The Super Bowl will be decided by whichever mediocre defense steps up

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

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:

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.

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