The NFL is back!
If you, like many Americans, enjoy enormous, athletic men beating the hell out of each other, Thursday will be a great day.
A Super Bowl 50 rematch is on tap.
Some of the faces from the Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in February are different — goodbye Peyton Manning, hello Trevor Siemian! — but many of the key players are the same.
The Panthers return 10 starters on offense. Wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who racked up 1,008 yards receiving and nine touchdowns as a rookie before missing all of last season with a torn ACL, makes 11.
Defensively, Carolina lost one of the top corners in the game in Josh Norman. That’s good news for Siemian, who presumably will be throwing his first-ever NFL pass. Especially since the Panthers are starting Darel Worley and James Bradberry, two rookies, at the corner spots.
What’s not so great for Siemian is that the Panthers return everyone in their formidable front seven. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are scary inside at the defensive tackle spots, and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis form one of the best one-two punches in football at middle and weakside linebacker.
It will be imperative for Denver to take some pressure off Siemian by a) running the football effectively and b) having Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas create some separation against the Panthers’ inexperienced secondary. Siemian is making his first NFL start against last year’s runner-ups on national TV; his teammates need to give him all the help they can.
The Von Miller oversized glasses’ matchup to keep an eye on:
Denver’s edge rushers vs. Carolina’s offensive tackles.
The sky is blue. Water is wet. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware wreaked havoc against the Carolina O-line’s bookends in the Super Bowl.
This is not a secret.
What’s amazing is that the Panthers didn’t do much to address either tackle spot this summer. Michael Oher (yes, the same one from “The Blindside”) is back at left tackle, and Mike Remmers returns at right tackle.
Advantage: Miller and Ware. Both Broncos’ linebackers were simply too quick off the ball for Oher and Remmers in the Super Bowl. Miller essentially sealed the game by going right past Remmers and strip-sacking Cam Newton with a little more than 4 minutes remaining.
We’ll see if Miller can do it again. He should be ready to go full-speed after playing sparingly in the preseason. Ware, who’s still dealing with a back issue, will be on a snaps limit. But Denver has enough depth behind him to still pressure Newton when he’s on the sideline.
How to watch the game
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Sports Authority Field
Broncos 24, Panthers 21