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2020 vision: Looking ahead to Denver's Week 14 matchup vs. the Carolina Panthers

Photos from throughout the Broncos' history with the Panthers.

The Broncos' regular-season opener isn't for another couple of months, but over the next few weeks, will take an early look at each game on the Broncos' 2020 schedule. We don't know how injuries could impact each contest, but we'll present the pressing storylines, matchups, questions and more.

It's never too early to start talking football.

We continue with Denver's Week 14 game against the Carolina Panthers.

Storylines to monitor:

This is not the same Carolina Panthers team the Broncos faced four years ago in Super Bowl 50. At that time, Ron Rivera patrolled the sideline, Cam Newton stood under center, Greg Olsen ran routes down the seam and Luke Kuechly flew sideline to sideline. All four men have moved on, as has a large contingent of the rest of the roster. Just five Panthers from that 2015 team remain — and the turnover has been similar in Denver. Von Miller and Brandon McManus are the only starters from that championship season left on the Broncos' roster. Todd Davis (then a reserve linebacker) and Jeff Heuerman (on injured reserve) were also on Denver's roster.

This year's Panthers team seems more likely to build a new foundation under head coach Matt Rhule than it does to compete for a Super Bowl title. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Rhule and Co. used all seven of their picks to add talent to their defense. Offensively, the Panthers added quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson in free agency and already have do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey on the roster. Denver's matchup against Carolina is late enough in the season that the Panthers' new-look roster should have time to jell.

A former Bronco should also make his first appearance against Denver. Center Matt Paradis, who spent the first five years of his career in Denver, now holds the starting job for the Panthers.

Player to watch:

RB Christian McCaffrey

In April, the Panthers finalized an extension with McCaffrey to keep him in Carolina for the foreseeable future — and for good reason. The son of former Broncos great Ed McCaffrey, Christian is the only player in NFL history to record at least 2,500 combined rushing and receiving yards over his first three seasons. In 2019, McCaffrey earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections as he rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns. An alum of Colorado's Valor Christian, McCaffrey is a threat at all times, both out of the backfield and from the slot. The Panthers appear to be reloading, but McCaffrey is talented enough to keep Carolina close in this game on his own.

The question mark:

Can the Broncos avoid a trap game?

According to ESPN's Mike Clay's projections, the Broncos have just one game on their schedule with a higher win probability than this Week 14 game against Carolina. Clay projects the Broncos have a 72 percent chance to win this road game, and if the Broncos are going to reach the playoffs in 2020, it feels like they need a win against a rebuilding team. But that win probability exists somewhat in a vacuum. In reality, the Broncos will head to Carolina for an 11 a.m. MT game after perhaps the hardest two-week stretch of their season: a home game against New Orleans and a "Sunday Night Football" game in Kansas City. Carolina is a worthy opponent and will require the Broncos' best effort, but it's also a very winnable game. The Broncos cannot allow a potential loss against either of those other opponents to turn into another loss against Carolina. In each of the last three seasons, the Broncos have had a losing streak of at least four games. They need to prevent the losses — which are inevitable at times — from stacking in 2020.

The last meeting:

Just seven months after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, they welcomed Carolina to Denver for a season-opening rematch. In that season-opening win, the Broncos surged back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to earn a 21-20 win when Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with four seconds to play. In the first start of his career, Trevor Siemian led the Broncos to a pair of second-half touchdowns. Chris Harris Jr. played a pivotal role in setting up the second score, as he tipped a Newton pass and dove for a game-changing interception in Panthers territory. Rookie Andy Janovich provided a highlight earlier in the game, as he scored a 28-yard touchdown on a fullback run.

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