Week 1 NFL Picks: Panthers vs. Broncos & Odds and Prediction
The 2016 NFL season finally arrives with a huge Super Bowl rematch set for Thursday night between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. NFL schedule makers couldn’t have created a better setting to help kick off a new year, giving us the first Super Bowl rematch in week one since a 1970 showdown between the Chiefs and Vikings.
A lot has changed since these two teams last met and Peyton Manning hoisted his second Lombardi Trophy in a 24-10 Denver win. Manning is gone, for one, which accompanied by the departure of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in free agency left a massive hole under center for the Broncos.
John Elway shuffled his feet before taking Paxton Lynch and trading for Mark Sanchez, but despite Denver’s moves, it was 2015 holdover Trevor Siemian that rose to the top of the depth chart. A year in the system and a solid deep ball got him the gig, as he sets out to keep Denver’s offense on the tracks and help the Broncos vie for a repeat opportunity.
That journey begins immediately on Thursday night, when Siemian faces a strong Carolina defense at home with the entire nation watching.
On the flip-side, the Panthers will want their vengeance. Even if they don’t give in to the revenge talk, Carolina doesn’t want to start off the new year in an 0-1 hole, and they surely don’t want that first loss coming to the team that stole the Super Bowl from them.
The off-season moves and narratives play into Thursday night’s odds, to be sure. Siemian’s presence alone probably ends up giving the Panthers their edge over at Bovada:
Panthers vs. Broncos Spread
- Carolina -3
- Denver +3
This is not a great spread to play with, as we all can assume this is going to be a defensive battle and will probably be somewhat close. This weak line is akin to a pick’em game, where you’re really just picking your winner straight-up.
The problem here is the Broncos or Panthers probably aren’t winning by one or two points. A three-point win is very possible, but that’d just lead to an unwelcome push.
In the last meeting, Denver won by 14 in a game where the Panthers were heavily favored. Keep in mind that the Panthers absolutely are not the favorite across the board going into Thursday night. Many believe a tough road date with an elite Broncos defense is still going to be too much for Cam Newton and co. to handle.
That may be the case, but Siemian being under center could give the Panthers a huge edge, and that’s the main reason why Bovada is giving the Panthers a slight nod here.
That being said, we don’t love this spread and don’t suggest betting on it, either way. The same goes for the Money Line, which is more straight up betting and Carolina (-165) and Denver (+145) just aren’t giving you enough incentive to go hard on either side.
Bet on the Total
The Total is where you can make your money in the first NFL game of the year. It actually feels like stealing, seeing as we’re dealing with two very good defenses and two ideal situations.
Both defenses are capable of pitching shutouts – even in this very game – so a Total (set at 41 at Bovada) this low is a great spot to target. That’s especially the case given last year’s Super Bowl offered up just 34 total points. That was a pretty bad performance by Cam Newton and the Panthers, but that’s just how good this Denver defense can be. They sacked Newton seven times and really forced him into some poor decisions.
With the defense being virtually the same and the Panthers fighting back in a road game, it’s entirely plausible to expect a very similar experience for their offense. Are the Panthers for sure scoring just 10 points, turning the ball over or giving up seven sacks? No, but it’s extremely unlikely they drop 30 points or even score much over 20.
On the other side, Denver has an extremely inexperienced quarterback in Siemian. Not only is there a debate about his sheer talent level and decision-making, but this is the guy’s first ever NFL regular season start. He could shrink on this stage and it’s very possible the game gets away from him.
Even if Siemian is up to the challenge, Denver’s game plan has to be a heavy dose of C.J. Anderson and the rushing attack. That means ball control, keeping their elite defense rested, keeping Cam Newton from taking shots down the field and probably at the same time keeping this game very low-scoring.
Barring something crazy like Denver’s defense coming out and stinking up the place or Siemian pushing the pace with a barrage of passing scores, this game should be a slow, methodical slugfest. That favors the Under on a very forgiving 41 Total at Bovada tonight.
Panthers vs. Broncos Prediction
We don’t love the spread or the idea of picking straight up tonight, largely because they’re pretty much the same thing. If we’re doing the betting here, we’re 100% going after the Under on the Total and that’s it.
That being said, people enjoy their NFL betting and they’re going to want to test the waters for this game. The reality here, whether you’re betting somewhere where the Panthers are the favorites or not, logic says they shouldn’t be.
Reigning Super Bowl champions have opened the season on Thursday/Wednesday night each year since 2004 and are 10-2 in those games
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2016
History tells us that since the league has opened the season with mid-week games in 2004, the Super Bowl champ has been 10-2 when they’ve played. That bodes well for Denver, who still has that smothering defense, they still have a tough running game and they still have explosive receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
There is a very real question mark under center, but we saw Denver do everything they did in 2015 in the same state. Siemian simply needs to know his role, pick his spots and keep from imploding. That may be easier said than done, but the Broncos have been making a living on that philosophy.
Carolina is a tough out with a high upside offense and opportunistic defense, but this may not be the ideal setting for their strengths to be flexed. Cam Newton is 0-2 against the Broncos in his career, the nightmare that was Super Bowl 50 could still be fresh and trying to get revenge on the road is a lot easier said than done.
If Siemian shows up and looks like the Northwestern kid that most didn’t think belonged in the NFL, Carolina will win. If he keeps his cool, however, the Broncos will remind us that defenses really do win championships – err, week one games.
Pick: Broncos 20, Panthers 17
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