Tucked in 1960s American history between the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and Neil Armstrong on the moon there came something in sports called the “Super Bowl.” The NFL championship game was rebranded as such 53 years ago.
Now, for the first time since, the four finalists to raise the trophy have something in common that, hard to believe, has never happened before. It might just be some mathematical anomaly. Might be pure coincidence. But instead it feels more like a confirmation, like proof, of an undeniable trend in football.
And it is something the Miami Dolphins had better have in mind as they continue their near 20-year franchise mission to get from national irrelevance back to winning (and mattering) again.
That old bromide about defense winning championships? It has shattered like a dusty heirloom fallen from a shelf.
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Offense wins championships now. Great quarterbacks. Dynamic playmakers. Lots of points. Stopping the other guy is fine, but being the team the other guy can’t stop is even better.
So we see before us the validation in this history-making NFL final four: the first time in the Super Bowl era that the AFC and NFC Championship Games feature the top four scoring teams in the league — Kansas City Chiefs averaging 35.3 points, Los Angeles Rams 32.9, New Orleans Saints 31.5 and New England Patriots 27.3.
Poor Pats with only 27.3, right? You know the last time the Dolphins averaged that many points? It was 1984, the year a sophomore pro named Dan Marino was shattering NFL records including 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 yards.
Just like the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes did this season (50 TDs, 5,097 yards) as the most exciting young bust-out QB the league has seen since Miami’s own No. 13.
It’s funny, by which I mean not funny at all. Dolphins fans have spent years waiting for the Tom Brady era in New England to finally ebb, as if the retirement or at least sharp decline of the Fins’ longtime nemesis and roadblock would alone invite Miami’s ascension and coronation in the AFC. Now, with Brady still defying the very concept of aging at 41, along comes the Next Big Thing in Mahomes, poised to be the new longtime AFC bossman the Dolphins must figure a way around.
Opponents have spent all season failing to stop Mahomes, although a few have figured out a way to outscore him, understanding the only real attack-able weakness in his game is his own defense.
Drew Brees in New Orleans and Jared Goff in L.A. also are challenged by middling or worse defenses in terms of average points allowed. Only Brady’s Pats D (ranked seventh in points allowed) is statistically better than average.
These four teams reaching Super Bowl play-in games is proof great offense can overcome less-than-great defense. To quantify that, the Saints, Chiefs, Rams and Pats outscored their opponents by a combined 549 points, ranking first, second, third and fifth in points differential.
This brings us back around to the Dolphins’ aim as they shop for a new coach and a fresh re-start.
The new coach-in-waiting, New England’s Brian Flores, is the Pats’ linebackers coach and defensive play-caller. Most other teams filled openings with offense guys, but it’s hard to not like the pending Flores hire. As a Bill Belichick protege maybe some genius dust has fallen upon him. And he has some talent to work with, starting with Xavien Howard and last year’s top draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick.
In a league being taken over by offense, though, the defense raised Flores and newly promoted personnel boss Chris Gier must prioritize getting appreciably better with the ball. The corporate thinking is a top-five draft pick for a franchise quarterback in 2020, but that requires a lot of losing (and luck) in 2019. It might also require the capital and daring for a major tradeup.
There are parallels right now between what the Miami Hurricanes are doing and what the Dolphins should be thinking.
UM’s new head coach, Manny Diaz, is a defense guy who understands it’s the offense that most needs fixing. That’s why he just hired Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos as the Canes’ new offensive coordinator. Diaz is hoping Enos is gifted with some of that Nick Saban genius dust. And that Enos’ arrival might be soon followed by that of Jalen Hurts, the Crimson Tide’s transferring QB.
Flores, like Diaz, needs also to be the defense-oriented head coach who arrives with no greater priority than to fix the offense first.