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Five Things to Watch: Panthers at Broncos

1. How will the reigning MVP start the season? Cam Newton never got on track during the loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50, and everyone wants to see how he'll respond in the 2016 season opener.

Newton and all of his teammates have stressed that the past is in the past; they're moving forward. But the ultra-competitive Newton surely wants to come back with a stellar performance against the Broncos.

"I really can't wait," Newton said. "This game will be a great game. We want them at their best, and I'm pretty sure they want us at our best."

The Carolina offensive linemen know the success of last year's top scoring offense starts with them. Linebacker Von Miller wreaked havoc in Super Bowl 50, and he and the other Denver pass rushers must be contained.

The O-linemen weren't interested in saying much to the media this week. They intend for their play to speak loudly.

2. Heavy dose of Stewart: The Panthers are determined to protect their MVP quarterback when he drops back to throw, but it's also critical to establish a consistent ground game with Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Stewart.

"Definitely, the running game is how we want to set the tone," Stewart said. "Being physical is what we pride ourselves on."

The Panthers have produced 27 consecutive regular season games with at least 100 rushing yards, the longest active streak in the NFL.

If Stewart can consistently gain four or five yards on early downs, that'll keep Carolina out of third-and-long, which was a situation they faced far too often in Super Bowl 50.

"You've got to have success on first and second down, and we didn't have the kind of success we would have liked," head coach Ron Rivera recalled. "Being in third-and-long is a difficult thing. Whether a team is going to 'green-dog' you or blitz you straight up, or whether they are going to play coverage, third-and-long is not what you want to be in."

3. Benjamin's impact: The physical Denver secondary didn't have to contend with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back in February, but Carolina's 6-5, 245-pound wideout is healthy and ready to roll this time.

"I'm pumped," said Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. "I'm ready."

Rivera expects around 35 snaps from Benjamin in his first regular season game since 2014.

"It'll be good having him out there making plays," fellow wide receiver Philly Brown said, "and just having his leadership and his energy."

Newton is thrilled to have his buddy Benjamin back as a target, but Rivera wants to see the passes spread around against Denver, like we saw throughout the 2015 season.

"When I get the official stats, the first thing I look at is how many different receivers he targeted," Rivera said. "I think that's an important number for him."

4. KK eager to make amends: On the defensive side of the ball for Carolina, defensive tackle Kawann Short enters this highly-anticipated rematch motivated by his lackluster performance in Super Bowl 50.

Short, an All-Pro selection who led the team with 11 sacks, had no sacks, no quarterback pressures and just one tackle in the loss. Defensive ends Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson picked up the slack for the front line with four combined sacks of Peyton Manning.

"I just didn't play well," Short told the media this week. "That's been eating at me all offseason. It left a sour taste in my mouth."

The entire front seven is determined to make life difficult for quarterback Trevor Siemian, Denver's first-time starter.

"They do a really good job of getting the ball to their playmakers," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We just have to do our job and make it a rough day for him."

5. How will the corners fare? Rivera wasn't willing to divulge his starting lineup in the secondary, so we'll all wait to see if the Panthers start two rookies at corner.

Regardless, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are in line for substantial action against Denver's talented playmakers. They've earned the trust of the veterans, and all signs have indicated that the rookie duo is ready for primetime.

"They are willing and eager to do whatever it takes to win this game," safety Kurt Coleman said.

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at Denver.

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