It’s not the Super Bowl. We all know that, and the Carolina Panthers have stressed it all week. As Greg Olsen said after Carolina finished its preseason, speaking of the Denver-Carolina game that will open the entire NFL season Thursday night: “What’s done is done. The past is the past. ... The more we try to hinge on correcting what happened in the Super Bowl, the more we’re going to get pulled back.”
The NFL schedule-makers purposely put this game in place to remind everyone of seven months ago, when an underdog Denver team laid a 24-10 whipping on Carolina. This game wouldn’t be opening the NFL season without that one. We all know that, too.
▪ NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS: Carolina has made it through one of the least eventful preseasons in team history, and that’s a good thing these days. The only real drama to speak of for the Panthers in the past seven months, in fact, was cornerback Josh Norman being set free to sign a bigger deal with Washington. Denver, on the other hand, is changing quarterbacks. That is always eventful – and the Broncos have made a lot of other changes, too. The Panthers’ best chance is to rattle Trevor Siemian, whose first pass in this game will be the first pass he has ever thrown in a real NFL game.
▪ BEWARE WARE: Von Miller certainly maxed out his Super Bowl performance – it was hard to watch a TV show this offseason without Miller appearing on it. If I’m the Panthers, though, I am just as worried about DeMarcus Ware.
Ware had two sacks in the Super Bowl (Miller had 2.5) and actually hit Cam Newton four times compared with Miller’s two. He can be just about as destructive as Miller on passing downs, although the Broncos plan to have Ware on more of a “pitch count.” While Miller should be in all the time, Ware, 34, will be spelled occasionally to keep him fresher. You can bet he will be crashing in against Michael Oher on Newton’s blind side on every big play, however.
▪ PREDICTION TIME: Those who read my columns regularly know that for the first time in my preseason column Sunday, I picked the Panthers to win the Super Bowl. I really think they can and will go all the way this season.
In that same column, though, I picked Carolina to go 11-5 in the regular season. This one, to me, feels like one of the losses. I understand Siemian might mess up and lose the game for Denver – which is a lot of the reason why the Panthers are a three-point favorite – but that Denver defense is still absolutely relentless. If the game was in Charlotte, I would pick Carolina. In Denver, though: Denver 20, Carolina 17.
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