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Vulnerable Panthers lose season-opener to Broncos

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Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers may be last year’s conference champions, but yesterday’s performance against the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos may give those who think they’re shoe-ins to win the NFC South some pause.

Losing to the Super Bowl champions isn’t a great shame in most seasons, but this year may be different. The Broncos lost a few key defensive players, though they still have an impressive pass rush. More importantly, they’re starting 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian at quarterback, a move that would ordinarily be a recipe for disaster.

And to an extent, it was. Siemian lacks arm strength, and mostly threw short and underneath passes. He displayed some poise, but threw two pretty bad interceptions and was little more than a mediocre game manager. Last season, Carolina’s defense would have destroyed a quarterback and offense like that. This season, early indications are: not so much.

That mediocre game manager did enough to beat the Panthers, who missed a last-second, 50-yard field goal that could have won the game. Cam Newton looked like a star in the first half, but struggled more in the second as the Broncos pass-rush continued to get to him — and hit him in the head a bunch of times, without any penalties. Right tackle Mike Remmers was a particular weak point, but the Panthers offensive line as a whole struggled — as they did in the Super Bowl.

That’s going to be a concern for the Panthers all season long, though most NFL teams don’t have DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on the same defensive line. Having Kelvin Benjamin back will help this offense, but if defenses continue to throw the kitchen sink at the Carolina offensive line, it’s going to be a really long year for Cam Newton.

All of that bodes well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finally want to get back to the playoffs after a near-decade’s absence. They have a tough schedule ahead, and a division in which every team has a franchise quarterback — and every team has some flaws. If the Panthers are indeed coming back down to earth, the Bucs may just get up and run away with the division title.