Welcome back to football.
The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos host the NFL’s season opener Thursday night in a Super Bowl 50 rematch with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Both teams look a little bit different since we saw them last. The Broncos lost a few defensive starters (linebacker Danny Trevathan and lineman Malik Jackson) in free agency, quarterback Peyton Manning rode off into retirement and fourth-year pro Brock Osweiler took his talents to Houston, forcing Denver to go with former seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian under center. And the Broncos traded his blind-side protection, left tackle Ryan Clady, to the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, the Panthers lost All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman in free agency and drafted three cornerbacks in an attempt to replace him, but they will see the return of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin after missing last season with an ACL injury.
In essence, all of that adds up to a bunch of much more difficult fantasy football decisions than you’d expect. Here’s our advice on who to start and sit if you have fantasy football players in the season opener.
Quarterback: Cam Newton was the NFL MVP for a reason last season, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t a bit nervous about this matchup. Even the Broncos’ defense isn’t quite as loaded as it was last season, it did hold Newton to just 265 passing yards and no touchdowns with one interception in the Super Bowl. He also was sacked six times for a loss of 64 yards, lost two fumbles and managed just 45 rushing yards with no scores there, either.
Despite a poor matchup, Newton shouldn’t face as much pressure from the front seven, and with Benjamin — one of his favorite targets two years ago — back in the fold, maybe things will go a bit better offensively. Unless you have a clear-cut star backup with a great matchup, go with Newton this week.
Running Backs: Jonathan Stewart scored the only Panthers touchdown in the Super Bowl. After the Broncos lost Trevathan and Jackson in the front seven, we believe Stewart can at least find the end zone, so start him.
Wide Receivers: The Broncos are pretty tight in the secondary, but they gave up a few big 40-plus yard plays in the Super Bowl. With less pressure on Newton and another big target such as Benjamin, we think at least one or two players can break out. We’d start Benjamin, but wait on Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess and Corey Brown to see what their role in the offense looks like.
Tight End: Everybody needs a safety blanket, and that’s what Greg Olsen has become in Carolina. Start Olsen this week.
Defense/Special Teams:The loss of Norman will have ripple effects throughout the entire defense, but the Broncos don’t have a good enough QB to take advantage of that. Start this defense with confidence.
Quarterback: Do not under any circumstances start Trevor Siemian this week.
Running Backs: The Broncos are all about the run. The Panthers knew Denver would run the ball in the Super Bowl — Peyton Manning’s passes wobbled more than lame ducks — yet they still couldn’t stop C.J. Anderson, who rushed for 90 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries and added four catches for 10 yards. The Broncos matched an expensive offer sheet to prevent Anderson from leaving, indicating big plans for him on offense. Start Anderson but avoid Devontae Booker this week until we learn more about his role.
Wide Receivers: This is where things get tricky. Denver’s secondary is worse, but so is the QB. Typically, it’s Demaryius Thomas who disappears in tough matchups (he caught three passes for 20 yards in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl combined). If you’re starting one Broncos wide receiver this week, we’d recommend Emmanuel Sanders.
Tight End: It seems like Virgil Green will be the No. 1 tight end to start the year, and he caught all 10 of his preseason targets for 97 yards and a score. But in a game where offense could be at a premium, we’re not confident yet in him being the guy to break out. Sit Green and other Denver tight ends this week.
Defense/Special Teams: This still is one of the league’s best defenses, and while we’re anticipating more scoring than the Super Bowl’s 24-10 final, we don’t believe it will be by much. Start Denver’s D/ST.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images