If you feel like your team can't punch the ball in the end zone this year, well ... you're not alone. Offenses have hit a sudden roadblock this season after three decades of rising scores.
In fact, defenses have been so dominant this year that there are no fewer than four teams with a reasonable shot at setting a new Super Bowl Era record for scoring defense.
The stingiest defense of the Super Bowl Era was fielded by the 1977 Falcons, who surrendered just 9.2 PPG. (The 25 toughest defenses of the Super Bowl Era are listed below.)
The four teams on pace to meet or exceed that mark this season are:
- Baltimore: 9.2 PPG
- San Diego: 9.0 PPG
- Denver: 8.5 PPG
- Chicago: 7.2 PPG
The scorching defense is impressive on its own. But it's truly unbelievable when we put it into historic context.
As Cold, Hard Football Facts loyalists know, the Super Bowl Era can be broken down into two distinct phases: the Dead Ball Era (1966 to 1977) and the Live Ball Era (1978 to present).
What's the difference? Well, scoring became exceedingly difficult during the Dead Ball Era, culminating in a 1977 campaign that marked the low point for offense in modern NFL history. The 1977 season featured the stingiest defense in modern history (the aforementioned Falcons, 9.2 PPG) and the most inept offense in modern history (the 1977 Buccaneers, who managed a pathetic 7.4 PPG).
In an effort to boost scoring, the NFL instituted a series of rule changes after the 1977 season. The Live Ball Era was born, and scoring rose steadily for nearly three decades, culminating in a 2004 season when passing records fell like panties at a prom and scoring reached an all-time high (43.0 PPG).
The NFL's institutional effort to boost scoring made it far more difficult for defenses to meet the stingy standards of the Dead Ball Era. Thirteen of the 14 stingiest defenses in modern NFL history, for example, played in the Dead Ball Era. So, too, did the most famous defenses in modern NFL history. Dallas's Doomsday Defense, Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, Minnesota's Purple People Eaters, Denver's Orange Crush, Miami's No-Name Defense and the Rams' Fearsome Foursome were all products of the Dead Ball Era.
The Super Bowl champion 2000 Ravens (No. 9 overall) were the only Live Ball Era defense to crack the top 14 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era.
Which brings us back to today, and the sudden reversal of offensive fortunes in the NFL. It's doubtful that the Ravens, Chargers, Broncos and Bears will all keep up their torrid defensive pace.
But it's not unreasonable. Our money is on the Bears, though, thanks to a very favorable schedule. Their combined opponents the rest of the way are just 20-33 (.377), with their toughest date a Nov. 26 visit to New England. Even then, it won't be easy. The Bears need to hold their final 11 opponents to a total of 111 points (10.1 PPG) to surpass the 1977 Falcons.
If all goes well, they may find themselves at the very top of this list of the 25 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era. At the very least, barring a massive defensive collapse, it seems like Chicago will find itself somewhere among the best defenses of all time.
And in this day and age, that's no small feat.
25 stingiest defenses of the Super Bowl Era