NFL 2016 Kickoff: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos – Preview and Prediction
After a long wait, the NFL regular season is finally upon us. Thursday Night Football is a bit of an appetizer for the until the main course coming on Sunday. There are also two Monday Night Football contests this week. Check back here for more analysis and picks for all of Sunday’s games and both MNF games.
It’s rare that we have a Super Bowl winner at home in a rematch against their opponents as home underdogs, but that’s exactly how things have played out for Denver and Carolina. The reigning champions will host the Panthers at Mile High on Thursday, September 7th.
At BetOnline, the Panthers are -3 (-115) and the Broncos are +3 (-105). The total is 41.5 with the standard -110 vigorish on both sides. The game opened with Carolina as a -1 favorite. Betting has been heavy on the Panthers since the odds opened. The total also opened at 44 points and is now at 41.5 at just about every shop online.
After seeing Brock Osweiler bolt to the Texans in free agency and Peyton Manning retire, the Broncos had a quarterback problem. Most might say they still have that problem. They brought in Mark Sanchez and had an open competition between rookie Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian. No one separated themselves in the preseason. Head coach Gary Kubiak announced Siemian as the starter, and the Broncos released Sanchez. He was signed by Dallas.
What do we know about Siemian? Well, by almost all accounts, he wasn’t a guy most teams considered as an NFL starter or even a backup. He’s probably the worst starting quarterback in the league at this point. He spent four years in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Same Winning Lineup
The good news is that the Broncos have most of their championship core intact, aside from Peyton Manning retiring and Osweiler heading to Houston. The offensive line was a major issue last season, despite them coming together down the stretch. This year, it looks to be more of the same.
Injuries Could Affect Them
Denver has a host of injuries on the offensive line coming into this contest. With them expected to rely on the run game even more than last year, this is of particular importance. They will be without starting right guard Ty Sambrailo and will be forced to play Michael Schofield in his spot.
They did lose some key players in their front seven in Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson, but the Broncos are still loaded up front. It’s tough to argue against them being the best unit in the league, especially after re-signing linebacker Von Miller. The same could be said for the secondary, which returned the cornerback trio of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Robey.
It has to be easier to avoid the dreaded “Super Bowl hangover” for teams that lose the big game when you’re favored in the rematch, right? Well, the Panthers hope so. Carolina comes into the season largely unchanged on offense, but a bit healthier. Defensively, it’s a mixed bag, as the secondary has been totally revamped.
Most notably absent from last year’s roster was wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who tore his in preseason last August. Benjamin won’t get a full complement of snaps Week 1, but he will suit up. Second-year receiver Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. both return, along with workhorse running back Jonathan Stewart. Oh yeah, quarterback Cam Newton is ready to rock after taking MVP honors last season.
Led by Luke Kuechly, Carolina’s front seven is a fearsome unit, especially when it comes to coverage. They’re not bad against the run either. From their base defense last season, the Panthers held other teams to no gain or a loss of yardage on 34 percent of their plays. That led the league.
Their secondary is where the questions marks begin and end. After the loss of Josh Norman to free agency and the retirement of Charles Tillman, the secondary is made up of rookies from this year’s draft.
The NFL couldn’t pick a more boring contest to start the year. Yes, it’s a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl, but there isn’t the suspense of Manning riding off into the sunset or the media frenzy surrounding Cam Newton.
Watch the Run Game
This game should be a grind it out affair. Both teams are focused on the run game as their means of attack, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them take some downfield shots early in the game to keep both defenses honest.
The under seems like the best bet in this game, but the total has already come down from 44 points. I don’t see much value there. There could also be turnovers that turn into points or a few bombs that connect that could easily push this game over.
Broncos Under Pressure
My concern is that Denver doesn’t get their run game going at all, which is entirely plausible considering the front they are facing and their problems on the o-line. If Carolina has a lead at the half and Siemian needs to air it out, that should spell trouble.
I don’t think Siemian has the talent to beat the Panthers secondary, even if it is young and relatively unknown on talent. The front seven should get plenty of pressure on him, and you can expect Kuechly and others to be disruptive in the short passing game as well.
Carolina doesn’t have to do a lot if they can force Siemian into some critical mistakes. At -3, we’re a little late to the party, but the Panthers seem to be the favorite of both the public and the sharps.