An annual tradition in the NFL is that the defending Super Bowl champion opens up the regular season at home on the Thursday night before the rest of the NFL opens up on Sunday and Monday. That means this year, the Denver Broncos will be hosting the 2016 regular season opener, and one of their potential opponents for that game is the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos' 2016 home slate features the following teams: San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and New England Patriots.
Right from the first glance at that list, three games in particular jump out, and it would be a pretty big surprise if it's not either the Colts, Panthers, or Patriots traveling to Denver for the opener.
The Panthers, of course, present the opportunity for a Super Bowl rematch right from the very beginning of the season. Cam Newton would get another shot at the Broncos defense and the defending NFC champions would be looking to deal a blow to the team that beat them in the Super Bowl. The storylines for this game create themselves, as the Super Bowl rematch would be a big draw. Because of that, however, it's possible the NFL decides to move the game to later in the season to capitalize on those ratings.
The Patriots present the opportunity for an AFC Championship game rematch. The Broncos' defense also beat up Tom Brady in that game like they did to Cam Newton in the Super Bowl, and the game would pit the two best teams in the AFC against each other for the very early edge in the conference race. The league could also wait to capitalize on this game later in the season, however, especially if they think it could be a huge game in the race for the top overall seed or a first round bye.
Lastly, the Colts also present a very interesting matchup. The league went with a Colts vs. Broncos Sunday night opener in 2014, and the Colts were also one of just two non-division opponents to beat Denver in 2015 - and the only non-division opponent who beat the Broncos to be on Denver's home schedule next year. Like Cam Newton and Tom Brady, Andrew Luck was beat up but managed to play well and lead the Colts to a victory in a November meeting. So there would be the potential for a good game between two of the AFC's better teams, and it would also have another storyline riding on it.
While it's almost certain that Peyton Manning will not be quarterbacking the Broncos next season, if he does decide to retire this matchup would make even more sense. The Broncos would be celebrating their Super Bowl victory and they could bring a recently-retired Manning and his family back for the festivities, making for a special atmosphere with both of Manning's former teams getting ready to play as number 18 and the Super Bowl team is honored.
We won't know for sure until the NFL schedule is announced, but it seems likely that the Broncos will host either the Panthers, Patriots, or Colts in the 2016 regular season opener, so it's very easy to imagine a scenario in which the Colts travel to Denver for that Thursday night opener, setting up a big-game meeting in week one.