The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers kickoff the 2016 NFL Regular Season on Thursday Night Football. It’s a Super Bowl rematch, which hasn’t happened on opening day in the NFL since 1970. We caught up with Cat Scratch Reader to talk about the game.
1) Revenge has to be on the mind of the Panthers after Super Bowl 50. What are you hearing from your team on this? Is this a talking point? Are they trying to say it is just another game?
Jaxon: Yeah that’s what we have been hearing this week, that it’s just one of 16 games. But we know that’s not true. The Panthers really want to win this game but they won’t hang their head if they lose. During the offseason Rivera mentioned often that the Panthers had to start the season on top of their game (because of the opener vs the Broncos was insinuated).
2) One offseason can lead to a completely different team at times. What does Broncos Country need to know about the changes that the 2016 offseason has brought to the Panthers?
Jaxon: The Panthers didn’t change too much this offseason compared to other teams which you can view as good or bad. On offense we have one new starter since SB 50, WR Kelvin Benjamin. That means we are still starting the same RT that got beat like a drum by Von Miller. I’m hopeful though the offense plays much better this time around though I’m not saying it will simply be because of Benjamin.
It’s defense where most of the change occurred. The secondary is completely revamped with only S Kurt Coleman returning. It looks like we are going to start two rookies at CB but there’s a chance Bene Benwikere plays the outside but moves to the nickel when the scheme dictates. Our other S Tre Boston has been a liability in run support so this is the obvious weakness for the Broncos to attack. Beyond that it’s the same front seven with the only change DE Kony Ealy replacing the retired Jared Allen (which is an upgrade). So it’s all about the secondary.
3) Tell us about two relatively unknown players from the Panthers who have stood out in training camp and preseason action?
Jaxon: Since most of those players got cut I’ll stick to those who made the roster. Second year RB Cameron Artis-Payne ran the ball well and looks like he might get some snaps when giving Jonathan Stewart some rest. My second player is one of the rookie CBs, 2nd round pick James Bradberry. While he hasn’t made any spectacular plays he was very solid in both run support and coverage, not making mistakes and keeping the play in front of him. He picked Josh Normans’ #24 to wear so maybe he’s not lacking confidence even coming from a small school.
4) What are your three keys to victory for the Panthers on Thursday night?
Jaxon: On offense, create 3rd and short situations, run play action and throw the ball downfield to Funchess and Ginn. On defense, we’ve got to get pressure on the young Bronco QB to protect our secondary. That means we have to stop the run to begin with but also disguise coverages. Getting pressure up the middle will be a final key.
5) The season opener for the NFL looms large. The Panthers are in enemy territory with a chip on their shoulder against the defending champs. What is your prediction for this game?
I have to hope that we make fewer critical mistakes on offense while doing a better job against the young QB versus Peyton Manning. Avoiding turnovers and costly penalties will also be key.
I like our chances in this one even as a Homer who never picks against his team. Panthers 16, Broncos 13.