The NFL opens its season Thursday night with what should be a marquee matchup, a rematch of Super Bowl 50 with the Carolina Panthers going west to visit the Denver Broncos at 8:30 p.m. (NBC-6).
The last time the two Super Bowl opponents opened the season against each other came in 1970 when Minnesota and Kansas City squared off.
Since the Broncos and Panthers previously met, much has changed — especially in Denver.
Peyton Manning is famously retired, now walking around supermarkets or sitting at the park in a bathrobe, hoping his brother Eli makes it over for nachos on Tuesday.
Brock Osweiler, who replaced Manning behind center last year only to be replaced by No. 18 in the playoffs, took off as well after signing a four-year, $72-million deal in Houston.
So, who exactly, is Denver’s new quarterback?
Trevor Siemian takes over after beating out Mark Sanchez and first round pick Paxton Lynch during training camp.
A seventh-round pick in 2015 out of Northwestern, Siemian made just one appearance in a game as a rookie last year and has yet to throw an NFL pass.
“We have to give him freedom. We’ve got to let him play,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak told reporters. “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.”
While Denver’s offense may take some time to get humming, the Broncos’ defense should still be elite.
Although Denver lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is back with a new contract.
“This is not a rematch. This is not anything like that,” Carolina tight end Ed Dickson told the Charlotte Observer. “They won the Super Bowl. ... This is a game we open up with, get a bad taste out of our mouths and get rolling for our 2016 season.”
As for Carolina, Cam Newton & Co. are ready to build on last year’s 15-1 regular season and make it back to the big game. The Panthers have a pair of rookie cornerbacks, but are ready to get going. “What’s done is done,” Newton said. “The past is the past.”
Coach Ron Rivera reiterated playing the Broncos doesn’t seem to hold any special meaning.
“We’re going forward,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer. “That’s what the message has been with these players all along is we’ve got to go forward. Mike Ditka used to say the past is for cowards and losers, people that don’t want to let go.”
As for the rest of the league, things kick off with nine games in Sunday’s 1 p.m. slot — highlighted by the Packers visiting a Jacksonville team expected to make a playoff run this year.
The Dolphins (6-10 last year) open at Seattle at 4:05 (CBS-4).
Miami is currently a 10 1/2-point underdog to the Seahawks in coach Adam Gase’s debut on the Miami sideline.
The Patriots, without Tom Brady, visit Arizona in NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the opening week concludes with a pair of Monday night matchups on ESPN. Pittsburgh opens at Washington at 7:10 p.m. with the Los Angeles Rams visiting the 49ers at 10:20.