The 2016 season kicks off in earnest on Thursday with a rematch of Super Bowl 50, as the visiting Carolina Panthers look to exact revenge against the defending champion Denver Broncos. With future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning embracing retirement, second-year player Trevor Siemian won an impromptu quarterback competition with first-round pick Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez to claim the starter's role for Denver in the season opener.
"Trevor is the guy," general manager John Elway said of Siemian, whose lone NFL action last season resulted in a kneel-down versus Pittsburgh. "We have a lot of confidence in Trevor and believe that he can do the job. It's Trevor's job, but he's not going to be looking over his shoulder." Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware headline a top-ranked defense that silenced Cam Newton (45 total TDs in 2015) both on and off the field in February, but the reigning league MVP was quick to speak out against the notion of Thursday's tilt serving as a Super Bowl rematch. "A lot of people want to make it a rematch. It's just our next opponent," said Newton, who was stripped of the ball on two occasions and sacked a Super Bowl high-tying seven times in a 24-10 decision in February.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE HISTORY: The line has seen some major moves since it originally hit the board back in April. Books opened the Broncos as slight 1.5-point home faves, but then projected starter Brock Osweiler signed with Houston in free agency, causing the to reopen the line with the Panthers as 2-point road faves. Since then the Broncos named Trevor Siemian won the starting quarterback job and Carolina has moved to -3.
When it comes to the total, the action hasn't been as exciting. The number opened at 43 and has been slowly bet down a half-point at a time before setting at the current number of 41.5. Check out the complete line history here.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Panthers (-6) - Broncos (-2) + home field (-3) = Broncos +1
Panthers - LB A. Klein (probable Thursday, back), DT V. Butler (probable Thursday, hand), S D. Marlowe (questionable Thursday, hamstring), DE K. Ealy (questionable Thursday, concussion).
Broncos - LB D. Ware (probable Thursday, back), C J. Ferentz (questionable Thursday, knee), TE J. Heuerman (questionable Thursday, hamstring), WR C. Latimer (questionable Thursday, knee), WR B. Fowler (out Thursday, elbow).
WEATHER REPORT: It should be a beautiful night in Denver to kickoff the 2016 NFL season. The forecast calls for clear skies in the high 70's to start the game. There will be a slight five-to-six mile per hour wind gusting from wast to west across the field.
WHAT BOOKS SAY: "We obviously have a lot of liability on the Panthers. The wiseguys hit Carolina early and often when this spread opened up back in April. On the money handle 80 percent of the action is on Carolina, and that started when they were a 2.5-point dog. The ticket count is even greater with nearly 90 percent on the visitor. The revenge factor is large and the public loves to play it. The under has been adjusted down two points from the opener and we have 65 percent of the handle on the under. We'll be praying for a high-scoring, easy Broncos victory." - Scott Cooley, odds consultant BookMaker.eu.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: "A rare situation where the defending Super Bowl champion enters the season with something to prove as an underdog. They still have a dominating defense that ranked 1st in the league in yards allowed (283) and passing yards allowed (200) per game last year. They also had the third best rush defense (83 yards per game)."
"However, there is no experience at quarterback. Denver cut veteran QB Mark Sanchez which means they enter the season with two quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, who have never started a regular season game. Siemian was mediocre in his three preseason games last month with a 70.4 QB rating and a 1/2 touchdown/interception ratio." - Covers Expert Steve Merril.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (2015: 15-1, 11-5 ATS, 10-5-1 O/U): Kelvin Benjamin was a spectator throughout the 2015 season after tearing his ACL, but the 6-foot-5 wide receiver will be on the field for the opener - albeit for approximately 35 snaps, according to the Charlotte Observer. "I think that's the best guess," coach Ron Rivera told the newspaper of Benjamin, who has been working on his conditioning. "If it is more, great. I'd be really excited about it. He's done some really good things and you see him getting back into stride and that's probably the best thing." Tight end Greg Olsen, veteran Ted Ginn (team-high 10 touchdowns) and promising second-year wideout Devin Funchess return in the passing game, while rugged Jonathan Stewart (club-best 989 rushing) will look to aid in the ground attack.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (2015: 12-4, 8-8 ATS, 6-9-1 O/U): Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos in receptions (105) and receiving yards (1.304) and tied Emmanuel Sanders in receiving touchdowns (six) last season, but was limited to just one catch for eight yards in the Super Bowl. Thomas will look for a better individual performance versus Carolina as he will likely be shadowed by rookie cornerbacks as opposed to Pro Bowler Josh Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington in the offseason. Denver would love to get more out of its running game this season as C.J. Anderson (720 yards) struggled throughout the early stages before capping his tumultuous campaign with 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl 50.
* Super Bowl winners are 10-5-1 ATS in their last 16 home openers.
* Super Bowl losers are 3-13 ATS in their last 16 home openers.
* Under is 4-0 in the Panthers' last four season openers.
* Over is 5-1 in the Broncos' last six season openers.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public is strongly backing the favorite in this Super Bowl rematch, with a big 71 percent of wagers on the Panthers. As for the total, 64 percent of wagers are backing the Under.