As we move closer to SB 50, I have looked at all kinds of numbers for the Panthers and Broncos and noticed how "defense wins Super Bowls" has become a popular notion. Is that statement valid and should we apply this idea when placing NFL picks?
Can defense win championships? Answering this question saying yes might make sense after witnessing the smothering performance of the Broncos defense in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, which knocked Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions out of the playoffs. Brady was sacked four times and hit a season-high 23 times by the Denver pass rush, with New England managing to score only 18 points.
Defense In Recent Super Bowls
The last 10 Super Bowls featured five teams that finished the regular season among the top 10 in total defense, and those five teams went a combined 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS. The only team that didn't cover the spread was the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Going into the Super Bowl with a great defense will give your team a great chance to win. Since 1996, seven Super Bowls have featured a team with a defense that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in points allowed, and those teams went 6-1.
Having a defense that's ranked above the one from your opponent doesn't guarantee a win. What teams need are truly special defensive units, not just a better defensive ranking. Keep in mind that teams with better regular season defenses than their opponents went 2-7 in the last nine Super Bowls.
Defense Can Make a Difference
The Denver Broncos are the best example of how a solid defense can be a game-changer, after all, this is a team that struggled to score all season, averaging just 22.2 points per game in the regular season (18th in the NFL).
The Denver Broncos finished the regular season as the top ranked defense with 283.1 total yards per game, and fourth in points allowed at 18.5 points per game. The Broncos also finished the regular season first in interceptions and sacks.
Opposing quarterbacks have struggled against the Denver defense, as the Broncos have generated pressure on them on 35 percent of dropbacks (the highest percentage in the NFL). One of the keys to win Super Bowl 50 for the Broncos will be their ability to generate pressure without blitzing Cam Newton, who has a 118.1 passer rating when blitzed and just a 68.0 passer rating when pressured without a blitz.
Having a very good defense does help beat the Super Bowl odds, and the Panthers and Broncos certainly qualify as capable teams on that side of the ball, but It's also worth noting that some offenses simply struggle at the wrong time, like the 2001 Rams or the 2014 Broncos.
Regardless of who wins Super Bowl 50, the whole "defense wins championships" debate will continue. That idea could be reinforced with a Broncos victory because holding a Cam Newton-led offense down would be an extraordinary achievement.
But what happens to the whole "best defense wins" notion if the Panthers win? Before placing your NFL picks, don't forget that since 1995, no Super Bowl finalist has struggled offensively during the regular season as much as this Broncos team.
Defense may help win championships, it can't be denied, but it’s certainly a lot easier to earn a victory when your opponent's offense is poor.