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Super Bowl 50: Finding value in an unlikely place

The Broncos own the NFL's best defense, but the Panthers aren't far behind. Larry Hartstein analyzes both units before giving his Super Bowl pick.
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Every year in the Super Bowl, one unit tends to get overlooked.

This year the talk centers around Carolina's No. 1 scoring offense versus Denver's No. 1 scoring defense. We're also hearing plenty about Peyton Manning's last rodeo and whether the Broncos can win with a strong running game and a crafty 39-year-old field general.

We're not hearing enough about the Panthers' defense.

All they did was lead the NFL with 39 takeaways, rank second to the Broncos in Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency metric, rank third in yards-per-play allowed (5.0) and rank sixth in sacks (44).

Carolina's defense went to another level in the playoffs, racking up nine takeaways and eight sacks in beatdowns of Seattle and Arizona. The Panthers outscored those two elite opponents 55-7 in the first half before letting up.

The Broncos rode a fierce pass rush to the Super Bowl, but that was in Denver against an immobile Tom Brady who had no running game whatsoever.

Now Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and company will have to dial back their aggression or pay for it. They'll have to account for the running of Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton, plus Newton's ability to escape pressure. The matchup could not be more different than the AFC title game.

In their two playoff games, the Broncos never trailed by more than four points.

Denver was able to rely on its defense and punter, keeping Manning out of urgent passing situations. That's not likely to happen three games in a row, not against the league's most potent offense.

All that said, I can easily see Denver slowing down Carolina and keeping this a one-score game. Wade Phillips is a mastermind who will stymie Newton at times. Emmanuel Sanders is liable to bust a couple big plays.

I'd happily lay 3; that ship, however, sailed long ago. Instead of laying 6, I'm going to play the highly discounted money line.

A 6-point spread normally translates to -270 on the money line favorite; grab Carolina at -225.

With almost every recreational money line bettor backing the dog, we're getting plenty of value.

And it's the kind of play that pairs nicely with a smaller Denver +7 ticket, should that "middling" opportunity arise.

Back the team that's gone 22-2 in its last 24 games.

Pick:  Carolina money line (-225)

SportsLine's pick and projection for Super Bowl 50

Larry is 35-24-2 on NFL picks this season. This is his first money line play.

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. 

Larry HartsteinSenior Analyst