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Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos Point Spread - Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
NFL Week 1
Date/Time: Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
TV: NBC
by Scott, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: CAR -3/DEN +3
Over/Under Total: 42

The Carolina Panthers come to Mile High to face the Denver Broncos in week one Thursday Night Football action to kick off the 2016 NFL Football season. It’s a rematch of Super Bowl 50, when the Denver Broncos beat the Panthers, 24-10. Carolina returns loaded for another run at Bowl glory. Denver has a new look on offense, but are hoping their dominant defense can return to form again this season, in which case, they would become solid contenders once again.

The Broncos are in a bit of an unusual spot, being that you don’t see a lot of defending Super Bowl champion turn over the keys to the team to a 7th-round quarterback in his second season who only has one snap’s worth of NFL experience. But Trevor Siemian was able to rise to the occasion and earn the gig. The former Northwestern standout was slated for the bench, as it was widely assumed that Mark Sanchez or maybe first-round pick Paxton Lynch would be the choice. No one was really picking Siemian, but once training camp got underway, the people in the know noticed that not only was Siemian the choice, but that he was a clear choice. He earned the gig in somewhat obvious fashion. Hats off for that. Now we’ll see if he can translate that to on-the-field results.

On one hand, it’s alarming to have Siemian in there, but how critical was quarterback play to the overall success of the team anyway? It’s the only thing that has changed to some extent, save for a few other moves that usually won’t render a team a diminished form of themselves. Watching the Broncos get to and win the Super Bowl, it wasn’t because of a great QB. Granted, the cerebral approach of Manning and the fact that he’s like a coach on the field was worth something and they now lose that. But you can’t help but notice that when the Broncos stopped putting it all on the quarterback, they were able to get over the hump and win the Bowl. So maybe it’s not so cataclysmic for Siemian to be behind center. A few years ago when Denver’s success was dependent on a high-flying offense, it would have been, but now maybe he can keep this machine moving forward.

A Super Bowl hangover is a real thing, especially with teams like Denver where there is an extended road to glory. They were knocking on the door for several seasons and finally reached the mountaintop. It’s a little different than when a team just pops up out of nowhere and wins the Bowl. When it’s something within your grasp for a prolonged amount of time and you finally achieve it, the result can be a deflated group still basking in the afterglow and not in the “present.”

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Strictly from a personnel standpoint, though, Denver’s supposed coming down to earth might not be as pronounced as some think. Offensively, running back CJ Anderson returns and rookie Devontae Booker has made his presence known in camp and will get some looks. Two proven producers in the aerial game remain with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman (questionable) should combine to make a formidable 1-2 punch at tight end. And the line actually looks better! They added Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung up-front. Siemian isn’t coming into all that bad of a situation.

Denver’s calling card in 2015 was the “D.” Losing Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan isn’t going to help, but everyone else returns. Von Miller signed a big deal and at times last season, it was clear he was the best player on the field. DeMarcus Ware is questionable, but still able to rush the passer with aplomb. Adam Gotsis should fill the void left by Jackson well. Brandon Marshall is still a menace in the middle. And with top corner duo Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, dime corner Bradley Roby, along with safeties TJ Ward and Darian Stewart, their secondary is one of the best in the business.

Even though they lost the Super Bowl, there is more overall optimism with Carolina heading into the new season. Cam Newton has morphed into a true top quarterback in this league—something that took a lot of work and a lot of improvement. He took a team ranked 19th in scoring in 2014 and made them the league’s top-scoring group last season. All his weapons return, with some even coming back into the fold. His aerial package looks to get better with the return from injury of Kelvin Benjamin—the tall and talented receiver who had 1000 yards in his rookie season before missing all of last year. He will join one of the more-productive and overlooked targets in the game with tight end Greg Olsen. They have a stocked cast of role guys, with Corey Brown, Ted Ginn, Jr. and burgeoning receiver Devin Funchess.

One of the key and neglected reasons for Carolina’s ascent to the top of the conference last season was their play up-front. It was key in helping spring a run-game, with Jonathan Stewart having a productive season. They all return.  Guard Trai Turner really took it to another level last season, while veteran tackle Michael Oher had a real resurgence in 2015. Will they be able to stay on point to give Carolina a chance to return to the big dance in 2017?

You have to feel for Denver QB Trevor Siemian, as this Carolina “D” can make for a pretty intimidating NFL debut. It’s not that you can’t move the ball against them, but they are a hard-hitting group that can really get into an opposing quarterback’s head. If Von Miller is the best defensive player in the league, Luke Kuechly isn’t far behind and with Thomas Davis, they are a huge 1-2 punch in the middle. The line saw a lot of growth last year, with Kawann Short really coming into his own. Kony Ealy (questionable) made some huge plays, especially in the postseason. Star Loutelelei is a major factor inside and they add Vernon Butler in the draft. This part of the team is really coming along. If this defense faces any questions, it’s with the secondary—namely with the loss of star corner Josh Norman. They’re still strong with Bene Benwikere at corner with safeties Kurt Coleman (8 picks in ’15) and Tre Boston. But will they at least be slightly more-exploitable through the air this season? Maybe.

There are a lot of things to factor in for this game—almost too many. Carolina is the more constant variable in this equation. With Denver, we’re not sure what to expect. Will their QB situation, Super Bowl hangover, or changes in team chemistry render them a spent force from last year’s team? Or will second-year coach Kubiak use the fact that no one is showing the defending champions respect as motivation to galvanize this team for one more big run? At the end of the day, this is pretty much the same defense that held Carolina to very little in the biggest game of their lives. At home, I see the Denver defense playing a big role in this result, as the Broncos emerge with the cover.

Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Denver Broncos plus 3 points.

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