NFL Kickoff Preview: Panthers at Broncos


Happy NFL Kickoff Day!  There’s no better way to start off the best sport on earth than with a rematch of the Super Bowl.  The Panthers will travel to Denver in hopes of spoiling the Broncos first chance to prove that they still belong among the elite teams in football.  Cam Newton and the Panthers have been ready for a chance at redeeming their offensive performance back in February.  Get ready for the start of the NFL season right here with this preview.

Could Benjamin’s Return Spark Panthers Offense Even More?

Many are talking about how Jordy Nelson’s return will spark the Packers offense, but Kelvin Benjamin can do the same for the Panthers.  Cam Newton and company were the highest scoring offense a year ago, and now, with the same pieces intact, you add a 6’5″ receiver in the mix who had 1,000 yards in his rookie season.  How do they not improve on this side of the ball?  Ted Ginn was a deep threat last season, but his hands are nowhere close to Benjamin’s.  Greg Olsen was a very good red zone last season, but he isn’t as big as Benjamin is.  The fact that Carolina brings back a capable number one guy this season should scare lots of teams.

Can Trevor Siemian Lead The Broncos?

All the talk surrounding the Broncos in the offseason was about quarterback play.  Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset after the Super Bowl 50 win, and Brock Osweiler decided to ride off as well, only his ride led him to the Houston Texans to the tune of $18 million per season.  The Broncos were left to find a new leader under center.  Drafting Paxton Lynch was certainly a move for the future, but they needed someone for the short term as well.  Mark Sanchez was brought to town via a trade with the Eagles, but he ended up losing the camp battle to Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Now, here we sit, waiting for the first start for Siemian.  The Broncos staff and players continue to say they believe in what he can do, even commenting that he can make all the throws.  Tonight, he will have a chance to prove it.  CJ Anderson should be able to take some pressure off of him, but ultimately, Siemian will have to move the Broncos down the field.  He has Sanders and Thomas to throw to, and with inexperienced corners playing for Carolina tonight, the job might be a little easier for him.  The front seven of Carolina is very talented, so Siemian will need to be very smart with his throws to get past this defense.

Will The Weakness At Corner Show?

Carolina took a big blow in the offseason by letting Josh Norman walk.  Their secondary was questioned plenty before that occurred, as thrashings by Drew Brees and Eli Manning will show.  Now, the Panthers will start the season with two rookies on the outside.  Second rounder James Bradberry and third rounder Daryl Worley will not have an easy task tonight, as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are one of the better duos in the league.  Carolina will probably be able to drop plenty of guys into coverage thanks to their outstanding defensive line.  But, when they send the occasional blitz, the rookies will be left out on an island.  Will they be able to handle the pressure?  Time will tell.

Is This The Same Defense As Last Season?

The Broncos had one of the best defensive seasons in recent memory last year, including a dominant postseason run.  Everyone is wondering whether this team has enough pieces left to still be a contender in the AFC.  Malik Jackson departed for Jacksonville.  Danny Trevathan is a Bear now.  They have gotten a little thinner at safety and on the interior defensive line.  But, I am here to tell you that Broncos fans aren’t worried, and for good reason.  Von Miller is still one of the best defensive players in the league, and the fact that DeMarcus Ware is still paired with him is a big deal.  Derek Wolfe was a very key piece to the defensive line last year, and he is back.  Second year player Shane Ray should get more time on the field, and he has the talent to start on this defense.  Shaquil Barrett is an up and coming pass rusher.  Brandon Marshall is just as good as Trevathan was last season.  And, of course, how can we forget about the best corner group in the league?  There isn’t a group in the entire league I would take over Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby.  So, as you can see, Denver still has the pieces to be a top five defense again this year, and they should give Cam Newton fits once again.

Matchup To Watch: The Trenches

The trenches will again be the focus of this game, as it was back in February.  Whoever can stave off the opposing defensive line more will win this game.  The Broncos have to be able to run the ball in this game to take pressure off of Trevor Siemian.  If the Panther defensive line shuts down the run game, Siemian could panic in the pocket, resulting in numerous turnovers.  Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, and first round pick Vernon Butler can all wreak havoc on opposing lines.    On the other side of things, the Panthers have to protect Cam Newton.  The issue with this is that Denver returns most of its front seven from last season, and the Panthers did not bother drafting an impact player at offensive tackle.  It could be as bad as it was in the Super Bowl, with Von Miller and company manhandling Carolina’s line.  Cam Newton needs to stay upright for the Panthers to have a chance tonight.

The Result

I made the mistake of doubting Denver’s defense in my Super Bowl prediction, and I will not do it again.  Despite the losses of a couple key starters, the most important parts of their defense are still here.  It isn’t often you have three stud cornerbacks and an elite pass rushing group on the same team, but GM John Elway got the job done in keeping everyone he could, even at the expense of the quarterback position.  They proved it could be done last season, so why not tonight?  The Panthers do get Kelvin Benjamin back, but it won’t be enough against the stingy Broncos defense.  I fully expect Cam to be running for his life at times, with the pass rush being too much for the Panthers’ offensive line.  On the other side of the ball, it will be tough for the Broncos to get the run game going, as I expect the Panthers to make Siemian beat them.  The issue for Carolina, and it will be one all season long, is their talent in the secondary.  I don’t know if the rookies can handle the test they are about to receive tonight.  I believe what the Broncos staff says about Trevor Siemian, and that he can make enough throws to win this game.  He won’t have a perfect night (Luke Kuechly is bound to pick a pass off, right?), but the key is doing just enough, and as a whole, the Broncos will be enough as a unit tonight.

Broncos 20, Panthers 16

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