Carolina motivated and Broncos made over for NFL opener

Cam Newton and Von Miller won't be watching much film of the Super Bowl as their Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos prepare for the NFL season-opener on Thursday.

The Panthers don't really want to relive the nightmare, and the Broncos don't want to live in the past.

The bulk of Carolina's squad was back except star cornerback Josh Norman, who was deemed expendable and signed with Washington. After the miserable 24-10 loss to Denver in the Super Bowl, the offense should be even better because star receiver Kelvin Benjamin is back after a knee injury forced him to miss last season.

The last eight teams to lose the Super Bowl have won at least 10 games the next season. But no team has reached the title game a year after losing since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.

"You can never be satisfied," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We didn't win the Super Bowl. So that right there is enough for us to stay motivated."

Broncos general manager John Elway blew up his offense, dumping both starting tight ends and three linemen. Quarterback Peyton Manning retired a month after winning his second Super Bowl ring, and his longtime backup Brock Osweiler, who started seven games last season, followed him out of Denver 48 hours later when he accepted a $72 million offer from the Houston Texans.

The only diamond-encrusted championship ring you'll see around team headquarters is the one in the big trophy case in the lobby, substituting for the Lombardi Trophies that are on display elsewhere in the city this week.

"We let all of that go," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "This is a new team, new year, new season."

Indeed. Thursday will mark the first pro start for passer Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick in 2015. His backup is rookie Paxton Lynch, Denver's first-rounder this year.

New England has known for several weeks who its quarterback will be at the start of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo steps in for the suspended Tom Brady, who'll have to sit out four games because of his role in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Pittsburgh might have as good a chance to win the AFC crown as anyone, especially if Ben Roethlisberger remains healthy. The Steelers went 10-6 and won a playoff game last season despite a down year for their playmaking quarterback because of injuries.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, among the most dynamic offensive players in the league, broke his own franchise records by catching 136 passes for 1,834 yards. Running back Le'Veon Bell is back from torn knee ligaments and should provide a boost, but will be suspended for the first three games for missing multiple drug tests.

The Steelers will also have to contend with AFC North rival Cincinnati, which has made the postseason five straight years. Quarterback Andy Dalton is recovered from a broken thumb that kept him out of the Bengals' first-round playoff loss to the Steelers. He was having a breakout season when he got hurt last December.

Carolina, the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, the last four teams to play for the NFC Championship, remain the class of a conference that has far more pretenders than contenders.

The Cardinals were 13-3 last year and are 34-14 under Bruce Arians. A blowout loss at Carolina in the NFC title game was a bitter end to a fine season. Carson Palmer is coming off his best season, but threw four interceptions against the Panthers. Palmer turns 37 in December, so there's urgency to win now.

Seattle also was knocked out of the playoffs by the Panthers. The Seahawks might have even more depth than they did when they almost won consecutive Super Bowls in 2013-14. Running back Thomas Rawls " Marshawn Lynch's replacement " and tight end Jimmy Graham are back from significant injuries that ended their 2015 seasons early. Russell Wilson led the NFL in passer rating and is still improving.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are looking to rebound after Minnesota ended their four-year reign in the NFC North. Star receiver Jordy Nelson is back after missing the season with a knee injury. Running back Eddie Lacy slimmed down. Even Rodgers altered his diet after minor knee surgery in the offseason.

If everyone around him stays healthy, Rodgers should return to MVP form. He had 3,821 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions in a "down" year for him in 2015.

The Vikings round out the top five in the NFC. But they need much more production from Teddy Bridgewater to have a chance to win the conference. Bridgewater finished in the bottom third of the NFL in most quarterback categories last season. Minnesota's offense still relies on Adrian Peterson, who led the league with 1,485 yards rushing last season. If the 31-year-old Peterson slows down, the Vikings could be in trouble.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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