus in either free agency and/or the draft. Obviously an infusion of new talent at WR and/or TE would also help.
I just don’t want to see us neglect the obvious needs on defense. We have to get some more competition in the secondary, ensure that we have viable depth at LB and good rotational depth on the D line. I’ve seen people mocking 5 or even 6 offensive picks for us and I think that would be a mistake even if by some stretch they were all BPA.
This was a pretty long trip to get to a fairly obvious conclusion but it was interesting looking back over the numbers. I also came to realize what an aberration or abomination depending on your personal feelings the Giants last two championships really were. Thanks for taking the time to read this and in advance for any feedback you should choose to leave.