In the six months between confetti fall and curtain rise, the
But these Broncos will look strikingly similar Thursday night to
After all, despite all the changes on offense, the Broncos have not made wholesale alterations to a defense that was so dominant in that February masterpiece. Defensive tackle
“This is what you dream about as kids,” said Newton, the defending
So the 2016 season will kick off with the matchup that ended the 2015 season. The last time that happened was 1970, when the season began with a Super Bowl rematch pitting Kansas City and Minnesota.
Given the choice, Panthers Coach
"If I had my druthers, I'd have liked to start the season differently, but I don't," said Rivera, named NFL coach of the year in two of the past three seasons.
The Broncos have made significant alterations on the offensive side, most notably at quarterback after Manning retired and heir apparent
Denver is the first defending Super Bowl winner since the 2001
Although the Broncos have continued their shift to more of a run-based offense, Coach
"We have to give him freedom," Kubiak said. "We've got to let him play. Obviously when you're talking about a Hall of Famer [Manning], that package may be a little bit bigger, but Trevor's a smart kid and that's one of the reasons he's got himself in this position, because he's able to handle a lot. It's going to be up to him to get us in the right situations and we also have to help him, too, and keep him in the right situations."
The Panthers have some young players of their own they are bringing up to speed. Star cornerback
"I imagine that [Denver's receivers] have looked at all the tape at our guys and see what they do better and what their tendencies are," Rivera told reporters this week. "They'll try to have a plan for that. I would anticipate that they would attack them. If you have young guys out there, people are going to attack them. That just makes sense."
That said, Kubiak called the Panthers' front seven "as good as I've ever competed against as an offensive coach."
No matter what's happening on the other side of the ball for the Broncos, Denver defenders are anxious to show they're the same unit that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of last season.