It seems as though the world expects the Panthers to beat up the Broncos when the 2016 NFL season kicks off Thursday night in Denver.
After all, Carolina should be motivated by its not-as-close-as-the-score-suggests 24-10 loss to Denver in last year’s Super Bowl. The Panthers were 15-1 last season and romped over Seattle and Arizona in the NFC playoffs. And the Broncos are turning to an inexperienced QB after losing legendary Peyton Manning to off-season retirement.
Betting money has poured in on the Panthers, turning Denver from a 1-point favourite into a 3-point home underdog. (You could even get +3 +115 at Bodog as of Wednesday morning.)
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. More than 80% of early bets on last year’s Super Bowl were on the Panthers, moving Carolina from 3.5 point favourites to 6-point chalk – and we all know how that ended up.
Here are 3 reasons you might want to look in the Broncos’ direction again if you’re betting on the 2016 NFL opener.
1. Their defence is still incredible
Denver’s defence wasn’t only the best in the NFL last year. It was one of the best defences in the NFL ever.
NFL.com ranked the 2015 Broncos defence as the third-best in the history of the league. Denver held the Steelers, Patriots and Panthers (Roethlisberger, Brady and Newton) to 44 points combined in the playoffs.
The Broncos boast a ferocious pass rush, strong run defence and a shutdown secondary. They absolutely pounded Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, hitting him 20 times. To put that into better perspective, Brady had been hit 19 times in the previous 4 games combined.
Almost all of that defensive unit is back again this season. Getting +3 points at home with a defence like this is rare.
2. They have a huge home field advantage
Broncos are 15-1 in home openers since 2000, marking a .938 winning percentage that is the best in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/3q1fFVeuL5
— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) September 5, 2016
Home field advantage can be overstated in the NFL. But it’s absolutely an advantage in Denver, where the Broncos own the best home winning percentage in the last 30 years (.700).
The most obvious reason is the altitude. Playing a mile above sea level has a much greater effect on opponents who aren’t used to the elevation. They can quickly find themselves gasping for air while the Denver players are acclimated and unaffected.
Then you’ve got the crowd noise. Even if they’re pounding Coors Lights in the parking lot instead of regular-strength beer, Denver’s fans are known to be among the loudest in the NFL.
There’s no coincidence that Tom Brady’s lifetime record in Denver is 2-7, including 0-3 in the playoffs.
3. Whoever Plays Quarterback May Not Be That Important
How did Trevor Siemian (who, again?) improbably end up as the starting QB for the defending Super Bowl champs? https://t.co/dHRUgQ9mkT
— The Ringer (@ringer) September 6, 2016
It’s easy to say the Broncos offence is screwed now that it’s lost a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
But it might be more accurate to say the Broncos won the Super Bowl in spite of Peyton Manning, not because of him.
Manning posted the lowest passer rating (67.9) of any regular starting QB in 2015. Broncos quarterbacks combined to throw 24 interceptions, which was the most picks thrown by any Super Bowl champion team in more than 30 years.
In fact, Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams even suggested on Twitter earlier this year that the Broncos’ offence might actually be better without Manning under centre.
Look Peyton is a hall of fame qb who couldn’t play dead in a western last year but career over all is astonishing but last year was 💩😷
— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) March 7, 2016
In the Denver offence, Siemian – or any other quarterback – does not have to be a star. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak is known as a strong offensive mind, and now he’s finally able to run his system with the QB under centre, not the shotgun that Manning preferred. Denver ran the ball better when Manning was out of the lineup, and they controlled the ball more.
The Broncos also have two very good wideouts in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and they’ll be going up against a Carolina defence that has lost star CB Josh Norman and is starting three rookies. Siemian will simply be asked to get the ball out to his weapons and let them pick up yards after the catch, rather than taking risks slinging the ball downfield.