Thursday Night Football
Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers
The NFL picks up exactly where it left off, with Denver and Carolina. Only this time, we’re missing some key players. Denver saw The Sheriff, Peyton Manning, ride off into the sunset, as expected. The defense took hits in free agency as well as Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson and others are now in new uniforms. Oh, by the way, the Broncos lost their backup quarterback, too, and had to bring in Mark Sanchez. For the Panthers, their premiere pass defender, Josh Norman, was let go without finding a replacement — but they will have WR Kelvin Benjamin back from injury.
At first glance, it appears that Carolina should shellac the defending champions — but, I should remind you that the same was said before their Super Bowl meeting in February and we all know how that went.
Keys to the Game
The Broncos are going to need the defense to pick up where it left off even with some of its missing stars. New faces Russell Okung, Donald Stephenson and Mark Sanchez (Paxton Lynch?) will need to gel quickly to have a shot against Carolina’s tenacious defensive. It help that they won’t have to contend with Josh Norman on the outside, but Mark Sanchez doesn’t exactly inspire a pass heavy attack. CJ Anderson and company will need to have success on the ground to give the Broncos a shot.
The Panthers catch a break with Denver lacking a major passing threat under center, but they will still need to contain Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. They can easily get loose and gash them for big plays. I expect them to continue their 2015 mantra and pound the rock on offense, taking advantage of Denver’s less imposing front seven and in turn keeping Von Miller at bay. He can’t sack Cam if they’re not passing. That said, Kelvin Benjamin returning to the outside could also keep those Denver safeties out of the box.