Greg Cote

Panthers, Broncos launch kickoff weekend, help us move past another messy NFL offseason

Carolina Panthers travel to Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on the Broncos for a Super Bowl 50 rematch to open the 2016 NFL season.
Carolina Panthers travel to Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on the Broncos for a Super Bowl 50 rematch to open the 2016 NFL season. AP

Blessed be the distraction of actual games! The NFL kicks off its 97th season Thursday night as millions of fantasy-team owners, countless gamblers and two teams get it going. And thank goodness. One year after the Deflategate controversy shadowed the start of a season, this time it’s been the Colin Kaepernick national anthem protest that has created for King Sport the kind of thorny preamble beleaguered Roger Goodell would wish away if only he could.

The good news? NFL seasons always seem to make right what NFL offseasons mess up, and a delicious Kickoff Weekend matchup figures to open the gate right. The college kids have had their head start. Now the real men play. Let’s football!

PANTHERS (0-0)

at BRONCOS (0-0)

Line: CAR by 3.

Cote’s Pick: DEN, 23-20.

TV: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC.

How’s this for openers? Panthers-Broncos is NFL’s first Week 1 Super Bowl rematch since Chiefs -Vikings back in Len Dawson’s 1970. And now here we have the defending champs, at home, and getting points. Sold! This is the same elite Denver defense that dominated in title game against Cam Newton, who has been sacked 13 times in two career meetings. The point spread owes mostly to Denver replacing the retired Peyton Manning (love those DirecTV commercials) with raw Trevor Siemian, who has taken one regular-season snap since being a 2015 seventh-round pick. But the issue isn’t Siemian as much as whether a retooled offensive line buys him enough time vs. a very solid Cats defensive front. If so, Siemian should find success against an inexperienced, rookie-laden Carolina secondary, and (nervously) I’m betting that’s the case. Upset!

Greg Cote and the Upset Bird (“Aawwk!”) launch their 26th season of Friday NFL predictions this week. All aboard!

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