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Super Bowl Aftermath: Does Defense Really Win Championships?

There are adages in the NFL that old-timers, former and current players, and football purists frequently revert back to as the NFL continually becomes more complex. Chief among those adages? "Defense wins championships."

There is, of course, ample evidence to support that idea; it'd hardly be a worthwhile idea if there weren't. The Pittsburgh Steelers, arguably the most consistently excellent organization in all of professional sports, are known for tough defense. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Super Bowl winner that had a bad defense.

Yet in a battle of two solid, similar-in-style defenses in Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers sliced through that Steel Curtain like a hot knife through butter, with Aaron Rodgers doing the carving. There, again, is an old adage: you need a quarterback to win it all, and again, the supporting evidence is plenty. So which is it? Quarterback or defense? Offense or run defense, pass rushers and turnovers?

At some point, the simple truth will finally win out: you need both. Teams win Super Bowls. Not players, and not units. Teams with elite players get rings.

Last week, we compared the Buffalo Bills to both the Packers and the Steelers. The glaring difference between the teams, as many of our astute readers pointed out in those discussions, was the fact that the Packers and Steelers have elite players, whereas the Bills do not. The analysis was subjective, but it illustrates a big point: the Bills, like almost every team in the NFL, doesn't need to do much more than find a few elite players to turn around their fortunes. That's easier said than done, but it's certainly not impossible.

A good quarterback will almost always trump a good defense, but a good pass rush can really limit the severity of that trumping. If possible, an NFL team will always try to find an elite quarterback. If they can't, they'll get a quarterback "they can win with" - plenty of QBs of that caliber have won championships - and concentrate on getting elite players elsewhere. If you have elite players, no matter where they're lining up, you'll play well enough to win.

The point is this: teams of every type have won championships. Offense-heavy teams with barely-adequate, yet opportunistic defenses have rings. Defense-heavy teams with ultra-conservative offensive attacks have won it all. Every type of team in between has won, but they all had elite players. Super Bowl XLV featured two teams with glaring weaknesses - their respective offensive lines - but who got to the big game because of elite quarterbacks and rock solid defense.

The Bills, like every other NFL team right now, has goals heading into the off-season. They have positions that they want - and need - to add talent to, specific units to fortify (run defense chief among them), and their own beliefs to fulfill. As fans, we can bandy our beliefs about all we want - I'm doing that in this very column, as a matter of fact - but the simple truth is that elite players make elite teams. The Buffalo Bills need more elite players. That's what their chief focus should be as the 2011 NFL Draft approaches.