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Week 1 NFL Preview: Will the Broncos Still Be Super Without Peyton?

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks
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The 2016 NFL Season starts Thursday. Finally. Here are Week 1’s most interesting storylines:

Thursday, September 8

Panthers vs. Broncos: Familiar, Yet Very Different
Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos
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Carolina at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

The first meaningful game of the 2016 NFL season is a rematch of the last game of the 2015 season: the Broncos’ 24-10 Super Bowl upset of the Panthers. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has retired, taking his prodigious signal-calling acumen (and forehead) with him. Unproven and unknown Trevor Siemian, who has taken exactly one regular-season NFL snap, replaces Manning. Siemian’s biggest accomplishment: beating out Mark Sanchez for the job. Oof. Expect to see a lot of Siemian handing off to running back C.J. Anderson — and fleeing from Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Fortunately for the Broncos, game-changing pass rusher Von Miller hasn’t retired. He and the Denver defense must handle quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers offense just like it did last February for the Broncos to win again.

Sunday, September 11

The Carson Wentz Bowl… Wait, What?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Philadelphia Eagles
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Cleveland at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

When the Browns traded the Eagles the rights to the second-overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft, they were essentially saying that they didn’t believe North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz was a franchise quarterback. Well, guess who’s starting for Philly against Cleveland this week? Right.

The Eagles went all in on Wentz last week, trading starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Vikings for two future draft picks. Meanwhile, the Browns have made Robert Griffin III the 25th addition to the never-ending parade of quarterbacks who could (but likely won’t) lead the franchise back to NFL respectability. Given the aggressiveness of the new-look Eagles defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz, Griffin will be lucky to lead his team to more than 10 points.

Regardless of the success — or failure — of Wentz or Griffin on Sunday, one of the league’s longest suffering fanbases will start the 2016 season knowing exactly how far they still are away from their first-ever Super Bowl title.

This Week, Big D Stands for Dak
Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys
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N.Y. Giants at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tx.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on FOX

The Cowboys were supposed to challenge for the NFC East title this season behind a healthy Tony Romo. Yeah, about that… Dallas lost their franchise quarterback for 6–10 weeks after he suffered a broken bone in his back in a preseason game against Seattle. Rookie Dak Prescott will spell Romo, most likely by handing off to Alfred Morris and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott. If Dak’s pass attempt numbers approach Romo’s, it’s a really bad sign for the Cowboys.

Under new head coach Ben McAdoo, the Giants will look to force Prescott into passing downs, and perhaps force Dallas into playing Mark Sanchez (an even worse omen for Dallas fans). New York’s Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. should create offense against the Cowboys defense.

BREAKING NEWS: Jimmy Garoppolo Isn’t Tom Brady
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots
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New England at Arizona | U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

In search of a fun, new drinking game? Take a sip of booze every time an NBC announcer says “Brady” during this season’s first Sunday night game. You likely won’t see the second half, which might be a good thing if you’re a Patriots fan. New England starts backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this week against Arizona in place of franchise passer Tom Brady (drink!) who will serve the first game of a four-game league suspension for his actions in the “Deflategate” scandal.

The Cardinals fierce pass rush, bolstered by the additions of veteran Chandler Jones (from the Pats) and rookie Robert Nkemdiche, will target Garoppolo. Of course, if Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer turns the ball over six times — like he did in the NFC title game — New England could start Zach Galifianakis at QB and still win.

Monday, September 12

The Rams Return to California, but People Are Only Talking About the 49ers
Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers
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Los Angeles at San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.; 10:20 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

After taking a 21-year detour to St. Louis, the Rams have returned to California with a talented young roster led by Todd Gurley; a future franchise quarterback in Jared Goff; and an experienced coach in Jeff Fisher. Los Angeles starts its season against San Francisco in Santa Clara (geography!), but everyone is most interested in talking about 49ers’ backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, rather than whether or not this old NFC West rivalry can be rekindled.

Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem before games will be the biggest story this week, but it won’t have any effect on whether or not the Rams can win this game. L.A. defensive tackle Aaron Donald can create havoc for San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but beating the Niners on Monday night will be difficult with a secondary that lost Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Odds are if Kaepernick does get on the field, press coverage will mean mics and cameras, not man-to-man defense.

Other Games

Sunday, September 11

Green Bay at Jacksonville | EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Buffalo at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Chicago at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Tampa Bay at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Minnesota at Tennessee | Nissan Stadium, Nashville; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Oakland at New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
San Diego at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Miami at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Detroit at Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Monday, September 12

Pittsburgh at Washington | FedEx Field, Landover, Md.; 7:10 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

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