Schedule-wise, the only thing we do know about the 2016 NFL regular season is that the Denver Broncos will host the prime-time opener on NBC on Thursday, Sept. 8. And we know that there are eight potential opponents for Denver that night.
Here’s how we rank those opponents from most to least appealing:
1. Carolina Panthers: Although we’re writing this under the assumption Peyton Manning doesn’t come back, this is the only matchup that doesn’t really lose any juice regardless of what happens with the quarterback. Denver-New England loses some luster when it’s not Manning vs. Tom Brady, but a Super Bowl rematch is a Super Bowl rematch.
2. New England Patriots: Denver and New England will likely enter 2016 as two of the heaviest Super Bowl favorites in the AFC, and this has become a solid rivalry between two well-accomplished teams from rabid markets.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Indy will be considered the favorite in the AFC South again as Andrew Luck looks to put a nightmare 2015 campaign behind him. High-quality matchup between two playoff-caliber teams, and a great first test for Luck.
4. Houston Texans: It’s a matchup between two 2015 playoff teams and we’d see arguably the game’s two best defensive players in J.J. Watt and Von Miller. Plus, old pals of Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips would get to watch as those two coaches have the Super Bowl banner raised for them.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Two playoff-caliber division rivals could give us a great game, especially considering Kansas City beat the Broncos at Sports Authority Field last season.
6. Oakland Raiders: The young Raiders could be Denver’s biggest threat, and this is a great old rivalry. Oh and Oakland also beat the Broncos on the road in 2015.
7. San Diego Chargers: Another solid division rivalry, and there could be some interesting questions surrounding the Bolts at this point. But it should be noted that we’ve had only
one two divisional games in the 14 years since the NFL instituted this special kickoff Thursday nighter.
8. Atlanta Falcons: This is the only real crummy choice. Atlanta has some strong offensive weapons, but there aren’t any connections here. It’s just another game, meant to be played at 4 p.m. ET on a Sunday in October.