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Broncos, Panthers face tough path for SB return

When John Elway won his first Super Bowl Trophy as a quarterback, he followed it up with another, giving the Denver Broncos consecutive titles in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. Now, Elway is trying to duplicate the feat as an executive.

Only one team has climbed back-to-back mountains since Elway drove his Broncos to the peak twice -- the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX.

Since Elway in 1999, just two teams that have won a Super Bowl returned the following season: New England (Super Bowl XXXIX) and Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl XLVIII). No team that lost a Super Bowl has returned since the infamous Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s (Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII).

The task of fighting off the Super Bowl "curse" sits in front of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers as we shuffle through the summer and toward the 2016 season.

The scheduling overlords deemed a Super Bowl 50 rematch the 2016 Kickoff game, which Around The NFL's Gregg Rosenthal broke down in depth.

With the schedule released, let's take a gander at the full path back to the Super Bowl for each conference champion.

Road to a Broncos Return

It's a good thing Denver still boasts one of the top defenses in the NFL, as it will be tested right out of the gate. The Broncos face six quality starting quarterbacks in consecutive weeks to begin their Lombardi Trophy defense:

There's three No. 1 overall picks in that group and not a slouch among the sextuplet of signal-callers. Getting Newton and Luck at home to start the season should be a boon for Wade Phillip's defense, but the Colts have given Denver trouble both on the road and at home the past two seasons.

Following a Thursday night game in San Diego, Denver gets an extended break before meeting its former quarterback, Brock Osweiler, at home on Monday night in Week 7. Given all the reports that the quarterback was miffed at the franchise before departing, that will be a fun prime-time affair.

The final six games of the season following a Week 11 bye could be tasking for a veteran team. Denver plays two games against division rival Kansas City, who gave the Broncos trouble last season -- this year includes a prime-time contest on Christmas Day. They once again host AFC power New England Patriots in Week 15. Denver travels to potential upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and closes the season at home against a much-improved Oakland squad in what could be a playoff-determining division matchup.

Path to redemption for Panthers

If there are any lingering effects from the Super Bowl 50 loss and subsequent Cam Newton drama, we'll find out quickly on opening night. The Panthers' offensive line gets a chance to redeem itself for a dreadful championship game against Von Miller and Co.

Schedule makers did Carolina a favor scheduling a home game in Week 2 against a rebuilding San Francisco 49ers squad. The Week 3 contest against Mike Zimmer's improving Minnesota Vikings team has sneaky great potential -- luckily for the Panthers it's also at home.

Three division games leading into a Week 7 bye are key for Carolina, which is attempting to win its fourth consecutive title: at Atlanta, then vs. Tampa Bay and at New Orleans. The opening slate sets up well for a fast start for the Panthers, which would allow them to quickly shutter memories of the Super Bowl loss.

On the backend of the schedule, Carolina faces a daunting back-to-back West Coast road trip at Oakland in Week 12 and at Seattle in Week 13, which is always a slugfest between the NFC powers.

If the Panthers are to repeat their 2015 successes, they'll have to finish strong on the road down the stretch. Carolina travels in four of its final six games, including a visit to the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins on a Monday night in December before closing at Tampa Bay on Jan. 1.

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