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NFL returns with rematch of Super Bowl

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is hoping his team has better results against the Denver Broncos on Thursday. (Matt York / Associated Press)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is hoping his team has better results against the Denver Broncos on Thursday. (Matt York / Associated Press)

DENVER – The 2016 NFL season starts Thursday (5:30 p.m., NBC) the same way the last one ended, with Von Miller staring down Cam Newton.

Denver’s star linebacker got the best of Newton in Super Bowl 50, stripping both the football (twice) and the Lombardi Trophy from the Carolina quarterback’s grasp in the Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Panthers.

The sequel won’t feature Peyton Manning, who retired a month later. When longtime backup Brock Osweiler signed with Houston two days after Manning’s tearful goodbye, GM John Elway embarked on a months-long search for a successor.

He didn’t find him in the draft, free agency or via trade, but right there on his roster in Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 from Northwestern who’ll be making his first NFL start.

Siemian has never thrown a pass as a pro. At least he won’t have to face star cornerback Josh Norman, who signed with the Redskins after the Panthers rescinded their franchise tag in the offseason.

Instead, Siemian will square off against two rookie cornerbacks in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, the biggest changes on the NFC champions’ roster that returns 18 starters.

“I’m not going to look at them like they’re rookies,” Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I’m going to treat them like they’re Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman.”

While the Panthers were restocking, the Broncos were busy rebuilding. They return just five offensive starters from the Super Bowl.

The massive makeover didn’t take away from their championship celebration. When they visited the White House, receiver Demaryius Thomas got to personally thank President Barack Obama for commuting his mother’s drug sentence, and successfully pleaded for the release of his grandmother this summer, as well.

Nobody basked in the limelight quite like Miller, who skipped the offseason program before signing a record-breaking contract. He embarked on a six-month jet-setting junket of television and dance studios.

Miller’s torment of Newton in the Super Bowl was just the start. He made him the butt of his jokes on “SNL” and trolled him on Instagram, photo-shopping himself knocking another ball out of Newton’s hands when the QB posted a picture of himself playing with the U.S. water polo team.

Miller said this week it was all in good fun and called Newton “the best player in the league.”

Newton insisted he took no offense and called Miller “one of the great players in this NFL.”

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