The first game of the 2016 NFL season will have a familiar feel. The Carolina Panthers will open the season in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, with an early chance to bounce back from their Super Bowl 50 loss.
The now-traditional Thursday night kickoff game on NBC features the defending champions at home, and this could be a rare time the home team is expected to lose. We still have no idea who the starting quarterback for the Broncos will be. Mark Sanchez is the current favorite, but there remains a strong chance the team will acquire Colin Kaepernick from the 49ers. A rookie quarterback also can't be ruled out as the starter.
While the Broncos are uncertain about their offensive leader, their defense will be loaded for bear against the reigning league MVP. Cam Newton and the Panthers' offensive line was overwhelmed in Santa Clara, California, in February, and get an early chance to make amends. The Broncos' front seven will be missing linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, but it remains one of the most formidable in football.
Sunday Night Football, 8:30 p.m. ET: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals -- This potential Super Bowl preview features the two vanquished teams from Conference Championship Weekend a season ago. Chandler Jones will try to make Bill Belichick regret the surprising March trade that sent Jones out west.
It will be our first chance to watch New England's two tight end offense with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, and it marks the toughest game in a difficult Patriots schedule. There aren't many teams more fun to watch than the Cardinals; we almost wish the league saved this heavyweight battle for later in the year.
Monday Night Football, 7 p.m. ET: Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins -- Two playoff teams from a year ago face off in the early Monday night opener. Despite the loss of Martavis Bryant to suspension, the Steelers' offense should remain one of the NFL's most fun to watch with the return of Le'Veon Bell. This game kicks off the first of 347 prime-time games involving the NFC East.
Monday Night Football, 10:20 p.m. ET: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers -- The Rams' first game back in Los Angeles uniforms will take place in the Bay Area. There are a lot of uncertainties here, but it could be an intriguing matchup that includes the No. 1 overall draft pick (Carson Wentz?) against the debut of Chip Kelly 2.0 in San Francisco. It's also a rare chance for a national audience to see why Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald are so special.