Jeremy Wardwell and Jeff Baldwin will pick against the spread every Thursday night game this season including their over/under selection. On Friday, the Gambling Solution column will provide their picks for the remaining games on each week's slate. Now on to the picks for opening night.
Carolina Panthers (-3.5) at Denver Broncos
Total points: 41.5
Jeff: The season kicks off on Thursday night as the Panthers travel to Denver in a Super Bowl rematch. The Broncos’ defense was too much for the Panthers’ offense as they came away with a 24-10 victory. Even though the Broncos lost some key defensive players in the offseason, this group is still very talented and one of the best in the league. The Panthers have been installed as a 3.5-point road favorite. If the Panthers hope to get a road win here, they'll need QB Cam Newton to play well in this matchup. Newton struggled the last time he faced this defense as he completed only 18 passes in 41 attempts, threw one interception, and lost two fumbles. The Panthers will try and get the running game going with RB Jonathan Stewart. This will be a tall order as the Broncos’ rush defense is a stingy group who finished near the top of the league last season giving up only 83.6 rushing yards/game. The return of WR Kelvin Benjamin to the Panthers’ offense after missing last season due to injury should help out significantly in the passing game. However, the Panthers’ coaching staff has already stated they want to limit his snaps as he gradually works himself back into game shape. As for the Broncos offensively, the big change here is at the quarterback position as QB Peyton Manning retired, and QB Trevor Siemian won the starting quarterback job. I don't expect the Broncos to ask Siemian to do too much against a very good Panthers defense. We should see a lot of RB C.J. Anderson as they'll look to control the line of scrimmage. When the Broncos need to make a play in the passing game, Siemian has two excellent receiving options in WR Demaryius Thomas and WR Emmanuel Sanders. Look for this to be a close game throughout as a late field goal either way will be the difference. As for the total, I expect both defenses to play well here making it tough for both offenses to move the ball with much consistency. I like the Broncos to come away with a 20-17 victory as this game stays under the posted total.
Pick: Broncos +3.5
Total points: Under 41.5
Jeremy: For only the second time in history, the NFL season opens with the participants from the previous Super Bowl squaring off. The Carolina Panthers look to avenge their 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 when the season kicks off Thursday night in Denver. Both teams have undergone changes since that game but for the most part, the cores of the two teams remain the same. One of the major changes for the Broncos is at quarterback where the team will turn to Trevor Siemian who has exactly one snap of NFL experience. Siemian does have a talented arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal including running back C.J. Anderson and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who combined for nearly 2,500 yards receiving last year. Carolina will have to contain the talented duo without CB Josh Norman who signed with the Redskins in the offseason. They do still have LB Luke Kuechly who is a disruptive force and can apply pressure in both the running and passing games. While Denver starts a virtual unknown under center, Carolina counters with Cam Newton who is the defending league MVP. Newton will be getting a key offensive weapon back as WR Kelvin Benjamin returns after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. Benjamin will give Newton another option and a deep threat to open up the field for TE Greg Olsen who hauled in seven touchdown passes and 1,100 yards. Denver comes into this one with the best defense in the league led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos held opponents to 283 yards/game last year while sacking opposing quarterbacks 52 times. I'm expecting this to be a close game. Both defenses are too talented to allow this to turn into a shootout. Siemian will struggle early but with the benefit of playing at home, will settle in and find his rhythm. Denver is 15-1 in their last 16 home openers and the home field advantage combined with the perceived insult of being the underdog despite being the defending Super Bowl Champion make the Broncos a solid play as 3.5 point underdogs.
Pick: Broncos +3.5
The Thursday night opener features two teams that allowed less than 20 PPG in 2015 and while Denver had the league's best defense, Carolina also ranked in the top-10 at number six. This promises to be a close, hard-fought game. The Panthers offense will struggle to move the ball in the hostile environment of Sports Authority Field. Meanwhile, Denver has a new quarterback under center and several new pieces along the offensive line which will cause problems for Siemian and the passing game. The weather won't be a problem as the forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the low 70's at kickoff. In their last meeting, these teams combined for 34 points and four of the last five games they've played have gone under the posted number. I'm expecting this game to do so as well.
Total points: Under 41.5