By now the season-ending game for both teams is an afterthought unless you’re a Carolina Panthers fan, or you despise the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning is retired, the Broncos have a who’s who at the QB position, the defense has made a few changes, but the core players are still in Orange & Blue. The Panthers are still led by league MVP, Cam Newton and while they lost All-Pro CB, Josh Norman they get back the one player that might have made a difference in Super Bowl 50, Kelvin Benjamin.
You can label this game whatever you want, The Rematch, The Get Even, More of the Same, but what it is, is the first game of the NFL season.
The Panthers will travel to Sports Authority Field and will be out to prove that not only are they a better team than they showed in the SB but, last season’s 17-1 record was no fluke. The Broncos are out to prove that their team is more than a defensive juggernaut and that young QB Trevor Siemian can, not only step into Manning’s shoes, but he will be a key factor to their success.
The Broncos defense is still top-notch with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware leading the way, but will they be able to contain a determined Newton and an offense that returns their best playmaker? Thursday will be a chess match between coaches and the first quarter will be a “let me see what you can do” before the all out assault takes place.
If the Panthers can run the ball, they have a shot. In the SB the Panther rushed for 118 yards on 27 carries, but turnovers and non-conversions hurt the Panthers more than the Broncos defense did. The Broncos still have one of the best WR tandems in the NFL with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders but will Siemian be able to get them the ball is the question.
The Panthers were one of the league leaders in sacks in 2015 and with a young QB making his first start for the defending champs at home, nerves may be a problem. On the other side, the Broncos may have been the only team to frustrate Newton, so it will be well worth a watch to see if he has gotten over the embarrassment of that game or if he still has jitters going against such a stout defense.
The Broncos may have home field advantage, but it won’t matter as the Panthers will use plenty of play-action plays to keep Miller and the Broncos defense off-balance.
Panthers vs. Broncos final score: Panthers 17, Broncos 10