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Super Bowl 50 rematch between Broncos, Panthers could open 2016 season

The identity of the Broncos' season-opening opponent remains uncertain, but the Panthers and Patriots are top options.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For over a decade, the NFL has kicked off its regular season with the defending Super Bowl champion playing one of its biggest games on Thursday night. That trend continues in 2016, though the opponent for the Denver Broncos remains unclear. The most likely candidate for the first primetime contest is a rematch of Super Bowl 50 pitting the Broncos against the Carolina Panthers, according to Sports Business Daily.

Because of a fortunate twist in the schedule rotation, the four members of the AFC West play the four teams in the NFC South in 2016. That pairs the Broncos in a regular season game against the team they beat 24-10 in the Super Bowl. The game also takes place at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, making it a prime candidate for kickoff Thursday.

However, the Broncos have other marquee matchups that could convince the league to go a different direction. Sports Business Daily also reported that there has been a push to make the season opener a different rematch: Broncos vs. the New England Patriots, who lost to Denver in the AFC Championship Game.

Although it's unlikely to be another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady battle -- Manning is expected to retire this offseason -- it's still one of the bigger regular season games on paper.

Denver also has a home game with the Indianapolis Colts on the schedule and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck should be healthier in 2016. If the NFL decides not to use up one of its premier games for the opener, it could put the emerging Oakland Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr in Denver for the kickoff instead. The league tends to shy away from divisional contests, however.

Regardless, we'll find out for certain who the Broncos will play on Sept. 8 when the he league releases the regular season schedule in April.