NFL Week 1 - Panthers Will Get Super Bowl Revenge Over Broncos In Kickoff Game

Von Miller Tackling Cam Newton On The Football Field

Saturday, September 3, 2016 5:44 PM GMT

Now that we have those pesky preseason games out of the way, the 2016 NFL season kicks off in style Thursday night in Denver as the Broncos host Carolina in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. The Panthers are -3 on Intertops NFL odds with a total of 42.5.

Panthers-Broncos Game Introduction
Carolina was a 4.5-point favorite for Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium with a total of 43 back on Feb. 7. But that top-rated Denver defense was the story of the game in the 24-10 upset. The Broncos held the NFL's No. 1 offense 21.3 points below its regular-season average. NFL MVP Cam Newton was just 18-for-41 passing with a pick and was sacked six times while losing two fumbles. Denver linebacker Von Miller had six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, one that led immediately to a touchdown and the other did eventually. The Broncos were terrible on offense with just 11 first downs and 194 yards but it didn't matter.

This is the first Super Bowl rematch in Week 1 of the next season since 1970 when the Vikings beat the champion Chiefs 27-10. Since the NFL started opening on Thursday night in the home of the reigning champion, the Super Bowl winner has dominated with a 10-2 record. The Broncos hosted the Kickoff Game in 2013 against champion Baltimore because MLB's Orioles were scheduled to play the same night and downtown Baltimore couldn't handle both. The Broncos crushed the Ravens 49-27. The only other reigning champion to lose this game was the host New York Giants in 2012 on a Wednesday, 24-17 to Dallas. So the home reigning Super Bowl winner hasn't lost a Kickoff Game on a Thursday yet.

Nowhere To Go But Down For Panthers, Newton?
Despite being the defending NFC champion and losing just one regular-season game in 2015, the Panthers aren't the conference favorites among Sportsbooks' NFL odds. That would be Green Bay with a healthy Jordy Nelson back at +350, followed by Seattle, a team the Panthers beat in the regular season and playoffs in 2015, at +400. The Cardinals, who were crushed by the Panthers in the NFC title game, are at +575 with Carolina. The Panthers are heavy -240 favorites to win the NFC South again. No team outside of Carolina finished above .500 last year in the division and I doubt any does in 2016.

Is it possible for Newton to improve on his MVP season? He is the +800 second-favorite to repeat, behind only Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (+425). Newton surely was the first QB taken in every fantasy draft after throwing for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 636 yards and 10 scores. The offense is pretty much back intact but welcomes a big addition -- pun intended. That's 6-foot-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine TDs as a rookie but was hurt in training camp last year and missed the season. The knock on Newton is that when he's wild he throws high. Thus having a huge target like Benjamin should only help.

The Carolina defense should again be one of the NFL's best despite withdrawing the franchise tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman and losing him for nothing. Panthers management believes it turns solid cornerbacks into very good players with a dominant front seven and that's where they wanted to focus their money. The club took Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler with its first-round pick in this year's draft and took cornerbacks in Rounds 2, 3 & 5.

Carolina was 5-3 ATS on NFL odds as the road team last year and 5-3 O/U.

Worst Starting QB For Defending Champ?
Denver's most recent Super Bowl win prior to last year was in 1998. That year's team was led by one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in John Elway, who retired on top after a second Super Bowl ring. Of course Peyton Manning, perhaps the best QB in league history (in the regular season he is), retired after Super Bowl 50 in winning his second ring (first with Colts).

In the first year post-Elway, the Broncos slid to 6-10. Their starting QB that year was a rather unheralded second-year player from a Big Ten school (Michigan) named Brian Griese. He struggled, completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 3,032 yards, 14 TDs and 14 picks for a rating of 75.6. You could make an argument that Griese was the worst starting QB in Week 1 for a defending Super Bowl champion, at least at the time in his career.

But that argument no longer holds as I think it's fair to say that second-year Bronco Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick from a Big Ten school (Northwestern), is the least-heralded Week 1 QB for a defending Super Bowl champion. Siemian, who has never taken a regular-season snap, beat out Mark Sanchez and rookie Paxton Lynch. I wouldn't say beat out as much as Sanchez struggled and Lynch isn't ready. If you were to give me an 'over/under' of eight starts this year for Siemian, I'd go under.

The Broncos are definitely going to be a running team and probably rather conservative in the passing game in the early going with Siemian. This team is going to have to win with defense, which again should be among the NFL's best despite losing key players such as end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan.

On BetOnline's NFL picks, the Broncos are given a wins total of 9, with the under a -120 favorite. They are -115 to make the playoffs and -115 to miss. I don't think they make it and actually will finish third in the AFC West. I'll be looking for Lynch around midseason.

The Broncos were 3-5 ATS at sportsbooks at home last regular season and 2-5-1 O/U.

Love the 'Under' and will give the points. The 'under' is 4-0 in Carolina's past four in Week 1 and 4-1 in Denver's past five in September.

NFL Free Picks: Panthers & Under
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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