Top 20 Defensive Super Bowl Matchups
Top 20 Greatest Defensive Super Bowl Match Ups
In the wake of the impending Super Bowl 47 between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom own some of the best defenses in the NFL today, RantSports asked me to make a list of the 20 best defensive Super Bowl match ups of all time.
Defense wins championships. If you can't stop the other team from scoring you better be ready to put up 40 a game to win a title. Modern defenses cannot hold a candle to the defenses put together in the 1970s and earlier in terms of toughness. If you don't believe me go look up that picture of Pittsburgh Steelers LB Jack Lambert without teeth and imagine trying to run past him in 28 degree weather, and then look at a picture of pretty boy Clay Matthews. You will see that bias to the past reflected at the top of this list.
Before you start reading, keep in mind this list was tough to compile. Almost every year the Super Bowl features at least one team with a strong defense. Then when you factor 45 of the games have been played, which makes 90 teams, picking out the 20 Defensive Match ups can be tough. In other words, this list is not definitive, but its close. It is more a launching point for debate than it is set in stone.
I used criteria pulling from a few different categories, including but not limited to; historical importance, regular season defensive statistics, and the quality of the game, and the presence of all-time great players. When these factors failed I used another reliable determining factor that I've been using for years... my gut.
Do you disagree with my list? Have a better one? Post what I did wrong (or right) in the comments.
20. Super Bowl 40
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The Matchup:This game was billed as ‘Ben Roethlisberger leads the historically spectacular Pittsburgh Steelers defense against nearly unstoppable Shaun Alexander’. The Steelers D was great as usual, they allowed 284 yards per game over the regular season (good for 4th in the NFL). What gets lost is how solid the Seattle Seahawks defense was all year despite having only Pro Bowler on that side of the ball. The defensive line where that Pro Bowler resided (Bryce Fisher) collected 50 sacks, which led the NFL.
The Game: The game wasn’t very close, it made the top 20 is because this Steelers defense was one of the best the Steelers ever fielded, which is saying something
Notable Steelers Defensive Players: Joey Porter, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Clark Haggans and Larry Foote
Notable Seahawks Defensive Players: Bryce Fisher
19. Super Bowl 36
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The Matchup: Remember when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots weren’t perennial favorites to win the Super Bowl every year? How about when Bill Belichick relied on defense to win a game, not a high-powered offense? Against the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ St. Louis Rams the Pats were a monster underdog. Their defense was hopelessly “outgunned” by the spectacle of Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce, but don’t forget the Rams defense, which was 3rd in the league in yards allowed. Both teams sported big name players on D, especially the Pats
The Game: one of the best in recent memory; the Rams came back from a 17-3 deficit in the 4th quarter to tie it and set the stage for an Adam Vinitieri FG as time expired. New England forced 3 St. Louis turnovers [Ty Law pick 6, a fumble recovery on the Rams 40 and 3rd quarter INT] that directly led to 17 point, and the crowning of Tom Brady.
Notable Patriots Defensive Players: Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Lawyer Milloy, Vince Wilfork, Tyrone Poole, Tedy Bruschi, Otis Smith
Notable St. Louis Rams Defensive Players: Leonard Little, Grant Winstrom, London Fletcher, Dre’ Bly, Aeneas Williams, Dexter McLeon
18. Super Bowl 17
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The Match Up: In a strike shortened season the 8-1 Washington Redskins rolled thru the regular season and through the special 16 team playoff tournament. In the championship they faced off with the Miami Dolphins ‘Killer B’ defense. The Skins ran rampant in the playoffs and allowed a mere 13.5 points per game (playoffs included) after their 9 week hiatus due to the aforementioned strike.
