Carolina comes into Denver as 3 point favorites on opening night tonight, Thursday Night Football. Both teams lost key pieces on their rosters during the offseason and will be starting some new faces. This game has a few uncertainties but one thing is certain: this game will be very different from Super Bowl 50.

Trevor Siemian will start for Denver in his first game ever after being drafted in the 7th round in 2015. Siemian was drafted out of Northwestern where he played powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, so he’s faced top tier competition before. Playing in primetime on opening night for the defending Super Bowl champions and replacing Peyton Manning will no doubt test Siemian’s confidence though.


The Panthers didn’t lose Super Bowl 50 because of lack of talent and they certainly didn’t lose it because of their defense – Carolina’s front 7 was able to disrupt Peyton Manning all game, holding him to 13-23 for 141 yards, 5 sacks, 2 fumbles, 1 INT, 0 touchdowns, and a partridge in a pair tree. Super Bowl 50 was lost the week leading up to the game where Cam Newton seemed to be more focused on the media’s storylines than preparing for the game. Cam was visibly nervous throughout the game from the second he took the field and his performance proved that. Super Bowl 50 was a clash of two extremes – Cam’s worst game of his career (18/41 for 266 yards, 6 sacks, 0 TD, 1INT , 2 fumbles & a 16.9 QBR) versus the Broncos’ best game on defense.


Carolina’s front 7 vs. Denver’s offensive line is the key matchup to watch tonight.

As long as Luke Kiechly is on the field the Panthers’ defense will always play competitive and the players surrounding will raise their level of play. Josh Norman and Jared Allen are gone and two rookie corners are starting, but Carolina returns a lot of key pieces in the front 7 that led to Peyton Manning’s 9.9 QBR in the Super Bowl. Kony Ealy had 3 sacks in SB 50, Star Lotulelei had 2 tackles for loss, and Thomas Davis was right behind Kiechly with 7 tackles in the game. If Carolina’s front 7 brings the same pressure on Trevor Siemian that they brought on Peyton then Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders will have less time to operate for throws to the outside and that limits Siemian’s ability to test Carolina’s rookie corners.


Scouting report on Trevor Siemian: I watched every Denver preseason game this year and followed Siemian closely throughout. He’s a smart quarterback in the pocket who has a good grasp of Denver’s playbook and has the ability to carry out Denver’s objective of managing the game. He excels with short passes over the middle of the field where Kubiak likes to run quick reads and have him get the ball out to Sanders & Thomas on slants. Him and Virgil Green have a good connection over the middle of the field and that seems to be his 3rd favorite target. Where he can struggle is on throws to the outside – he doesn’t have a huge arm and his strong point is not throwing to the outside and up the sidelines so defenses might be able to jam Sanders and Thomas a bit, just like they did with Manning behind center last season. Watch out for him under duress tonight – he was rushed heavily this preseason by San Francisco and turned the ball over when a 49ers DB jumped a route. The very next possession he was visibly rattled in the pocket, had an overthrow on the outside of the field and Denver went 3 & out. He has the ability to start the game strong and lead a drive but the turning point for the Broncos will be on the possessions following his turnovers and his ability to have a short memory. Kirk Cousins struggled with that early in his career where he would show flashes of brilliance but then lose confidence after an interception or a fumble.


Bottom line with Siemian vs the Panthers front 7: The Panthers will test Siemian early and often. Because his strength is throwing to the middle of the field it neutralizes Carolina’s weakness at CB for this game a bit with the 2 rookie corners they have starting in primetime. Carolina plays a zone defense which favors plug-in system players and that is exactly what rookie CBs James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are right now as they adjust to the NFL. They should get help from nickel CB Bene Benwikere who had a great preseason and shuts down a good portion of the field in the middle. I can see Kubiak calling for Siemian to hand the ball off early to CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker to get into the flow of this game and then Carolina’s defense coming up big on 3rd down and in the redzone.


Underrated storyline to watch: Panthers WR Philly Brown vs CB Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib is on a roll. First he grabs Brown’s facemask over-aggressively in the Super Bowl, then he admits he did it on purpose. 4 months later he accidentally shoots himself (allegedly) and then in Week 3 of the preseason he cheap shots Case Keenum with a monster collision to his shoulder when Keenum was CLEARLY headed out of bounds. If the play happened on the Rams’ sideline we would have seen a brawl on the highlights, seriously.

This just adds to the storyline for the past 7 months and fuels the fire even more between the Panthers and the Broncos. Von Miller publicly humiliated Cam Newton on Instagram back in April and I imagine the entire Panthers roster has been counting down the days for kickoff.


The risks associated with betting Carolina in this game?

Denver’s home field edge: Denver is 15-1 SU in home openers since 2000. Pretty significant and Denver is always a tough place to play because of the altitude. I have a memory of Gronk struggling to breathe in the 2nd half of a Denver game last season. Since Carolina and Denver don’t play each other every year the sample size for Carolina’s history in Denver with Cam Newton is nonexistent.

Laying 3 points on the road to a great defense isn’t ideal. Is this a trap? I don’t think so. Vegas sets lines by making the home team an automatic 3 point favorite (usually) and then adjusts the line based on the difference in power rankings between both teams. If Carolina is -3 on the road Vegas is telling us they believe Carolina is 6 points better than Denver on a neutral field. This is the same line essentially as Carolina -6 in SB 50. I had Denver +6 that game in what was certainly a trap for Carolina. This game doesn’t seem so, but I would also say it’s not an ideal line.

Trends don’t favor Carolina: Super bowl losers haven’t had much success in revenge games vs the Super Bowl winner the following year, going 2-4 SU the following season in a rematch. Super Bowl winners also struggle in their season openers. Not to mention, Super Bowl winners are 14-2 on opening night since 2000. But trends are meant to be broken – a Super Bowl loser has never faced the winner on opening night before. Peyton Manning never retired for any of those other Super Bowl winners and Trevor Siemian was never the QB for any of those other teams. Oh…and Cam Newton was never the QB for any of the losers.


Final thoughts:

Carolina is the better team tonight and this season. Carolina lost Super Bowl 50 because the moment was too big for Cam Newton and Carolina wasnt on their A game, it was never a lack of talent.That being said, this game will not be an easy environment AT ALL. Denver will be rocking during the opening ceremony and Denver’s defense is still as good as any, despite the losses of Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson in the offseason. Carolina’s offensive line looked sharp in their dress rehearsal versus New England (which is always a good barometer) and it seems as if the offensive line has stepped up their game up after an underwhelming performance in Super Bowl 50. Cam Newton has a lot of weapons to spread the ball to in Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess, Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, and Kelvin Benjamin. This offense is very good. Kelvin Benjamin will be limited to 30-35 snaps tonight which helps Carolina in my opinion with any timing & chemistry issues they may experience early on.

Carolina’s offense may not start off sharp with the crowd riled up but I look for Carolina’s defense to play strong tonight along the front 7 and pressure Trevor Siemian. I expect field position to be key and for Carolina to pressure the Broncos offensive line early and often.

This is not an official release for me as Sunday at 1PM ET is the big game for me and my clients but I have the Panthers winning tonight to the tune of 23-13.


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