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Panthers vs. Broncos 2016 picks: Experts think Carolina will win opener

It's not unanimous, but most experts picking for Thursday's regular season opener think the Panthers will come out on top.

Sunday Night Football is set for ... Thursday night, as the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos will open the season against the Carolina Panthers at home. Carolina is the team that was favored to win the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record, but Denver left the field as champions on the back of a stout defense led by Von Miller.

Miller will again likely need to shoulder a heavy load if the Broncos are to win on Thursday. They're starting Trevor Siemian at quarterback, and try as they might this offseason, they could not keep all of the players who helped them win the Super Bowl. Miller and the Broncos succeeded by stymieing Cam Newton and getting to him well before his lackluster group of receivers were able to get open.

This time, though, the Panthers have Kelvin Benjamin, a legitimate No. 1 receiver who was injured all of last season. With Benjamin in the lineup and a healthy Jonathan Stewart at the running back position, the Panthers are going to be that much harder to stop.

Meanwhile, Carolina's defense looks just as good as it did a season ago. Ron Rivera's team was strong on both sides of the ball last year, but in 2014 the Panthers finished with a losing record, and the thought that 2015 was a one-off anomaly could potentially have some merit.

The experts don't seem convinced of that, however. The majority of the panel at ESPN is siding with the Panthers on the road Thursday night. Over at CBS Sports, five of the eight experts think the Panthers will win it, leaving the other three picking the defending champs.

Here at SB Nation, it's a similar spread, with the majority choosing Carolina:

Game RVB Stephen White Thomas George Jeanna Thomas Adam Stites Tyler Tynes Louis Bien Joel Thorman Fooch OddsShark Computer
CAR vs DEN CAR CAR CAR CAR CAR CAR CAR DEN DEN DEN

Only Joel Thorman, Fooch and the OddsShark Computer think the Broncos will win, while the other seven experts are going with last year's regular season champions. Thursday's game between the two teams is set for 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Recapping the entire 2015 NFL season