Since Super Bowl 50, Broncos and Panthers have shared similar, sad paths
For both the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, Super Bowl 50 never seemed so far away.
Both are among the league’s cellar-dwellers. Only the Houston Texans have fewer wins than the Broncos and Panthers, both of whom are in an eight-team cluster of ineptitude whose members all have exactly three wins. It’s a group that includes three playoff teams from last year — Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Rams — so it’s not as though only perennial stragglers occupy this club.
However, the Broncos and Panthers are among those who remain rooted near the league’s basement. Denver needs a 6-1 finish to avoid its sixth-consecutive losing season. Carolina must go undefeated to dodge its fifth-straight sub-.500 campaign.
They aren’t exactly the same, but they’re close enough to recognize themselves in each other.
Would you believe that the Broncos and Panthers have won EXACTLY the same number of games since Super Bowl 50? They’ve won 42 apiece. Carolina has one more loss — 66 to Denver’s 65 — but that’s because the Panthers have played one more game this season and have their bye next week.
So, it’s not just their matching 3-win totals for this season.
Carolina has four consecutive losing seasons to its name. Denver has five. Neither has won a playoff game since Super Bowl 50, although the Panthers did lose a wild-card contest at New Orleans in January 2018.
Both have the league’s newest owners: David Tepper in Carolina and the Walton-Penner group in Denver. Tepper bought the Panthers fresh off of an 11-5 finish in 2017; they haven’t come close to that level since. The Walton-Penner group, meanwhile, is learning that life in the NFL can provide some bitter on-field results to go with the obvious sweet rewards of being in one of the most exclusive sports/business clubs on earth.
Teddy Bridgewater is the common area of the Venn diagram between the Panthers and Broncos. The Broncos traded for him just before the 2021 NFL Draft — a deal that happened because the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold.
Denver has started 12 different players at quarterback since Super Bowl 50, including the official starter of the “Kendall Hinton Game” of 2020, Philip Lindsay. Carolina isn’t far behind, with nine starters in that span.
Carolina’s instability was unexpected. In the wake of the Super Bowl loss, they figured the reigning NFL MVP would be around a while longer. Instead, they effectively got just three more seasons out of Cam Newton before injuries and accumulated wear and tear caught up with him. He returned to start five games in 2021, but it was basically the fan-service, long-delayed sequel that didn’t resemble the original. Newton’s return was the “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” of comebacks. Although Newton isn’t officially retired, his career appears done.
For Denver, the instability was borne out of missteps in trying to replace the retired Peyton Manning.
Both teams took chances on late-round or undrafted QBs — Trevor Siemian in Denver, Kyle Allen in Carolina. Both swung and missed on Day 2 draft QBs — Drew Lock for the Broncos and Will Grier for the Panthers. Each even tried young QBs released by other teams who ended up sticking as No. 2 QBs elsewhere — Brandon Allen in Denver, Taylor Heinicke in Carolina.
And, of course, both had Bridgewater. And they had similar versions of him: Denver got a 94.9 passer rating from him, while Carolina got a 92.1 passer rating out of 15 Bridgewater starts. Carolina got a higher completion percentage and ESPN QBR; Denver got a better TD-to-INT ratio and a slightly better yardage per attempt.
THE COACHING CHANGES
If you include interim coaches, both clubs are on their fourth head coach since Super Bowl 50. Ron Rivera coached just under four more seasons before the Panthers fired him and had Perry Jewell finish the 2019 campaign. Then, Tepper took a massive swing at Matt Rhule, only to see him fizzle in a flurry of bad quarterbacking decisions and head-scratching speeches.
— Nick Carboni (@NickCarboniWCNC) December 26, 2021
Of course, in Denver, the unusual soundbites weren’t limited to the head coach:
.@SeanKeeler to Pat Shurmur: “Have you ever Googled yourself?”
Shurmur: “I don’t. I don’t, really. I’m not a very social-media savvy guy. I just don’t consume it. I don’t see the point in most of it, quite frankly. I mean, I still use a pencil. And I really mean that.” pic.twitter.com/C22wofX0s3
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) October 14, 2021
But Hackett, like Steve Wilks, is the fourth coach for his franchise over the last seven years.
AND THEY DEALT STAR PLAYERS AT THE DEADLINE
The Broncos sent Bradley Chubb to the Miami Dolphins, of course. Denver received first- and fourth-round picks, along with RB Chase Edmonds, who is now on injured reserve. Denver also sent the Dolphins a 2025 Round 5 pick in the swap.
Carolina shipped Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers for second-, third- and fourth-round choices and a fifth-round pick. By the draft-value chart, in these deals, Chubb was effectively worth the No. 23 overall pick; McCaffrey was worth the 33rd overall choice.
But Carolina drew just as much attention for the deal it didn’t make: sending edge rusher Brian Burns to the Los Angeles Rams. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Carolina declined an offer of two first-round picks and a second-rounder from the Rams for Burns.
BUT HERE’S WHERE THEY DIFFER:
It’s in looking at the future.
It seems clear that the Panthers will not only have a new coach, but a shiny new Round 1 QB next year. In a QB-rich first round, the Panthers should end up with C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson or one of the other passers whose form will dominate conversation once draft season begins. They will likely have the cost-controlled quarterback. And while that comes with myriad unknowns, it also creates flexibility. For the Panthers, they feel this will give them the ability to keep key components of a talented young defense, particularly Burns.
Denver won’t pick until much later. Their first-round pick — which they only have because of the Chubb trade — is currently projected at the No. 20 spot. And the better the 49ers do, the worse that pick becomes. And then, of course, there is the fact that the Broncos have a quarterback enduring his worst season with monstrous salary-cap figures in the future: $35.4 million next year, $55.4 million in 2024 and $58.4 million in 2025 — which is the first year that the money saved would be more than the dead money created by parting ways.
Two old foes meet in the Carolina Piedmont on Sunday. And the one with the quickest path out of their current state might not be the team with three Lombardi Trophies and a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback … but the one still looking for the biggest prize, and with its 2023 QB TBD.