ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —**With only five previous occurrences of teams from the previous year's Super Bowl facing off in a rematch of sorts during the following regular season, the Broncos and Seahawks' Sunday game is a rarity.
But calling it a rematch is a bit of a misnomer, because these aren't exactly the same two teams.
As Head Coach John Fox said, the Broncos have 17 new starters between their offense, defense and special teams as compared to the lineups at the Super Bowl.
The defense is the most stark example of change in the offseason and recent months, including three additions in free agency, four returns from injury, and then Nate Irving moving from strong side to middle linebacker and Brandon Marshall starting on the weak side with Danny Trevathan on the mend.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said installing the new parts and integrating the players returning from injuries is a progressing process.
"I think each week we're growing more and more as a team. You know, we improved in some areas, and we didn't improve in some areas," Knighton said. "But having new guys in and feeling guys out and seeing how they play, you're going to have some lapses here and there, but ultimately we want to win and do what it takes to win."
"We're going to improve as we go through the year," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "We're going to continue to stress fundamentals. We expect to get off blocks and tackle and things like that better as the year goes on. Obviously, playing together over time, experience with each other, that will benefit us over time. But at the same time, we expect it to be really good right now. So it's not like we're waiting. And where it's not, we correct it and move on. Where it's good, we praise it and move on."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll definitely isn't looking to underestimate the new-look Broncos defense. "I think it's a terrific looking group, and whenever you get Von [Miller] coming back out there, that's a big change," Carroll said Wednesday. "They've done a really nice job in the offseason and they've gotten healthy. They got their guys back, too. T.J. [Ward] is a good football player. Rahim [Moore] getting back out there—he's a playmaker. These guys are all really, really good. I know that they have the highest of expectations, and they're worthy of that."
On offense, there have been a few changes, including Ryan Clady's return and adding Emmanuel Sanders into the fold. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman mentioned the danger in Sanders' explosiveness, which was seen in Sanders' 100-yard receiving game against Kansas City.
And Seattle's team is also a bit different, though it's not to the same extent as Denver's. Golden Tate is now in Detroit, Justin Britt is starting at right tackle after Breno Giacomini signed with the Jets, Michael Bennett is starting at left defensive end with Red Bryant now in Jacksonville and there are a few other changes.
With all that said, many Broncos have acknowledged that this game is on a different plane than the one from February. This can be no revenge considering the stakes are so different, and with differences in rosters, it's hard to put the two games in the same light. Looking back at the previous matchup—excluding the preseason, of course—does little in the way of cogent analysis given the obvious changes, but players have said how the Super Bowl has been in the back of their minds.
"I think naturally you're motivated any time you play a team that beat you last year," Peyton Manning said on Wednesday. "Being motivated or being mad doesn't mean anything if you don't go out there and execute and do your job. It's a really good football team we're playing."
However, with all the new pieces, many players won't have those memories in their bank for motivation. "Not being here last year, I don't feel the same way they do," safety T.J. Ward said. "But I have an idea and whatever I can do to help them, I guess in a way, get revenge this week, I'm going to do that. [...] But as far as doing anything extraordinary or out of the norm, or get our heads away from anything but just winning, then we're going about it the wrong way."
When asked about whether players think about the Super Bowl's impact, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio surmised that the guys who were there do remember it and those who weren't "get a feel for it."
But the Broncos have a grounded approach that many players and coaches have echoed, from Manning to Del Rio to Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, in keeping Super Bowl memories as just that: memories.
"Their team is different. Our team is different. It's 2014. Just about everybody is two games into it. We're just starting the race," Fox said. "We're not spending time looking in the rearview mirror. We're looking out the windshield and we have a huge test coming up Sunday."