Grades and rankings for the past 10 Super Bowl champions
It’s been over six months since the Denver Broncos were crowned Super Bowl 50 champions while boasting the highest-graded defense of the Pro Football Focus era (since 2006).
That means that the NFL offseason has nearly come to an end, and all 32 teams head into the regular season with the same exact goal: to win Super Bowl LI.
Below are the rankings (in terms of PFF grades) for the past 10 Super Bowl winners, starting with the Peyton Manning-led Colts in 2006.
*Regular-season grade ranking shown for each team.
After aggregating PFF’s data from the past decade of Super Bowl champions, there are a few things we can take away and apply to this upcoming season.
There isn’t one way to build a champion
There have been both offensively-led teams and defensively-led teams go the distance. One thing most do have in common, though, is that they do one thing better than anyone else. Five of the last 10 Super Bowl champs have owned PFF’s No. 1-ranked offense or defense during the regular season. However, none of these five had a matching unit on the other side of the field ranked higher than No. 13. The 2011 Giants are the anomaly, as the only team without a top-10 offense or defense; despite this, New York was able to ride a wave of dominant stretches by a vaunted pass rush and QB Eli Manning. In fact, Manning produced levels of play when facing pressure over an extended period that we haven’t seen before or since by a quarterback.
With the strict salary cap—and resulting parity—in the modern NFL, no roster is going to be invulnerable. There are only a total of three teams in the past 10 years to have a top-five ranked offense or defense to go with a No. 1-ranked unit on the other side: the 2007 Patriots, 2012 49ers, and 2015 Panthers. The bottom line is that a franchise needs to establish an identity and have a dominant unit to carry them to the big one.
Most consistent attribute: Above-average passing
Over the past 10 seasons, the average Super Bowl winner earned the seventh-best passing grade. It’s no surprise that elite QB play is the most consistent factor among champs.
On the flip side, the average Super Bowl champion had just the 18th-ranked pass-blocking grade. This mark was solidified by the 2014 Patriots and 2011 Giants, who were able to scheme their way to effective passing games while compensating for the league’s poorest pass-blocking units.
The best team doesn’t always win
Surprisingly, PFF’s highest-graded team each regular season has yet to win a Super Bowl. Chalk this up to the randomness of a single-elimination tournament such as the NFL playoffs. Injuries, turnover margin, and specific matchups that can be exploited in head-to-head meetings are factors that have paved the way for previously top-ranked teams—such as the 2014 Ravens, 2011 49ers, and 2007 Patriots—to fall to lower-graded teams at the time. The Baltimore Ravens have been PFF’s top-graded team in the regular season four out of the past 10 years, but their lone Super Bowl victory was won by their 2012 squad that earned just the seventh-highest grade in the league that season.