The preseason is over, rosters have been cut down and every team in the league is tied for a spot in the postseason. But that’s 17 weeks away. Right now, we welcome the start of the NFL regular season, which will finally get underway on Thursday evening when the Carolina Panthers face the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl rematch.
The Panthers finished last season with a 15-1 record and went into the postseason as heavy favorites to take home the Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos made it in on the back of a superb defense while starting quarterback Peyton Manning struggled through his final season in the league. But Denver was not expected to contain league MVP Cam Newton for long enough to eke out the win.
Then the game started, and the Panthers looked lost while the Broncos dominated on defense, paving the way for the 24-10 win.
Manning has since retired, and his former backup, Brock Osweiler, is with the Houston Texans. Now, the Broncos are rolling with first-time starter Trevor Siemian as their No. 1 quarterback. won the three-way quarterback battle in the preseason, beating out Mark Sanchez (who was later released and signed by the Dallas Cowboys) and rookie Paxton Lynch. So far, Siemian's only regular season action in the NFL has been taking a knee.
While Manning vs. Newton dominated the Super Bowl headlines, Siemian vs. Newton is a, well, slightly underwhelming matchup. But at least the Broncos managed to retain all-world linebacker Von Miller in the free agent fray, even if the contract negotiations got a bit contentious.
The narrative may have changed and one team — the Broncos — looks different than it did before, but the odds still favor the Panthers. Ron Rivera’s team entered last season with expectations of being a decent team with the best shot of winning a mediocre NFC South, and they overachieved in a big way.
This year, there are real expectations from the get-go. A strong ground game will likely be key to victory for the Panthers. That starts with with Newton, one of the league’s best running quarterbacks, and Jonathan Stewart, a veteran back entering his ninth season with the Panthers.
Carolina still doesn't have a game-breaking group of receivers, and in the Super Bowl, the Broncos excelled at simply taking away Newton’s time to throw. The receivers were unable to get open fast enough, and Newton was sacked six times, and coughed up the football three times. Still, the Panthers have No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin back after he sat out last year with a torn ACL, so there is a legitimate threat in the passing game.
But Stewart should be in for a heavy workload, and coming off a 989-yard, six-touchdown season, he’ll be itching to get started. Taking advantage of a potentially overaggressive Broncos defense could be the best path to victory for the Panthers on Thursday.
Thursday’s game will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET. It isn’t a typical Thursday Night Football game and will instead carry the Sunday Night Football branding, because the NFL is silly and so are the networks that broadcast it. NBC has the coverage for the game, with a live stream available via NBC Sports or on NFL Sunday Ticket.
Below is all the information you need to watch Thursday’s season opener.
How to watch Panthers vs. Broncos on Thursday
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
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