The Washington Redskins are in a battle for a place in the post-season in the NFC East and cannot afford any further slip-ups in the final three weeks of the campaign.
Jay Gruden’s men are precariously placed in the seventh seed in the NFC Conference, with the teams in and around them in the playoff hunt facing crucial fixtures in the final throws of the term.
As a result, the Redskins must be at their best on home soil against the struggling Carolina Panthers, who have fallen by the wayside since winning the NFC crown last season.
The Redskins have been inconsistent this season, but have displayed quality at times, especially on offense to put poor teams to the sword. They put in a resilient performance against the Philadelphia Eagles last week to rally in the fourth quarter to claim a five-point victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
Gruden’s side would have known that a defeat there would have all-but ended their push for the playoffs, but now they have a chance to move to 8-5-1 in their season by beating the Panthers, who have endured a hangover from their loss in Super Bowl 50.
Reigning MVP Cam Newton was the spark behind the club’s run towards the title game last season, but his form has taken a dip, while his attitude has also been in question. With little to play for Carolina may lack the motivation to take on a desperate Redskins outfit, which is why backing Washington on the money line with Bovada sportsbook at -300 would be the sensible option.
The Redskins ended a run of back-to-back defeats in their vital win over the Eagles, having been previously beaten by the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals. Gruden’s men had battled well against the Cowboys, with quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing for 449 yards and three touchdowns. However, missed field goals from Dustin Hopkins were to cost them in their five-point defeat.
Despite their loss in Dallas, the Redskins would have been confident of beating the struggling Cardinals in their next contest on the road. Arizona had struggled for consistency on both sides of the ball, but managed to move the ball with ease on Washington’s defense, putting 31 points on the board, while Cousins and company stuttered in the desert. Their offense struggled again in the first half against Philadelphia, but in the second half they jolted into life to score three touchdowns from Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Chris Thompson to keep their post-season hopes alive.
Washington have no margin for error in their final three games of the season and can ill afford to get into another hole like the one they were in against the Eagles. Cousins can be relied upon to produce against inferior opposition, although when the intensity is raised they will need their a complete performance from their entire roster, including special teams where they have struggled at times this term.
Fortunately for the Redskins, the Panthers have all-but downed tools and are going through issues of their own with quarterback Newton, drawing the ire of coach Ron Rivera. As a result, Gruden and his side should be able to capitalise on their discontent and weak secondary, with Josh Norman’s off-season move the Redskins looming large for the reigning NFC champions. The All-Pro will be determined to put in a good performance against his former club to prove that they made the wrong decision to release him following their Super Bowl loss.
It’s do-or-die for the Redskins and with the prospect of playing January football at stake expect them to put forward a dominating display against a team planning their vacations.
This time last term the Panthers were the dominant force in the NFL, boasting a 15-1 record in the regular season to march towards the playoffs. Newton and his team-mates were dabbing among other celebrations on the sidelines, with much joy to be had by all, especially the coaching staff. However, Carolina have imploded this term, with Graham Gano’s miss against the Denver Broncos on opening night starting their decline, missing the chance to avenge their Super Bowl defeat.
Teams that play for the Vince Lombardi trophy often suffer as a result of their exploits deep into the post-season, while the majority of the league has had time to take stock and recover. That has appeared to happen to Rivera’s men, none more so than Newton. The reigning MVP was outstanding last season and was the driving force behind his side’s push to the Super Bowl.
However, his play in the game was criticised, especially his decision not to jump on a fumble late in the contest that handed the Broncos the win. His actions after the game were also maligned, failing to answer questions before leaving abruptly. Newton’s demeanour last year was one of enjoyment, but this term his body language has been poor along with his decision-making, despite the return of wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
Defensively, the Panthers were also excellent last term due to the play of linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis along, with a stout defensive line and Norman in the secondary. General manager Dave Gettleman deemed that Norman was too expensive to keep for the long term and released him, leaving rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley to fill the void. The young players have struggled, while Kuechly has suffered injuries this season, limiting his time and effectiveness on the field.
It has been a nightmare year for the team and lots of rebuilding is needed in the off-season to repair – not only the structure of the roster – but also the relationships within the organisation.
The Panthers are likely counting down the matches until the end of the campaign to put their underwhelming season behind them. Washington will be fired up and know a victory could put them back within a wildcard spot, pending results on Sunday.
Gruden’s men have the players to expose Carolina’s weak secondary and Cousins should be to exploit it to put a plethora of points on the board, which in its current state Newton and his team-mates will not be able to match, especially on the road.
Washington Redskins to beat Carolina Panthers
Monday 19th December 20:30 ET (Tuesday 20th December 1:30 GMT)
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