Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos preview: Rare week one Super Bowl rematch
Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos preview: Rare week one Super Bowl rematch

For just the second time in NFL history, the previous year's Super Bowl matchup will kick off week one of the regular season. Not since the Super Bowl IV reunion between the champion Kansas City Chiefs and runner-up Minnesota Vikings in week one of the 1970 season has the last game of a season been the opening game of the next.

Flash ahead to 2016 and the NFC champion Carolina Panthers roll into Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos in the NFL Kickoff Classic.

Both teams downplaying the idea of a Super Bowl rematch  

"A lot of people want to make it a rematch," retorted Panthers quarterback and reigning league MVP Cam Newton. "It's just our next opponent."

A 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50 left Newton visibly sour and surly after the game. The last image of Newton from that game was the dejected quarterback sitting hunched on the post-game press conference stage, hood over his head, giving short and combative answers to media questions.

"No one likes losing, so I took it extremely personal," said Newton.

He along with other Panthers prefer to look forward to the 2016 season and leave the disappointment of their Super Bowl loss in the past.  

"We can't make or break our whole season on the first game," said Pro-Bowl tight end Greg Olsen. "What's done is done. The past is the past. We have a whole new season to look forward to. The more we try to hinge on correcting what happened in the Super Bowl, the more we're going to keep getting pulled back."

It's going to be hard for the Panthers not to enter their week one matchup in Denver seeking some kind of redemption when you consider what happened to the then 17-1 NFC champions.  

The Panthers offense was a steamroller throughout the 2015 season and the first two games of the playoffs. The highest scoring offense regularly jumped out to fast starts, burying their opponents. The Panthers led the NFL with a +192 score differential.  Once Newton and the offense obtained a comfortable lead the running game led by running back Jonathan Stewart and a top-six defense led by Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker took over.  

In the Super Bowl, the Broncos defense smothered the Panthers offense. The usual mobile Newton was bottled up by the Broncos vaunted pass-rush.  

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller led the Broncos defense in disrupting the Panthers offensive game plan.  Denver quickly bottled up the run game, convincing Carolina head coach Ron Rivera of the need to go predominantly through the air. Miller and the rest of the pass rush were able to tee off on the Panthers, overwhelming the Panthers o-line and hitting Newton before he had an opportunity to go through his progressions.  

What unfolded was six sacks of Newton, 2.5 by Miller that included a strip sack that ended up being recovered in the end zone by defensive lineman Malik Jackson, giving the Broncos an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. It wouldn't get any better for Newton and the Panthers as Denver never relinquish their lead.

The Panthers have a reason for hope that the outcome of Thursday's game will be different with the return of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season due to injury.

Benjamin is a rising star at wide receiver who can dominate opposing defenses with his size and speed. Last season nobody got more out of an otherwise average wide receiver corps than Newton. Now with Benjamin's return, the Panthers look for their passing game to be even better.

As Carolina enters Thursday night looking for some kind of redemption, Denver is using what they believe to be a lack of respect as their motivation.

Broncos are underdogs -- at home

The Broncos are three-point underdogs entering the game. The Broncos feel less than respected after a season in which they went 12-4 on the backs of a defense that can contend as one of the all-time best, defeated teams quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the playoffs, and finally finished up with an impressive performance against the league MVP in Newton in Super Bowl 50. To be underdogs in their own stadium on the night they unveil their third Super Bowl championship banner is helping to keep players celebrating past efforts focused on the present. 

The Broncos, especially the defense, used a lack of acknowledgment of the quality of their team last season to push them through to Santa Clara, CA and Super Bowl 50. This season they are doing the same.  

"...we'll probably be underdogs Week 2 and so on," said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. "We're fine with it."

With the retirement of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in March, they have turned to second-year player Trevor Siemian to try and fill those sizeable shoes.

A 2015 seventh-round pick from Northwestern University, who has taken one NFL snap in his career for a kneel-down, is credited with poise under pressure, command of the huddle, and a gun for an arm that Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders compares to Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

General Manager John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak, who spotted Siemian on video during his draft preparation last year, both praise their new quarterback.