The Game: The Redskins kept the Dolphins in this game too long because of mistakes. The Dolphins were out matched in the second half and only had the lead in the first half because of a 76 yard bomb and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Even though the Redskins didn’t take the lead until the 4th quarter, they appeared to be in control most of the way. The Redskins defense shut out the Dolphins in the second half, and Miami QB David Woodley completed only 4 of 14 passes to only 2 receivers for 97 yards. Joe Theismann also threw for less than 150 yards (143). These two defense combined for one of the most defensive oriented Super Bowl games in history
Notable Redskins: Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, Tony Mcgee, Vernon Dean Jeris White
Notable Dolphins: Bob Baumhouwer, Lyle Blackwood, Glenn Blackwood (brothers), A.J. Duhe
17. Super Bowl 30
Dallas Cowboys vs Pittsburgh Steelers
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The two most historic defensive franchises in NFL history squared off in a modern retelling of their 1970’s clashes. Both teams brought stacked defensive line-ups to the table, with all time greats on both sides of the ball. However the Dallas Cowboys had a distinct edge on offense, which proved to be the difference
The Cowboys had a lead all game, 13-7 at the half, 20-7 going into the 4th quarter. The Steelers had an honest shot when they brought it to with 3 in the 4th quarter, but the Cowboys forced QB Neil O’Donnell into two crucial interceptions in the second half (a Larry Brown pick 6 and a 4th quarter interception) that both converted to points, and sunk the Steelers late.
Notable Cowboys: Deion sanders, Darren Woodson, Larry Brown, Charles Haley, Brock Merion
Notable Steelers: Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake Willie Williams, Rod Woodson (Woodson was only activated in the Playoffs)
16. Super Bowl 5
Baltimore Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys
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Did the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys offenses both get over matched by stellar defensive play, or did both just get drunk before they played? Affectionately called the Blunder Bowl (at least the Colts are affectionate about it). These two teams combined for 11 turnovers, seven of which were made by the Colts team, including 3 interceptions. This game featured the first of many Super Bowl appearances by the Cowboys 'Doomsday Defense', which as you will see reflected in this list, were one of the finest groups ever put together.
The game was wild, sloppy, and dirty. It included 11 turnovers and a blocked extra point and a walk off field goal. In other words there was no settling down for either teams fans. Penalty flags were flying, balls were getting picked off, batted down, fumbled and blocked and a team that turned the ball over SEVEN times won and a player for the losing team won MVP. Any time a team can turn the ball over seven times and win you know the game was wild.
Notable Colts : Bubba Smith
15. Super Bowl 24
St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans
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In the first of two consecutive Super Bowl appearances by the Rams, the Greatest Show on Turf failed to impress, and were carried by their stingy defensive play. The Rams defense ranked 1st in the NFL in rush yards and rush TDs allowed, 4th in yards against and allowed only 15 points per game. Defensive Rookie of the Year Jevon Kearse's 14.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles anchored the Tennessee Titans solid defense
The game came down to final play at the 1 yard line after the Rams squandered a 16-0 lead in the 4th quarter and let the Titans tie it up. The Rams went on to win on a 73 yard pass and catch by Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce with under 2 minutes on the clock. The Titans got the ball back with 1:48 but fell a yard short on an iconic strectch for the goal line as time expired
Notable Rams: Kevin Carter and Grant Winstrom, London Fletcher, Todd Lyght, Dexter McCleon, Dre’ Bly
Notable Titans: Jevon Kearse, Eddie Robinson, Samari Rolle
14. Super Bowl 39
New England Patriots vs Philadelphia Eagles
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A New England Patriots team that still leaned more on its defense than on Tom Brady versus a Philadelphia Eagles team led by Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens. The Eagles of the early 2000’s are one of the most feared defensive units of all time, and the Patriots defense had to that point been a gutsy team full of heart. When they squared off with it turned out to be a memorable, nail biting affair that came down to the last minute.
