The Denver Broncos will host the first game of the 2016 regular season, as the defending Super Bowl champion will once again kick off the season at home on Thursday Night Football. The question that many are asking is who the Broncos will face in that opener.
Three games in particular stick out on the Broncos' home schedule in 2016 as candidates for that opener: the Panthers, Patriots, and Colts. We looked at this last week as we considered whether the Colts might to travel to Denver to kick off the regular season, and it's certainly a possibility. The Colts were one of few teams to beat Denver last season (they in fact beat the Broncos twice in the 2015 calendar year) and boast Andrew Luck at quarterback, an intriguing draw. Furthermore, if Peyton Manning decides to retire, it could set the stage for a special ceremony for the legendary quarterback as the Broncos celebrate their Super Bowl team.
Of course, the Panthers and Patriots games would seem to be bigger possibilities, however, and that does seem to be the case. According to the Sports Business Journal's Terry Lefton, John Ourand, and Daniel Kaplan (h/t to Mile High Report), the Super Bowl rematch with the Panthers is at this point "more likely" to be the season opener.
The reasoning is actually really simple and makes perfect sense: the report says that CBS will fight to keep the annual Patriots vs. Broncos game. The league typically rotates between CBS and NBC for that game each year, and since NBC aired that game last year, it seems like CBS would be in line to get it this year - unless, of course, NBC gets it in the opener. So according to the Sports Business Journal, CBS will fight harder to keep Broncos vs. Patriots than they will Broncos vs. Panthers.
It's an interesting decision by CBS, as it almost certainly won't be a Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning matchup. The regular season game last year was the same way and Brock Osweiler managed to lead a comeback, so that's not to say the game won't be a big draw, as the matchup figures to be between two of the best teams in the NFL. But the Brady vs. Manning rivalry has headlined the series for the past 15 years, so CBS fighting so hard for this game is likely simply due to it being a draw of two of the best teams - from the same conference. That means that the game could have much bigger playoff implications than the Broncos vs. Panthers game could have, which could be the reason CBS wants it more. Either way, it figures to be one of the bigger regular season games in 2016.
The interesting thing to note is that the Colts aren't mentioned at all in the Sports Business Journal article with regards to the opener, as only the Panthers and Patriots are mentioned as possible Broncos opponents. Does this mean that those are the two finalists, or that they are simply the most likely? If it's the latter, there's still a very real chance that the Colts could wind up as the opponent, depending on how the rest of the scheduling works out. If it's the former, then it sounds like the Colts will be opening up elsewhere in week one. We won't know anything for sure until the NFL schedule is officially released, however, so for now it's just speculation.