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Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos: Who will win and why

By
Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
Denver Broncos cheerleaders perform during pre-season game three at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on August 27, 2016. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
Denver Broncos cheerleaders perform during pre-season game three at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on August 27, 2016. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

Carolina Panthers (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field, Denver - TV: NBC

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TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Keys to the game: The Panthers led the NFL in scoring in the 2015 regular season but the speed of the Broncos' front seven caused league MVP Cam Newton and his offensive line fits in Super Bowl 50. The Panthers, who lost running back Jonathan Stewart in that game after he ran for seven yards on seven carries in the first half, want to work at their own pace and not forget their ground game. The approach mandates success on early downs, and avoiding the edge rushing tandem of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Newton has huge receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess plus tight end Greg Olsen who can win one-on-one if protected.

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Trevor Siemian is in at quarterback for Denver, and managing mistakes trumps all for the 2015 seventh-round pick. The Panthers applied immense pressure in the Super Bowl but a mostly new offensive line stands between Carolina's pass rushers and Siemian. With a new-look group minus cornerback Josh Norman, the Panthers' secondary is not as intimidating from behind center. Siemian has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to take shots off of play-action, but expect mostly a short-range passing game to guard against giveaways. That plan emphasizes running back C.J. Anderson, who is still growing familiar with his front five.

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Matchup to watch: Broncos C Matt Paradis vs. Panthers DT Kawann Short: Paradis is the only starter in place from the Super Bowl 50 starting offensive line of the Broncos. He's feisty but needs help to usher Short, a Pro Bowl pass rusher in a contract year, away from Siemian.

Player spotlight: Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: He could be limited to 35 snaps in his first game back from a torn ACL, but the 6-5 target caught nine touchdown passes in 2014 and can get behind the defense.

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Fast facts: This is the first Super Bowl rematch played on Kickoff Weekend since 1970. ... Only eight teams have repeated as Super Bowl champs since 1967. New England, in 2004, was the last to go back-to-back. ... Newton led the NFL with 45 total touchdowns last season (10 rushing).

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Denver's defense aced the test against Carolina in Super Bowl 50 but the Broncos have many unfamiliar facets on offense led by their untested quarterback. If Cam Newton finds the big plays that were lacking in February, the Panthers start the season 1-0.

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Our pick: Panthers 20-13.

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