The game was tied 14 – 14 going into the 4th quarter, Pats RBCorey Dillon slid into the endzone to take a 21-14 advantage, the Eagles came back to tie it up and the Patriots took the lead for good with 1:48 left on another Adam Vinitieri game winning field goal. The Patriots revamped secondary forced 4 Philadelphia turnovers including 3 McNabb interceptions
Notable Patriots: Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vraebl, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison
Notable Eagles: Brian Dawkins, Derrick Burgess, Corey Simon, Jevon Kearse, Jeremiah Trotter, Lito Shepard, Michael Lewis
13. Super Bowl 3
New York Jets vs Baltimore Colts
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The game will be remembered for the New York Jets’ Joe Namath’s victory guarantee in the face of an 18 point spread, but like most of the championships before 1980 this was a defensive power struggle. An interesting note: in the 4th quarter after the Baltimore fell behind 16, the Colts replaced QB Earl Morrall with a young Johnny Unitas after Morrall threw 3 picks, in a move the Colts would regret forever. Yeah, right.
The Jets pounded out a 16-0 lead entering the 4th quarter by forcing 3 interceptions and getting to Earl Morrall early and often.
Notable Jets: Gerry Philbin, Verlon Biggs, Ralph Baker, Larry Grantham
Notable Colts: Bubba Smith
12. Super Bowl 1
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The first Super Bowl featured the first great defensive match up between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. Vince Lombardi led Bart Starr and their smothering D against Len Dawson and the Chiefs brilliant offense.
The game was 14-10 at halftime, but the Packers shut out the Chiefs in the second half and added 21 points in the first Super Bowl example that defense does in fact win championships.
Notable Packers: Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Herb Adderly
Notable Chiefs: Jerry Mays, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, Johnny Robinson, Bobby Hunt
11. Super Bowl 35
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This game featured a good (on paper) defensive matchup between the historic Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens are arguably the best defensive team of all time. They allowed the fewest points in a season all time (165), the fewest rushing yards against (970) and presented a who’s who of all pro defensive players. The reason this game didn’t make it further up this list is because it was a total blowout, so much so that the game isn’t even worth the summary.
The game was Ray Lewis and company making Kerry Collins look overmatched all game. For reference, the only time the Giants scored was on a kickoff return. When the Giants kicked the ball back the Ravens ran it right back, totally negating the quick 7 New York put up
Notable Ravens: Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Michael McCrary, Rod Woodson, Chris McAlister
Notable Giants: Michael Strahan, Cornelius Griffin, Jessie Armstead, Jason Sehorn
10. Super Bowl 4
Kansas City Chiefs vs Minnesota Vikings
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These two tough defenses would start the decade with smothering, hard hitting defensive play that was displayed all throughout the 1970s. The Minnesota Vikings “Purple People Eater” defense was just beginning against Chiefs D that had been playing at high level for the better part of a decade. Both teams led their league in points against, and both featured tremendous defensive lines.
The Minnesota Vikings came in favored by 12 points but never really had a chance, as the Chiefs jumped onto a 16-0 halftime lead and traded a TD a piece in the second half
Notable Chiefs: Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Jerry Mays, Aaron Brown, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas and Johnny Robinson
Notable Vikings: Gary Larsen, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Bobby Bryant, Earsell Mackbee, Paul Krause
9. Super Bowl 8
Miami Dolphins vs Minnesota Vikings
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This game reinforced just how good the Miami Dolphins and their "No Name Defense" were from 1971-1974. They made 3 straight Super Bowl appearances (this being the third). They lost the first, had a perfect season during the second, and in this they came out and snacked on the “Purple People Eaters”.
The game wasn’t close, the Dolphins took a 24-0 lead into the 4th quarter and showed just how good their defense was. LB Nick Buoniconti contributed a touchdown and 3 fumbe recoveries to his MVP performance
Notable Dolphins: Nick Buoniconti, Dick Anderson, Jake Scott, Bob Matheson, Manny Fernandez
Notable Vikings: Gary Larsen, Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Bobby Bryant
8. Super Bowl 20
Chicago Bears vs New England Patriots
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The Chicago Bears were regarded as the best defense of all time until the 2000 Ravens showed up and clouded the argument. They allowed the fewest points in NFL history. The Patriots defense was nothing to sneeze at either, ranking 5th in the league in yards against and only allowed 14 passing TDs all year. If you are wondering why the Bears ranked higher than the 2000 Ravens here are my reasons: 1. This team set the stage for modern Defenses, and were the gold standard for 15 years before Baltimore. 2. On paper the 85-86 Pats were better than the 2000 Giants. 3. This is my world, you just live in it
The Bears took no time to prove exactly why their defense will be remembered forever. They stomped through the playoffs, shutting out two consecutive opponents on their way to a 91-10 scoring margin in the three games.
