NFL Tips | Carolina @ Denver | 9th September 2016 | Sky Sports 1

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KYLE Robins (@AhhYeahKyleYeah) makes his WLB debut in the opening match of the new NFL season. Is he with the Panthers or Broncos?

Carolina @ Denver | Friday 01:30 | Sky Sports 1

After what is the longest offseason in professional sports, the NFL regular season finally returns on Thursday night, a mere 214 days after Super Bowl 50 concluded.

How we even survived without football for that long is a mystery in itself, but what better way to start than with the league MVP (Newton) leading his Panthers into Mile High Stadium to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions.

A lot has changed since the Broncos put that beat down on the Panthers back in February, but despite losing two key starters to that fearsome defence that terrorised Cam on that infamous night (Trevathan & Jackson) they’re still regarded as one of the best units in the league, led by linebacker Von Miller.

Now without mentioning too much about Millers offseason Madden promotional video it was essential to the franchise that John Elway brought back the SuperBowl 50 MVP, if they’re to have any realistic chance at repeating this year.

Malik Jackson is without doubt the biggest loss for the Broncos this offseason. Jackson was the second best pass rusher on the team (behind Miller), but they’ve still got a plethora of talented pass rushers, who they’ll be looking to make the step up this year.

Much like in Superbowl 50, yet again I see Thursday’s game being won in the trenches. Can the Panthers Offensive Line stand up to the Broncos pass rush? Something in my gut tells me they’ll do a much better job of protecting Cam this time round.

The Panthers O line ranked 4th in Pass-Blocking last year and 6th in Run-Blocking, to be ranked the second best offensive line unit in the NFL in 2015, behind only the Cowboys.

The bigger question for the Panthers however, is will their two rookie corners (Bradbury & Worley) be able to fill the hole left by All-Pro Josh Norman, who departed for Washington.

The mind-set for Panthers GM & Head Coach Ron Rivera has always been around building a dominating front seven, rather than investing heavily in the secondary. A theory that has worked to date, but will be tested to the full this season.

Come Thursday night, the question of whether Kuechly, Short, Johnson and co can get after a quarterback who’s only regular season snap came in a kneel down last year, will somewhat be the deciding factor in this game.

At this point, the Panthers offense, which led the league in scoring last year, is in a much healthier state than that of the Broncos, especially given the return of Kelvin Benjamin.

Despite the Broncos being 15-1 in home openers since 2000, and their suffocating defence, I believe the Panthers will exact revenge from that fateful night last February.

Mike Shula is one of the smartest offensive Coordinators in the league, and I don’t see him letting Cam get run over again. He’ll adjust to the Bronco’s defence accordingly, and at this point…I’ll take that Panthers front seven over Trevor Siemian any day of the week.

I don’t see the 2nd year QB being able to make enough plays against one of the leagues elite defensive units, regardless of the fact they’ll be starting two rookie corners. The Broncos defence will keep it close, but the Panthers will roll out of Mile High stadium with the W.

Best Bets

Carolina @ Denver – Carolina -4.5 (6/5 Paddy Power)

Carolina @ Denver – Under 37.5 Points (6/4 Boylesports)

Carolina @ Denver – Greg Olsen First Touchdown (11/1 Paddy Power)

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