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In the NFL “offensive balance” means throwing the ball a lot

Green Bay Packers Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The 2020 NFL season is down to the final four competitors, with the conference championship games set for next Sunday For fans who wish to see a championship won with the run game and a defense, the football viewing over the remainder of the season may not be to their liking. The matchups in both conferences feature a pair of teams that like to air it out and are pass-first offensively.

The matchups, of course, are:

NFC Conference Championship: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers
AFC Conference Championship: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs

So, as the Seattle Seahawks continue their search for a new offensive coordinator following the parting of ways with Brian Schottenheimer in the wake of the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Lombardi this season will go to a team that not only passes often, but which passes efficiently.

To that point, when it comes to passing efficiency as measured by net yards per attempt ((passing yards minus sack yards) divided by (pass attempts plus sacks taken)), all four remaining teams are near the top of the league:

  • Green Bay (2nd)
  • Kansas City (3rd)
  • Buffalo (4th)
  • Tampa Bay (9th)

As noted, however, the playoff teams remaining were not only effective when they passed, they passed often. In terms of raw passing rates on early downs (first and second down) during the first three quarters of games, the four remaining playoff teams were all in the top 20 in the NFL:

  • Kansas City (1st)
  • Buffalo (2nd)
  • Tampa Bay (3rd)
  • Green Bay (20th)

Some fans may attempt to argue that the Packers being 20th in this category is an argument in support of building an offense around the run game, however, the ranking of Green Bay in this category is a bit misleading. The reason for this is that the Cheeseheads were so dangerous throwing the ball that much of their running was done when the outcome of the game was not in doubt. Specifically, when looking at games where the winning percentage for the two teams fell between 20 percent and 80 percent, the Packers were far higher in the rankings during the regular season (data courtesy of, as created and maintained by former Field Gulls contributor Ben Baldwin):

  • Kansas City (2nd)
  • Buffalo (3rd)
  • Tampa Bay (6th)
  • Green Bay (8th)

So, with the 2020 Super Bowl winner set to be one of the teams in the top quarter of the league in terms of early down passing, is that something new or is it a trend? Well, here’s how past Lombardi winners finished in the regular season rankings during the Russell Wilson era:

2012: Baltimore Ravens (27th)
2013: Seattle Seahawks (24th)
2014: New England Patriots (3rd)
2015: Denver Broncos (10th)
2016: New England Patriots (13th)
2017: Philadelphia Eagles (5th)
2018: New England Patriots (10th)
2019: Kansas City Chiefs (1st)

In short, the last team that didn’t pass at an above average rate on early downs and went on to win the Super Bowl was the Seahawks during the 2013 season, and since then every champion has come in above the median in that category.

It’s almost as if the league adjusted the enforcement of its rules that favored passing offenses in wake of the success of the Legion of Boom.