Earlier this week, Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr made national headlines when he told Fox 9, “I really do believe that we have a Super Bowl-winning team this year.”
Upon reading the headline, I couldn’t help but giggle for a couple of different reasons.
First, what’s he supposed to say?
“Ah, gee, you know what? If we work really hard and a few balls bounce our way, I really do believe that we have a Wild Card team that can win a playoff game this year.”
You can tell we’re in the midst of a slow non-Aaron Rodgers-related offseason when these type of quotes are making national headlines.
Secondly, the thought that this Vikings team, as currently constructed, is worthy of a few chuckles when you put them in the same sentence as “Super Bowl-winning team.”
Before I dive into the numbers on a few different non-negotiables required of Super Bowl winners in this century: Off the top of your head, can you think of a team that reached the NFL mountaintop while keeping the training wheels on their quarterback more than the Vikings have over the past two years with Kirk Cousins? More on that to come.
After looking at the stats of every Super Bowl winner since 2000, a few trends became crystal clear.
Of the last 21 teams to win the Super Bowl, only five teams were able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy without fielding a defense that ranked in the top 10 in points allowed. Those teams were the ’06 Indianapolis Colts, ’07 New York Giants, ’09 New Orleans Saints (thanks to five Vikings turnovers in the NFC Championship Game), ’11 Giants, and ’12 Baltimore Ravens.
On the opposite side of the ball, only six teams have won the Super Bowl this century without having an offense that ranked in the top 10 in points scored. Those teams were the ’00 Ravens, ’02 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ’03 New England Patriots, ’07 Giants, ’08 Pittsburgh Steelers, and ’15 Denver Broncos.
As you might have noticed above, Super Bowl winning teams typically possess both an offense AND a defense that rank in the top 10 in points scored and points allowed. The teams that were able to accomplish that are as follows: ’01 Patriots, ’04 Patriots, ’05 Steelers, ’10 Green Bay Packers, ’13 Seattle Seahawks, ’14 Patriots, ’16 Patriots, ’17 Philadelphia Eagles, ’18 Patriots, ’19 Kansas City Chiefs, and ’20 Buccaneers. Since 2010 alone, eight of the last 11 Super Bowl champions had both a top-10 offense and defense.
As a reminder, the Vikings ranked 11th in points scored and 29th in points allowed last season. Truth be told, Mike Zimmer’s Vikings are no strangers to having both a top-10 offense and defense — as they did back in 2017 and 2019. And on the surface, one could safely assume that as long as Minnesota’s defense reclaims top-10 status and the offense improves ever so slightly this season, that has all the makings of a Super Bowl winning team, right? Not so fast, my friend.
Circling back on the question I posed earlier regarding Super Bowl-winning teams that kept the training wheels on their quarterback: A few names that immediately came to mind for me were Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Joe Flacco. Without looking at the numbers, memory tells us that those three teams won their respective Super Bowls with a game-managing quarterback, similar to what the Vikings prefer Cousins to be nowadays — despite handing out a $150 million fully guaranteed contract to the former high school choir star.
But before you go fantasizing about Cousins becoming the next game-managing quarterback to win the big one, this next set of numbers might startle you. Over the past two seasons with Cousins, the Vikings have ranked 27th and 30th across the entire league in pass attempts, making their intentions clear with Cousins — don’t lose us the game.
However, since 2000, only TWO teams have won the Super Bowl while ranking 27th or worse in pass attempts: the ’05 Steelers and ’13 Seahawks. Interestingly enough, both Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson were in their second seasons in the NFL during those years, thus justifying the limited passing volume for the young quarterbacks.
Furthermore, only three additional teams have won the Super Bowl since 2000 after ranking 21st or worse in pass attempts: the ’01 Patriots, ’04 Patriots, and ’16 Patriots. Like Roethlisberger and Wilson in ’05 and ’13, Tom Brady was also in his second year in the NFL when he led New England to the Super Bowl in ’01.
In order to be taken seriously as a team capable of winning the Super Bowl in 2021, first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak needs to take Cousins out of the kiddie pool and toss him into the deep end in order to find out, once and for all, if he sinks or swims.
Because, historically speaking, you can’t win a Super Bowl in the 21st century while trying to hide your veteran quarterback.