Notable Bears: Mike Singletary, William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry, Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson, Wilbur Marhall, Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, Dave Deurson
Notable Patriots: Andre Tippet, Steve Nelson, Raymond Clayborn, Fred Marion
7. Super Bowl 12
Dallas Cowboy vs Denver Broncos
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The 1978 Super Bowl the Dallas Cowboys “Doomsday Defense”, which is by many reports one of the greatest defensive units to ever grace the football field and was stacked with All Pro talent against the Denver Broncos also defense nicknamed “Orange Crush”. Though the Broncos didn’t have the star power of Dallas (zero future Hall of Famers) the Broncos D was good for 10.6 ppg, and only allowed more than 14 only once before the impending Super Bowl.
The Cowboys as they have so often done, beat down the Orange Crush in the title game, they were up 20-3 at one point. The writers wanted to name the entire Doomsday Defense as the MVP, but settled on Randy White and Harvey Martin, who combined for 5 turnovers.
Notable Cowboys: Harvey Martin, Jethro Pugh, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Randy White, Aaron Kyle
Notable Broncos: Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Lyle Alzado
6. Super Bowl 25
New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills
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Super Bowl 25 featured the New York Giants assault team of a defense against the Buffalo Bills. Despite losing 4 Super Bowls in a row the early 90's Bills should be remembered as one of the great teams of all time, and also the least clutch team in professional sports. The champion Giants, coached by Bill Parcells ranked second in the league in yards and 1st in points against. They went up against a Bills team that featured the Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith.
The game went back and forth, and included a safety by Bruce Smith. The Giants took the lead late in the 4th quarter on a field goal and hung on. Frankly, the Giants should have lost. The Giants took the lead late and then poor Bills kicker Scott Norwood went “Wide Right!” on a chip shot field goal as time expired. The poor guy probably still gets death letters in the mail.
Notable Giants: Lawrence Taylor, Greg Jackson, Everson Walls, Pepper Johnson, Erik Howard, Reyna Thompson, Myron Guyton
Notable Bills: Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett
5. Super Bowl 6
Dallas Cowboy vs Miami Dolphins
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This game became more historic as time kept ticking, as these two teams (not necessarily from this season) are remembered as two of the best squads ever assembled. Super Bowl VI pitted the Cowboys historic “Doomday” D against the Dolphins “No Name Defense”. Though Dallas won big don’t feel bad for Miami, they went on to a perfect 1972 season and won the next two Super Bowls (72,73). The Dolphins won their first ever playoff game in this season by beating the Super Bowl IV champion Chiefs in overtime. Going into Super Bowl VI the Doomsday Defense had given up only one touchdown in its previous 25 quarters. When legendary Dallas coach Al Landry was asked about the Dolphin D he couldn’t remember any of their names, and thus accidentally started the moniker “No Name Defense” that would follow the Dolphins through a perfect season and two titles.
The game was 10-3 at half and that was as close as it would get as the Cowboys proved too much for the Dolphins. Fun fact, Miami went on to win the next 18 games they played (they lost in week 2 of the 1973 season).
