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20 DEC 2015: Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) during the second quarter of the game between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Carolina Panthers

Yasinskas: Panthers are the most complete team in NFL

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
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After winning last season’s Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos lost future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to retirement and heir apparent Brock Osweiler to free agency.

After losing last season’s Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers let cornerback Josh Norman walk away in free agency.

Do those moves change the balance of power at the top of the NFL? Heck, yeah, they do.

Manning was past his prime last year and it showed. Osweiler filled in when Manning was injured and was adequate. In some ways, the Broncos made the Super Bowl in spite of their shortcomings at quarterback.

So what did the Broncos do about the position in the offseason? They got worse, far worse.

At first, they thought veteran Mark Sanchez could be an effective starter as a game manager. But Sanchez bombed in the preseason and the Broncos had to make another move. They’re now going with Trevor Siemian as their starting quarterback. Give yourself bonus points if you had ever heard of Siemian before the start. He has taken precisely one NFL snap and that was a kneel down.

As the Broncos take on the Panthers to open the season Thursday night, we have two teams headed in different directions. Despite having an incredible defense, the Broncos aren’t going to be nearly as good as they were last season and that’s because of the situation at quarterback. Denver may have a tough time making the playoffs with Siemian and there is no way the Broncos repeat as Super Bowl champions.

The Panthers are in a totally different boat.

After a 15-1 season last year and a trip to the Super Bowl, the team is going to be better. A lot better.

Sure, the loss of Norman will have an impact. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the league last season. But some scouts felt Norman was overrated and the product of a system that is driven by an outstanding front seven. Some also thought Norman talked too much and wasn’t a good influence in the locker room. Apparently, the Panthers agreed with some or all of that because they rescinded Norman’s franchise tag when it became obvious they weren’t going to give him the kind of money he wanted in a long-term contract.

The Panthers might have accomplished addition by subtraction in letting Norman walk. They got rid of a player who was a distraction at times and not as good as his hype. The Panthers decided to go with youth at cornerback, drafting James Bradberry in the second round and Daryl Worley in the third.

They’re not likely to struggle as much as most rookie cornerbacks and that’s because the front seven, led by Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Kawaan Short, is so good. The Panthers also used their first-round pick on Vernon Butler, who will play in a rotation with Short and Star Lotulelei. Even without Norman, Carolina’s defense should be as good or better than last year.

There’s no question Carolina’s offense will be better than last year.

The Panthers have reigning Most Valuable Player Cam Newton at quarterback. That alone puts them several steps ahead of the Broncos. Newton is just hitting his prime and should be better with another year of experience.

He also will have a much better supporting cast. It starts with No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Benjamin’s return should take some of the defensive pressure away from tight end Greg Olsen, who wound up being Newton’s favorite target. The Panthers also believe second-year receiver Devin Funchess is ready to become a quality contributor. On paper, the passing game should be much improved.

On paper, the running game is already good. Newton is the best running quarterback in the league. If running back Jonathan Stewart can stay healthy, the Panthers will have a complete offense.

They already have a complete defense. They now are a more complete team than the Broncos. And they might be the most complete team in the NFL.

Yasinskas: Panthers are the most complete team in NFL



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