ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Barely seven months have passed since the Super Bowl, yet the teams that will meet Sunday at CenturyLink Field for the first regular-season Super Bowl rematch since 1996 will look significantly different.
For the Denver Broncos, the changes have been dramatic, with almost no position group — outside of quarterback Peyton Manning — unaffected. The Broncos have new starters at running back and wide receiver in addition to a shuffled offensive line. On defense, the changes are more pronounced, with three players back from season-ending injuries and new starters at safety, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback.
For the Seattle Seahawks, the changes were more subtle, but no less important, starting with an upgrade to the offensive line.
So which changes will matter most in Week 3?
Who’s in: Percy Harvin
Who’s out: Golden Tate
Breakdown: With Tate’s departure in free agency, Harvin (who was on the Super Bowl roster) is the Seahawks’ primary receiver and most dangerous weapon. Healthy Harvin, used in a variety of roles — wide receiver, slot receiver, running back — makes Seattle’s offense far more dynamic than it was with Tate.
Who’s in: Michael Bennett
Who’s out: Red Bryant
Breakdown: This is another internal move, with the Seahawks giving a bigger role. Bennett, who played last season on a one-year free agent deal, was among the hottest players on the open market in March and chose to return to Seattle. The decision is paying off. Bennett, a significantly smaller defensive end than Bryant, gives the Seahawks a stronger pass rush when they play pass-first offenses such as those of the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers, whom they’ve already faced, and the Broncos.
Who’s in: Justin Britt
Who’s out: Breno Giacomini
Breakdown: Giacomini left for the New York Jets in free agency, giving the Seahawks a chance to upgrade a spot that had been a weakness in their offensive line. Rookie Britt, a second-round draft pick out off Missouri, wound up winning the job over Michael Bowie, who was injured early in training camp, and veteran Eric Winston. Britt played especially well in the Seahawks’ season-opening win against the Packers.
Who’s in: DeMarcus Ware
Who’s out: Shaun Phillips
Breakdown: The Broncos’ pass rush will look completely different Sunday, with the addition of Ware, who signed as a free agent, to replace Phillips, whom the Broncos chose not to re-sign after one year in Denver. There also are the healthy returns of defensive end Derek Wolfe and outside linebacker Von Miller, both of whom watched the Super Bowl while on injured reserve. The Broncos’ revamped pass rush has been underwhelming through the first two weeks, with five total sacks, including 11/2 from Ware and one from Milller, who continues to work his way back to full strength. He was off the field in Denver’s final defensive stand last week against the Kansas City Chiefs because of a sore groin.
Who’s in: Emmanuel Sanders
Who’s out: Eric Decker
Breakdown: There was no denying Decker’s chemistry with Manning (they combined for 24 touchdowns in two seasons together), but the Broncos let Decker, who had one catch for 6 yards in the Super Bowl, leave in free agency without an offer. In came Sanders, a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos didn’t just insert Sanders into Decker’s role in the offense; they are experimenting with lining him up all over the formation — from out wide opposite Demaryius Thomas, to in the slot to exploit his ability to break tackles and make plays in space. Sanders had his first 100-yard game as a Bronco on Sunday against Kansas City and is looking for his first touchdown.
Who’s in: Aqib Talib and Chris Harris
Who’s out: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey
Breakdown: The Broncos had been in contract negotiations with Rodgers-Cromartie in March before they were able to sign Talib away from the New England Patriots. In Talib, the Broncos think they have a more physical cornerback who can help the Broncos play a nastier style of defense. Harris, meanwhile, replaces Bailey, released in March after a decade in Denver, as Denver’s other starting corner. Harris had been the Broncos’ most consistent defensive back last season before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in the divisional round of the playoffs. He played 81 snaps for the Broncos last week against Kansas City, a sign he’s nearly back to full strength.