Arizona Cardinals
Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers Are Lessons In Hubris
Arizona Cardinals

Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers Are Lessons In Hubris

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 6:53 p.m. ET

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws a pass under pressure from Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (48) in the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It seems almost unthinkable now. The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, both 2015 Super Bowl participants, have missed the playoffs.

That marks the first time it has happened since 2003, and this time might be more incredible. Think about where they came from. Denver boasted a defense last year that was #1 across the board. Many were jumping to line it up alongside the 1985 Chicago Bears as it paved a path of destruction led by ring leader Von Miller. The fact they won the championship with one of the worst offensive performances in Super Bowl history says it all.

Carolina though is just as amazing. Here’s a team that had won three-straight NFC South title, the first franchise to accomplish that feat since the division came into being. They boasted the NFL Most Valuable Player in Cam Newton, a suffocating defense and finished 15-1. When this season started it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that there might be a Super Bowl rematch.


Now here they are, not playing January football for the first time in years.

So what exactly went wrong? Looking things over, it’s clear enough that the two teams suffered from the same problem:  overconfidence. From the start of the season each acted like changes to their rosters that seemed significant were just pebbles dropping in the ocean. As it turns out the NFL continues to prove that formula alterations aren’t always a good thing.

Jan 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) reacts after a fumble recovery during the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Josh Norman decision

Carolina had the sixth-ranked defense in the league last season. They were a fast, disciplined unit with Pro Bowl talent at every level. That was expected to continue this year, even with All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman only coming back on the franchise tag. However, ongoing talks were going nowhere. Norman had a certain price range he wanted and the Panthers front office weren’t willing to bring their offer up any higher.

So instead of just letting the season play out and revisiting talks later, GM Dave Gettelman made the stunning decision to release Norman from his contract. The 29-year old signed on in Washington. His absence was noticeable right away. Carolina went from having the 11th ranked pass defense in the NFL to dead last. Gettelman insisted the team wasn’t built around needing good cornerbacks to succeed. Turns out he couldn’t have been more wrong.

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    Any QB Will Do

    Fresh off their championship run, the Broncos were feeling plenty good about their chances in 2016. They’d just won the title basically with half a team according to most. A dominant defense carrying an average offense led by an old, broken down Peyton Manning at quarterback. As it turns out Manning may not have been so toothless as some like to make out. Upon his exit from under center, the Broncos offense went from 16th in the league to 27th.

    That knowledge, experience and leadership were taken for granted. Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch provided none of those things and it showed at the worst possible times all year long. It further enforces the fact that they likely should’ve been more aggressive in their pursuit of a veteran quarterback via trade such as Colin Kaepernick and Sam Bradford or free agents like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Their belief in Siemian was admirable, but ill-timed.


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