DENVER (WTVD) --The entirety of my stay in San Francisco, I never even entertained the thought that the Panthers might lose. They were playing too well, Peyton Manning was too cooked, it was destiny, all of the above. It was a foregone conclusion. We all know how that turned out of course.
I'd feel the same way about today's game if I hadn't witnessed Super Bowl 50. On the surface, there's no way a Trevor Siemian quarterbacked team should have any shot vs the Panthers. The guy's never even thrown a freaking pass in an NFL game. Facing the pressure Carolina's front seven will bring? The notion seems laughable.
Still, I must at least consider the possibility. After all, Peyton was barely competent in February but the Broncos defense is just that good. The Panthers will roll the same offensive line out there tonight that got eaten alive by Von Miller and crew. There's only so much scheming you can do. At some point it's going to be on Mike Remmers and Michael Oher and the interior to find a way to keep the howling Denver attackers at bay.
The key for the Panthers offense is pretty clear. Cam said it earlier this week -- don't get behind the chains. The entirely of SB50 was spent in third and long, or so it seemed anyway. Jonathan Stewart needs to find some room, Cam needs to complete some early stick moving passes. We've been talking all camp about the plethora of weapons at Newton's disposal. Tonight we'll see if those weapons are up to the task. Kelvin Benjamin is back, yes, but can he be an immediate force? Is Devin Funchess ready to make the league's best defense quake a bit on the opposite side?
Defensively, I can't imagine there's much Siemian can do that'll send a shiver down the spines of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. He's got accomplished receivers to target in Demaryius Thomas and the freshly wealthy Emmanuel Sanders. The question will be how often he can deliver the ball. I'd expect a steady dose CJ Anderson and rookie back Devontae Booker from Denver to help ease Siemian's way into the deep end.
It's a tough ask on both sides to face the very best opposition right out of the gate. Given the Panthers massive advantage at the most important position on the field, I think they're more equipped to succeed. Denver is hungry for more Panther blood, but I think it's the Broncos who'll be busted this evening. Gimme the Panthers 23-10.
WATCH ALL OF MARK ARMSTRONG'S PREGAME REPORTS BELOW: