The 2016 season kicks off in earnest on Thursday with a rematch of Super Bowl 50, as the visiting Carolina Panthers look to exact revenge against the defending champion Denver Broncos. With future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning embracing retirement, second-year player Trevor Siemian won an impromptu quarterback competition with first-round pick Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez to claim the starter’s role for Denver in the season opener.
“Trevor is the guy,” general manager John Elway said of Siemian, whose lone NFL action last season resulted in a kneel-down versus Pittsburgh. “We have a lot of confidence in Trevor and believe that he can do the job. It’s Trevor’s job, but he’s not going to be looking over his shoulder.” Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware headline a top-ranked defense that silenced Cam Newton (45 total TDs in 2015) both on and off the field in February, but the reigning league MVP was quick to speak out against the notion of Thursday’s tilt serving as a Super Bowl rematch. “A lot of people want to make it a rematch. It’s just our next opponent,” said Newton, who was stripped of the ball on two occasions and sacked a Super Bowl high-tying seven times in a 24-10 decision in February.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (2015: 15-1, first place in NFC South): Kelvin Benjamin was a spectator throughout the 2015 season after tearing his ACL, but the 6-foot-5 wide receiver will be on the field for the opener – albeit for approximately 35 snaps, according to the Charlotte Observer. “I think that’s the best guess,” coach Ron Rivera told the newspaper of Benjamin, who has been working on his conditioning. “If it is more, great. I’d be really excited about it. He’s done some really good things and you see him getting back into stride and that’s probably the best thing.” Tight end Greg Olsen, veteran Ted Ginn (team-high 10 touchdowns) and promising second-year wideout Devin Funchess return in the passing game, while rugged Jonathan Stewart (club-best 989 rushing) will look to aid in the ground attack.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (2015: 12-4, first place in AFC West): Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos in receptions (105) and receiving yards (1.304) and tied Emmanuel Sanders in receiving touchdowns (six) last season, but was limited to just one catch for eight yards in the Super Bowl. Thomas will look for a better individual performance versus Carolina as he will likely be shadowed by rookie cornerbacks as opposed to Pro Bowler Josh Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington in the offseason. Denver would love to get more out of its running game this season as C.J. Anderson (720 yards) struggled throughout the early stages before capping his tumultuous campaign with 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl 50.
1. Denver has emerged victorious in 15 of its last 16 home openers for a .938 winning percentage, tops in the NFL during that time.
2. Carolina LB Luke Kuechly had a club-best 10 tackles in Super Bowl 50 and had a team-leading 118 during the regular season.
3. Thursday’s contest will mark the first time in NFL history that the season will open with teams that squared off in the Super Bowl.
PREDICTION: Panthers 17, Broncos 13