Notable Cowboys: Bob Lilly, Chuck Howell, Dave Edwards, Lee Roy Jordan, Herb Adderley, Mel Renfro
Notable Dolphins: Jake Scott, Nick Buoniconti
4. Super Bowl 13
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys
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In the first ever Super Bowl rematch these two teams lived up to the billing, as this was one of the most entertaining Super Bowl ever played. The Pittsburg Steelers ‘Steel Curtain’ defense had a few new faces since their last title, but were still good for the stingiest D in the NFL. They allowed 195 total points, were second against the run and allowed 107.8 ypg, and were 3rd in yards against with 4,529. The Doomsday Defense came in with the top D against the run with 107.6 ppg (0.2 better than the Steelers), second in yards against (4,009) and 3rd in points allowed (208). Don’t let the high score fool you, these two D’s are all time greats
It was an entertaining game, there were 2 ties, 3 lead changes, and oddly enough lots of offense. The Steelers took at 35-17 lead in the 4th quarter and held on after the Cowboys scored two straight TDs but came up short.
Notable Steelers: “Mean” Joe Green, L.C. Green, Steve Furness, John Banaszak, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Loren Toews, Ron Johnson, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Mike Wagner
Notable Cowboys: Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Larry Cole, Randy White, Harvey Martin, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Bob Breunig, D.D. Lewis, Benny Barnes, Aaron Kyle, Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris
3. Super Bowl 7
Miami Dolphins vs Washington Redskins
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This was Miami’s second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, and they were undefeated, but the odds makers still favored the Washington Redskins. Stupid odds makers. Should have listened to Mercury Morris. Miami’s “No Name Defense” controlled the game, scoring a TD in each of the first two quarters
The 14-7 win completed the only perfect season ever. The Redskins wouldn’t have even scored if it wasn’t for the play remember as “Garo’s Gaffe”. The Dolphins wanted a story book ending, they attempted a field goal late in the 4th quarter to try and win their 17th game by 17 points. The football gods laughed, and the kick was blocked, kicker Garo Yepremian scooped up the ball and tried to save the play with a pass, fumbled, then had it returned for a TD.
Notable Dolphins: Nick Buoniconti, Jake Scott
Notable Redskins: Chris Hanburger, Pat Fischer, Mike Bass
2. Super Bowl 9
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings
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The vaunted Steel Curtain D against the Purple People eaters was exactly the defensive cage match it was expected to be. Both offenses couldn’t get any momentum going, and the game could have gone either way. Two of the greatest defensive units of all time showed just why history remembers their dominance.
The Steelers went into halftime with a 2-0 lead (first safety in Super Bowl history) and scored two TD’s off special teams turnovers (fumbled kickoff, blocked punt return). Could this Super Bowl had ended 6-2 Vikings without the special teams gaffes? Yeah, it could have, these two defense were among the best ever.
Notable Steelers: L.C. Greenwood, Joe Green, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, J.T. Thomas, Mel Blount, Mike Wagner, Glen Edwards
Notable Vikings: Carl Eller, Doug Sutherland, Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Roy Winson, Jeff Siemon, Wally Hilgenberg, Jackie Wallace, Nate Wright, Jeff Wright, Paul Krause
1. Super Bowl 10
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Dallas Cowboys
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Arguably the best Super Bowl ever played between two of the best defenses of all time. The Steel Curtain was going for back to back titles while the Cowboys were going for their second overall title (other title was in 1972). The Steelers showed up with 8 defensive Pro Bowl starters. L.C. Greenwood went for 4 sacks and the Steelers cemented themselves as the greatest defense of all-time
The game was a classic. 10-7 Steelers at the half, and the same score held going into the 4th quarter. In the 4th the Steelers blocked a punt for a safety, kicked 2 field goals and bombed a pass to Lynn Swann for a TD to make it 21-10. The Cowboys answered back with a late score but the Steelers proved to be too much to handle both offensively and defensively.
Notable Steelers: L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Mel Blount, J.T. Thomas, Glen Edwards, Mike Wagner
Notable Cowboys: Ed Jones, Larry Cole, Jethro Pugh, Harvey Martin, Dave Edwards, Lee Roy Jordan, D.D. Lewis, Mel Renfro, Mark Washingto, Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris