It’s finally here! After what seemed like forever, the new NFL season is upon us at last. The previous season saw its fair share of surprises (and heartbreaks) and we’re hoping that 2016 will offer us much of the same drama. Among these is the campaign by the Carolina Panthers to return to the Super Bowl and exorcise their past demons.
The big questions on everyone’s mind this year is who’s going to be in the big game at the end of the season. It’s highly unlikely that Denver will be competing for another Super Bowl. Last year, Denver’s defense was ranked number-one for yards allowed per game, but we’d be surprised to see them repeat their same success this year. The defense was picked apart by the free agency vultures, and they lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, leaving it a shell of what it once was. Of course, the Broncos still have Super Bowl MVP Von Miller in addition to Aqib Talib, so there’s still more than enough to keep offenses busy, just don’t expect the same dominance. That said, it’s still the undisputed highlight of the team when compared to the offense.
Speaking of the Denver offense, there’s not too much to get excited about. While Peyton Manning had the worst year of his career last season, at least it was something. This year, the starting quarterback is set to be Trevor Siemian, who everyone just learned even existed about a week ago. With a fresh and untested face under center, we expect a whole lot of running from the offense and a potentially big year for running back C.J. Anderson. But if last year was rough, this year could be even worse.
Despite their embarrassment in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers remain one of the best teams in the league. Their biggest free agency loss was Josh Norman, who was released and signed with Washington. Still, the defense remains one of the strongest in the NFL with stars such as Luke Kuechly, Kony Ealy, and Thomas Davis all returning. The secondary will be the big question for the Panthers, because the team may be starting two rookie cornerbacks, Daryl Worley and James Bradberry.
On the offensive end, Cam Newton needs to have another career season if he hopes to prove that last year’s incredible numbers weren’t a fluke. But with star receiver Kelvin Benjamin finally healthy, Newton should have the necessary weapons to make it happen. Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks for the Panthers is the offensive line. The O-line gave a big extension to Michael Oher despite the fact that the “Blindside” player got lit up when the Broncos slammed Newton with seven sacks in the Super Bowl. The team is going to have to do better than that if they hope to win a ring. However, the Panthers have the advantage of competing in the anemic NFC South, and it’s hard to imagine the Falcons or the Saints giving them a run for their money this year.
We almost saw a rematch of the Patriots and Panthers last year, and that remains one of the dream Super Bowl match-ups this season. The last time the two met in the Super Bowl was back in 2003 when the Pats took down the Panthers 32-29 in what’s widely considered one of the best Super Bowls ever played. It will take a lot for a rematch to happen with Patriots QB Tom Brady out for the first four games of the season, but the NFL is a league where anything can happen.