An interesting way to open the new season: A Super Bowl rematch, as the Carolina Panthers will play the Denver Broncos in the 2016 NFL season opener, coming to Mile High looking for revenge, and to take advantage of the Broncos quarterback situation.
The most unlikely of starters considering where we were only a month ago, Trevor Siemian will make his first even NFL start at QB for Denver, who began last season with Peyton Manning under center, and also had Brock Osweiler to come in for him midway through the season, maybe rescuing them before Manning went back to take over everything and win the SB against a fumbling Cam Newton, who is by far the best quarterback on the field heading into the game.
Siemian beat out Mark Sanchez, who joined the Dallas Cowboys to be a backup there. Who knew this would happen when the Broncos traded for him, in what looked like the biggest vote of confidence in a defense ever? I think going with Siemian as the day 1 starter is an even bigger approval of the defensive side, even if both the offensive line and defense overall got weaker, as a lot of this summer was about letting go of expensive veterans. Sounds a lot like the Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl win three years ago, only without a proven quarterback to help guide through the transition.
After winning the MVP last season, Newton has a whole new list of things to do to prove he’s for real. Why? That’s how it works when you don’t put up traditionally great numbers. Who knows, maybe if Kelvin Benjamin stays healthy, Newton won’t actually have to run for so many touchdowns, or put so much faith into the holey hands of Ted Ginn. Few receivers get open like Ginn, and few receivers drop the ball in comfortable situations like him.
One area of concern for the Panthers will be their secondary. Losing Josh Norman puts even more pressure on a terrific front seven, maybe the best in the NFL. The Broncos, even on the road, and even after what Denver did to the Carolina offense seven months ago, might present a perfect opportunity for Carolina to adjust into the new season: Not a terrific offensive line, with an inexperienced quarterback for their pass rushers to attack.
Newton is probably going to look a lot for Greg Olsen when he’s in trouble, facing Von Miller or anyone else. Olsen has been tremendous these last two years for the Panthers, finishing last season with 1104 yards and 7 touchdowns in the regular season. Siemian doesn’t have that good of a tight end to rely on, but throwing deep against the Panthers secondary might not be a bad idea, as he has Demaryius Thomas (105 rec, 1304 yards, 6 TD) and Emmanuel Sanders (76 rec, 1135 yards, 6 TD) to target.
Final prediction: The Panthers seem to have a slight edge thanks to being in a more comfortable place with their quarterback. This game has the potential to become a slugfest with a very low scoreline, and someone winning by a touchdown, but probably even less.