Carolina Panthers (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)
8:30pm ET on NBC
If Cam Newton had trouble sleeping this off-season, it was no doubt because he was having nightmares about Von Miller chasing him. Newton was the NFL’s MVP for the 2015 season, but in the sport’s biggest game, no one came up bigger than Miller, who forced a Newton fumble in the first quarter that was returned for a TD, and generally caused havoc all day. When it was over, Miller had 2 ½ sacks, had forced 2 fumbles, and made 5 tackles, en route to a 24-10 Denver victory and became just the eighth defensive player to win the Super Bowl MVP award.
Seven months on, Newton insists that tonight’s game is “not a rematch”, and it’s hard to argue, as both teams – especially Denver – lost key people.
The Panthers said goodbye to Josh Norman, who’d been the heart of the team’s secondary for four season, but they welcome back wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season after an impressive rookie campaign that saw him pull in 73 passes for 1,008 yards and 9 TDs, and they re-signed DE Charles Johnson after releasing him to save $8 million. Johnson had averaged 9 sacks a year for seven seasons before slogging through an injury-plagued 2015, but returned to form in the playoffs, recording a sack in each game.
The Broncos, meanwhile, bid adieu to Peyton Manning, who retired a champion despite connecting on just 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards, with an interception and 5 sacks in Super Bowl 50. Denver also lost QB Brock Osweiler, who apparently was so cheesed about getting benched during the playoffs in favor of Manning that he signed with the Houston Texans. The Broncos this year will hand over the reins to Trevor Siemian, the most inexperienced QB ever to lead a Super Bowl champion the following season. Siemian, 23, has played in one game in his career, making a single rush for -1 yard, but, hey, he’s better than Manning.
Denver’s top-rated defense lost DE Malik and LB Danny Trevathan to free agency, but Pro Bowler Chris Harris Jr. isn’t worried.
“We’ve heard all those things about the guys who left, and that’s fine. We know we have to go out and play anyway. So what anybody says won’t matter if we play the way we know we can.”
Denver’s got a retooled defense, and a brand new QB – there’s no way they can beat the Panthers again. Right? Or is it possible that Cam spits the bit yet again?
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