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Week 1 NFL Picks: The Opener

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Trevor Siemian and the Broncos host the Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.

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Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

Here are his thoughts for the highly anticipated season opener tonight.

Carolina Panthers (-3) at Denver Broncos

Although the defending champions are playing host to the team that they knocked off last year in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos begin the season as home underdogs in 2016. This line has a lot to do with the offseason turnover that has taken place in Denver, particularly at the most important position on the field.

After seeing Peyton Manning ride off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl ring, and after letting Brock Osweiler leave via free agency, the Broncos opted for a three-man competition at quarterback to decide who would start under center this season. Although the team traded a 2017 conditional pick for veteran Mark Sanchez, and then used a first-round pick on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, Gary Kubiak and his staff selected little-known Trevor Siemian to be the team’s Week 1 signal caller.

While Siemian has impressed his teammates and coaches on and off the field, there is a healthy amount of skepticism surrounding the second-year pro. His lowly draft stock in 2015, which came as a result of a lackluster four-year career at Northwestern, has led many to doubt Siemian’s ability to succeed as a starter in the NFL. However, much like a season ago, Denver plans to minimize its reliance on the passing game. After seeing Manning and Osweiler struggle in 2015 (their combined 76.3 quarterback rating was the second-worst in the league), the Broncos will hope that Denver’s star-studded defense can once again compensate for their quarterback’s shortcomings.

On Carolina’s side, the Panthers dealt with a significant loss of their own. In a surprising move, Carolina rescinded its franchise tag that it had placed on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman after failing to come to terms on long-term extension. While the Panthers believe that their dominant front seven can help alleviate the damage done by Norman’s departure, rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley have big shoes to fill in their first years in the league.

Ultimately, this game will come down to which team’s offense can generate more. Although both teams have lost key defensive players (Denver lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan), each will likely continue to boast elite defenses. Personally, I have more faith in Carolina’s offense than I do Denver’s. Although Cam Newton certainly struggled in the face of Denver’s relentless pass rush in Super Bowl 50, he’s far more likely to rebound considering his other-worldly talent and his strong supporting cast.

Despite the well-documented struggles that Super Bowl-losing teams face during their follow-up campaigns, Newton and Carolina’s second-ranked running attack will fare far better than Siemian does in his first career start.

Pick: Carolina