Thin Mile High air gives Broncos an early-season edge in home openers

DENVER — Sports Authority Field at Mile High isn’t just a catchy name. The home of the Super Bowl champion Broncos sits 5,280 feet above sea level — exactly one mile into the sky. Gotta respect the attention to detail.

You should also respect the Broncos’ built-in home-field advantage at Sports Authority Field, especially early into the NFL season.

The thin air at that altitude has long plagued visiting teams, with that energy-draining effect amplified in Denver’s opening home games of the schedule.

Heading into Thursday’s Super Bowl rematch between the host Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, Denver boasts an incredible 27-4 mark and has gone 19-12 against the spread in those contests, covering the spread more than 61 percent of the time.

Since 2000, the Broncos have lost their home opener just once (2011) and have failed to cover the spread only four times, with a 10-4-2 against-the-spread record (71.4 percent).

“There’s no question that playing in that Mile High altitude effects visiting teams and I believe it’s even more impactful early in the season,” said Peter Childs, supervisor of risk management for Sportsbook.ag.

“There isn’t a team out there in all the NFL that is in game shape — flat out nobody’s played a game. A few have played a half of football in Week 3 of the preseason, but even then that’s just preseason and lacks the intensity of a regular season game.”

The Broncos have won with ease in their home openers, outscoring opponents by an average of 28.8-18.9 versus an average spread of five points since 1985.

Last season, Denver defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 19-13, as 4.5-point home chalk in Week 1. The Broncos defense shut out the Ravens in the fourth quarter to secure the win.

“I’m not saying these athletes and teams are not in shape, but there’s no substituting for being in ‘game shape’ and that takes a few weeks,” Childs said. “I fully believe the Broncos’ early-season success at home is directly correlated to teams not being as in shape as they are later on in the season.”

Sports books are currently dealing the Broncos as three-point home underdogs, after the home side opened as a slight favorite and was bet down because of issues at quarterback.

Peyton Manning retired after the Super Bowl 50 victory and free agent Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans in the offseason. That has forced the Broncos to give the starting nod to Trevor Siemian, who has never thrown a pass in a regular-season game.

The Broncos have been a betting underdog in their home opener just once before in the past 31 years, winning 23-16 as a three-point underdog hosting the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 of 2002.

The Broncos will be leaning hard on their defense to again be the difference maker in 2016, but with that said, Denver has trended toward the over in home openers.

The team has posted a 20-11 over/under mark since 1985 (64.5 percent over) with an average total of 47.8 points scored against an average closing total of 43.4.

The betting total for Thursday’s game opened at 43 points and is down to 41.5 as of Tuesday. The Broncos and Panthers played under the 43-point total in Super Bowl 50, with Denver winning, 24-10.

This story was written by Jason Logan at Covers.com and distributed by Tribune Media. It originally appeared on Covers.com.