Tonight is the night.
The National Football League is back, with tonight’s Carolina Panthers/Denver Broncos season-opening primetime Thursday night match-up, featuring a first-time starter in Denver.
Trevor Siemian vs. Cam Newton isn’t exactly the showdown we were all expecting to see when the 2016 schedule was released last spring, but that’s the showdown we’re being blessed with this evening. Luckily for us, these two teams still boast two of the top defenses in the league. So it’ll likely end up being a defensive struggle at Mile High.
Here are six things to know heading into the game (if you happened to be living under a rock all summer long):
1. It’s a Super Bowl rematch. Except, according to Cam Newton it’s not a Super Bowl rematch. Denver defeated Carolina, 24-10, the last time there was an NFL game played. But nope, definitely not a rematch, Cam.
2. This will mark 24-year old Trevor Siemian’s first career NFL start. The second-year quarterback out of Northwestern appeared in one game last year as a rookie after being selected in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
3. The Broncos lost a lot of key pieces to the 2015 Super Bowl championship squad:
QB Peyton Manning
QB Brock Osweiler
RB Ronnie Hillman
TE Owen Daniels
OT Ryan Clady
G Evan Mathis
G Louis Vasquez
DE Malik Jackson
LB Danny Trevathan
S David Bruton
4. Panthers get WR Kelvin Benjamin (torn ACL) back this season after missing his entire second year. Benjamin, the FSU product, caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie in ’14.
5. Tonight’s injury report:
6. Denver went 6-2 at home last season, while Carolina went 7-1 on the road. The lone loss last season for Carolina, was a road game against Atlanta, 20-13.
7. Broncos’ WR Emmanuel Sanders just inked a three-year, $33 million contract extension yesterday. Let’s see what the newly-paid wideout can do with Siemian slinging him passes at Mile High.
8. Despite dismantling Cam Newton with its smash-mouth defense, the Broncos aren’t favored to win tonight. Carolina is currently favored by 3.0 points.
9. Josh Norman, one of the top corners in the game, is no longer roaming the defensive backfield for Carolina (he bolted for Washington after the franchise tag was rescinded by Carolina). Instead, Norman has been replaced with rookies James Bradberry (second round) and Daryl Worley (third round), with Robert McClain and Bene’ Benwikere providing depth at corner. It’ll be interesting to see how the Carolina defense adjusts to the change in faces this season.
10. The start of this season tonight will mark the first time since 1997 that we’ve had an NFL season without Peyton Manning suiting up (aside from the 2011 campaign, I suppose), yet we’ll probably be seeing Peyton’s face on every other commercial during tonight’s broadcast.
Prediction: Carolina wins, 21-14.
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images