Super Bowl 50: Strong stop units might end over run

Denver's defense is the best in the league, and Carolina's is not far behind. Analyst Mike Tierney looks at whether that will trump the Panthers' high-powered offense in Super Bowl 50.

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Over the next 10 days, we will be fed a steady stream of highlights from Super Bowls past by various media.

The vast majority will focus on touchdowns and long gains, which sends a subliminal message that offense rules.

Until recently, though, playing the Under was profitable. The Over has cashed in four of the last five, dropping the Under to 23-25 based on consensus totals. (There was none offered for the inaugural game.)

Sportsline Image
Sun 02/07 6:30 PM EST
Carolina -210 O/U 43.5
vs. Denver +180 +4.5
DEN +4.5
OVER 43.5
DEN +180

If the current total of 45 holds firm, Super Bowl 50's total would equal the lowest in over a decade, matching the figure of five years ago.

Yet I am going Under, and it is mostly -- but not entirely -- about the Broncos.

Of Peyton Manning's 11 starts, eight wound up under 45 points. Denver games have averaged 41 with the old fella shouting "Omaha" at the line of scrimmage.

More significantly, during these playoffs, the Broncos have held two potent offenses in the teens -- 16 for Pittsburgh, 18 for New England.

Rarely do you find a defense ranked at the top of the heap in rush and pass categories. Denver's yield of 3.3 yards per run was the stingiest in the league. Its 6.2-yards per pass allowance was tied for first with, you guessed it, Carolina.

Yes, the Panthers, whose dazzling offense has overshadowed how suffocating their defense can be. Supplementing their pass prevention credentials is a tie for seventh in average yield per rush. This defense has converted turnovers into seven touchdowns.

However, a TD by the "D" will be hard to come by against Manning. Though he has lost some miles-per-hour on his throws, he has tossed no interceptions in three outings since his return from injury.

As for Denver versus Cam Newton, Aqib Talib faced him nine times as an ace cornerback with Tampa Bay. If anyone knows Newton, it is Talib, and the effervescent signal caller will not be as effective as usual for that reason alone.

And you know peerless coordinator Wade (He Ain't No Bum) Phillips will concoct some blitzes to throw Newton off track.

My pick is contingent on positive injury news on both sides. Most of the banged-up players are defenders, and if they get green lights it would affirm my Under play.

For Denver, there is cautious optimism regarding safeties T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (knee). For Carolina, standout linebacker Thomas Davis has pledged to play with a broken arm and defensive end Jared Allen (foot) was a late scratch before the NFC Championship, suggesting he will be ready with the two-week break.

So, enjoy watching those fireworks-filled highlights from Super Bowls of lore. Do not lose sight of the fact that two outstanding defenses might limit such highlights in the 50th edition.

Pick: Under (45)

Mike went 27-23-3 ATS in his NFL Underdogs column this season.

SportsLine's complete coverage of Super Bowl 50

Editor's note: Lines are subject to change. At the time of filing the writer used the SportsLine numbers, which come from a Covers Consensus of major sportsbooks. 

Mike Tierney is a veteran sports analyst whose work periodically appears in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He's always on the prowl for dangerous underdogs.