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Sports Authority

Ivey: Super Bowl teams show turnaround

| Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Sunday, the Broncos and Panthers won their respective conference championships and punched their ticket to play each other in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. It will be a record tying eighth all-time Super Bowl trip for the Broncos and the second time in franchise history for the Panthers. It also shows how much can change during a five-year period.

The Panthers and the Broncos finished with the two worst records in the NFL at the end of the 2010 season, which means those two teams got the first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Panthers selected quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick and the Broncos selected linebacker Von Miller with the second overall pick. These picks were the first step of both franchises to walk back into relevance.

After finishing with the worst record in the league, the Panthers fired head coach John Fox (who was then hired by the Broncos) and hired Ron Rivera to be their new head coach. Rivera and Newton led the new-look Panthers to 6-10 and 7-9 final records in their first two seasons. After their first season with Rivera and Newton, the Panthers selected linebacker Luke Kuechly with the ninth overall pick at the 2012 NFL Draft. Kuechly was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after his rookie season. After the 2012 season, there were rumors the Panthers would fire Rivera due to the team losing so many close games, but the Panthers decided to keep him.

The Panthers finished the 2013 season with a 12-4 record, the second best in the NFC conference, but lost their first playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rivera was named the NFL Coach of the Year, and Kuechly was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Despite a substantially worse 7-8-1 record the following year, the Panthers made the playoffs and won their first game against the Cardinals before losing to the Seahawks in their second game.

This season, the Panthers dominated their way to a 15-1 record and wins against the Seahawks and Cardinals in the playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl. Rivera is a Coach of the Year candidate again, and Newton is a candidate for league MVP.

The Broncos took a different road back to relevance. With new coach John Fox and quarterbacked by Tim Tebow, the Broncos finished the 2011 season with an 8-8 record and made the playoffs. It was the first of five consecutive playoff appearances for the Broncos. The Broncos won their first playoff game against the Steelers in overtime before losing their next game to the Patriots. After the season, the Broncos signed legendary quarterback and free-agent Peyton Manning and traded Tebow to the Jets. The Broncos finished 13-3 in their first season with Manning before being upset in their first playoff game by the Ravens. The next season, the Broncos finished again finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and advanced all the way to the Super Bowl, where they were promptly destroyed by the Seahawks, 43-8.

The Broncos finished the 2014 season with a 12-4 record before being upset in the first game of the playoffs again, this time by Manning’s former team, the Colts. The day after that game, the Broncos and John Fox mutually agreed to part ways. A week later, former Broncos player Gary Kubiak was hired to be the new coach. This season, Kubiak led the Broncos to a 12-4 record and wins over the Steelers and the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl against the Broncos. Miller was the star of the Broncos’ win over the Patriots, recording five tackles, two-and-a-half sacks and an interception. He leads the Broncos into the Super Bowl with the best defense in the NFL.

If you’re a fan of a not so good NFL team like I am — damn you, Chicago Bears, for trading Greg Olsen to the Panthers for a third-round pick — just look at these two teams as examples of what’s possible in a few short years.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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