"(Siemian) can go into that meeting room for two hours in the morning, walk out of here at 11:30 and take it to the field," Kubiak said. "You can't teach that. We need to help Trevor all we can. But I know Trevor is ready to do his part and we're behind him 100 percent."

How Siemian handles the pressure of a nationally televised game, under the immense spotlight that the game carries, is anyone's guess.

The Panthers won't be looking to make things any easier for Siemian. Carolina will be looking to rattle the young quarterback by bringing the heat with their seven-man defensive front that is considered one of the league's best. Kubiak is well aware of what Carolina can do defensively.

I think it’s because of the pressure they can put on you,” Kubiak said. "(it's) as good as I’ve ever coached against.”

Siemian's best friend, not only on Thursday night but for the rest of the season, will be running backs Anderson and rookie Devontae Booker. Kubiak hopes that the Broncos can establish a solid ground game to keep the pressure off of Siemian. 

However, with the strength of the Panthers defense being their front seven, Kubiak may be tempted to roll Siemian outside of the pocket and challenge the two rookie corners that will be covering wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Sanders.

Carolina has two rookies starting on the outside

The Panthers are the first team since 1991 to start the season with two rookies at cornerback. Carolina decided to withdraw their franchise tag from star cornerback Josh Norman and now he patrols the secondary for the Washington Redskins.

Hopes for both teams offensively to produce hinges on their offensive lines. The Panthers offensive line must prove that their horrible play during the Super Bowl was an aberration and they can handle Miller. The Broncos must show that their revamped o-line with four new starters, only center Matt Paradis remains as a holdover, can gel in time to keep Siemian upright.

Whatever the result, this NFL Classic looks to be aptly named.

Carolina Panthers - Denver Broncos

NFL Kickoff Classic

Week 1 - 09/08/16

Time:  8:30 PM ET

TV:  NBC

Location:  Sports Authority Field at Mile High 

Line:  Panthers -3 (Westgate Superbook)

Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (#13) makes his NFL debut as a starter on September 8, 2016 versus the Carolina Panthers.  Photo:  Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (#13) makes his NFL debut as a starter on September 8, 2016, versus the Carolina Panthers | Source: Doug Pensinger - Getty Images North America

2016 Record

Denver Broncos

Overall: 

0-0

Home: 0-0

Road: 0-0

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (#1) is ready to move on from the Super Bowl loss and focus on a new season.  Photo:   Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (#1) is ready to move on from the Super Bowl loss and focus on a new season | Source: Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images North America

2016 Record

Carolina Panthers

Overall: 

0-0

Home: 0-0

Road: 0-0

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (#58) proved to be too much for the Carolina Panthers offensive line in Super Bowl 50.  Photo:  Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (#58) proved to be too much for the Carolina Panthers offensive line in Super Bowl 50 | Source: Streeter Lecka - Getty Images North America

Head-To-Head Record (1997-Present)

Regular Season: Broncos lead 3-1

Playoffs: Broncos lead 1-0 

At Denver:  Broncos lead 2-0

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (#28) will look to get the running game going early against the Broncos defense.  Photo:  Al Bello/Getty Images North America
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (#28) will look to get the running game going early against the Broncos defense | Source: Al Bello - Getty Images North America

Last Met:

02/07/16 Super Bowl 50:  Broncos 24  Panthers 10 

Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward (#43) embraces the underdog role his Broncos find themselves in once again.  Photos:  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America
Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward (#43) embraces the underdog role his Broncos find themselves in once again | Source: Ronald Martinez - Getty Images North America

Starters:

