Seven months ago, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were overwhelmed by the Denver Broncos’ pass rush in Super Bowl 50, but they are a slight favorite entering the rematch that kicks off the NFL season on Thursday.
Carolina is listed as a three-point favorite against the host Broncos at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with a total of 41.5 points. While each club has lost distinctive components – Peyton Manning retiring in Denver; cover corner Josh Norman leaving Carolina to sign with the Washington Redskins – each retains much of its nucleus.
The Panthers are 8-0 SU and ATS in their last eight games as a favorite of three points or less, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.
In the Super Bowl, Carolina floundered in keeping the Denver rush, particularly DE/OLB Von Miller, out of the backfield. Presumably, they have developed an adjustment to account for Miller and fellow OLB DeMarcus Ware. Newton has shown he can thrive with only adequate protection, and the presence of 6-foot-5 WR Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 after a knee injury, gives Carolina a more formidable receiving corps and a big target on third-and-long and in the red zone.
The Panthers are 5-1 ATS in their last six games against AFC teams.
Denver is 25-4 SU in their last 29 home games, but there might be some drop-off from the 2012 to mid-2014 form of Peyton Manning to new Broncos starting QB Trevor Siemian, who has yet to throw a regular-season pass. There are also serious doubts about the Broncos’ strength in the rushing phase, where they are reliant on a rotation of C.J. Anderson and rookie Devontae Booker.
Carolina retains a very quick front seven, particularly with the trio of MLB Luke Kuechly, OLB Thomas Davis and OLB Shaq Thompson who are good against the rush and the short-range pass. Whether Denver will be able to test Carolina’s deep-pass coverage is also questionable.
The Broncos have not been underdogs at home in September since 2012. They are 7-3-1 ATS in their last 11 September games.
The total has gone UNDER in the Panthers’ last four season openers, and in four of the last five Panthers-Broncos games. The total has also gone UNDER in the Broncos’ last five games after back-to-back wins.
The OddsShark Computer is predicting a 23.0-15.6 Denver victory, but the prospects of the Panthers applying a tough lesson from February and Siemian’s inexperience foster belief Carolina can get payback.