Carolina Panthers
Offense Position NFL Experience  (seasons)
Kelvin Benjamin WR 3
Michael Oher LT 8
Andrew Norwell LG 3
Ryan Kalil C 10
Trai Turner RG 3
Mike Remmers RT 4
Greg Olsen TE 10
Ted Ginn, Jr. WR 10
Cam Newton QB 6
Mike Tolbert FB 9
Jonathan Stewart RB 9
Defense Position NFL Experience (Seasons)
Charles Johnson LDE 10
Star Loutulelei LDT 4
Kawann Short RDT 4
Kony Ealy RDE 3
Shaq Thompson SLB 2
Luke Kuechly MLB 5
Thomas Davis WLB 12
James Bradberry LCB R
Daryl Worley RCB R
Kurt Coleman SS 7
Tre Boston FS 3
Special Teams Position NFL Experience (Seasons)
Graham Gano K 7
Andy Lee P 13
Graham Gano KO 7
Andy Lee H 13
Ted Ginn, Jr KR,PR 10
J.J. Jansen LS 9
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin's (#13) return to the lineup gives the Panthers already potent offense a lift. Photo:  Harry How/Getty Images North America
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin's (#13) return to the lineup gives the Panthers already potent offense a lift | Source: Harry How - Getty Images North America
Denver Broncos
Offense Position NFL Experience
Demaryius Thomas WR 7
Russell Okung LT 7
Max Garcia LG 2
Matt Paradis C 2
Michael Schofield RG 3
Donald Stephenson RT 5
Virgil Green TE 6
Emmanuel Sanders WR 7
Trevor Siemian QB 2
Andy Janovich FB R
C.J. Anderson RB 4
Defense Position NFL Experience
Derek Wolfe LDE 5
Sylvester Williams NT 4
Jared Crick RDE 5
Von Miller SLB 6
Brandon Marshall ILB 5
Todd Davis ILB 3
DeMarcus Ware WLB 12
Aqib Talib LCB 9
T.J. Ward SS 7
Darian Stewart FS 7
Chris Harris, Jr. RCB 5
Special Teams Position NFL Experience (Seasons)
Brandon McManus K, KO 3
Riley Dixon P, H R
Casey Kreiter LS 1
Jordan Norwood PR 7
Cody Latimer KR 3

*Stats: 

2015 NFL Rankings (YPG)
Panthers Broncos
Total Offense 11th (366.9) 16th (355.5)
Passing 24th (224.3) 14th (248.1)
Rushing 2nd (142.6) 17th (107.4)
Total Defense 6th (322.9) 1st (283.1)
Passing 11th (234.5) 1st (199.6)
Rushing 4th (88.4) 3rd (83.6)
Team Leaders (2015)
Offense
Passing C/ATT PCT ATT/G YDS AVG YDS/G Long TD INT Sacks Rating Rank
Cam Newton 296/495 59.8 30.9 3,837 7.8 239.8 74 35 10 33 99.4 16th
Peyton Manning 198/331 59.8 33.1 2,249 6.8 224.9 75 9 17 16 67.9 27th
Rushing CAR CAR/G YDS AVG YDS/G Long TD Rank
Jonathan Stewart 242 18.6 989 4.1 76.1 44 6 5th
Ronnie Hillman 207 12.9 863 4.2 53.9 72 7 26th
Receiving REC YDS AVG YDS/G Long TD Rank
Greg Olsen 77 1,104 14.3 69 52 7 25th
D. Thomas 105 1,304 12.4 81.5 72 6 7th
Defense
Tackles Total Solo Rank
Luke Kuechly 76 34 13th
Danny Trevathan 73 27 26th
Sacks Total Rank
Kawann Short 11.0 8th
Von Miller 11.0 8th
Interceptions Total TD Rank
Kurt Coleman 7 1 3rd
Aqib Talib 3 2 24th
Standings (2015)
NFC South W     L     T PCT PF PA Home  Road Div Conf Streak L5
Carolina Panthers 15    1     0 .938 500 308 8-0 7-1 5-1 11-1 W1 4-1
Atlanta Falcons 8       8    0 .500 339 345 4-4 4-4 1-5 5-7 L1 2-3
New Orleans Saints 7       9    0 .438 408 476 4-4 3-5 3-3 5-7 W2 3-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6      10   0 .375 342 417 3-5 3-5 3-3 5-7 L4 1-4
AFC West W     L     T PCT PF PA Home Road Div Conf Streak L5
Denver Broncos 12    4     0 .750 355 296 6-2 6-2 4-2 8-4 W-2 3-2
Kansas City Chiefs 11    5     0 .688 405 287 6-2 5-3 5-1 10-2 W10 5-0
Oakland Raiders 7      9     0 .438 359 399 3-5 4-4 3-3 7-5 L1 2-3
San Diego Chargers 4      12   0 .250 320 398 3-5 1-7 0-6 3-9 L2 1-4

*All stats via NFL.com

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