In an odd turn of events this year, we’ve used the phrase ‘must-win game’ and talked about some high stakes a lot when it comes to the Washington Football Team. After a disastrous 2-7 start to the season was quickly turned around by a four-game winning streak and aided by a dismal NFC East division, we are now in the position where Ron Rivera has his team on the brink of a playoff spot, which would be the franchise’s first since 2015.
It all comes down to this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, though. If Washington can find a way to win, coupled with a New York Giants loss to the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the day, there will be something to celebrate in D.C. on Sunday night. Easier said than done, though, especially when you consider the injuries and distractions that have plagued the past two weeks in the Washington football world.
A win is still very possible nonetheless, but Washington is going to need to be on top of their game and hope that a few things can break the right way for them on Sunday. Here are our five biggest keys to the game:
Block out the noise
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Any person who follows the Washington Football Team knows that distractions just come with the territory at this point. However, this past week in D.C. has been something special as far as unwanted storylines go. On Tuesday morning, it was reported that team owner Dan Snyder was involved a $1.6 million sexual misconduct settlement that was aimed to keep a former team employee quiet, and just a few hours later, QB Dwayne Haskins was on Twitter apologizing for his trip to a maskless birthday party fraught with strippers and broken COVID-19 protocols. Needless to say, this has all brought a bunch of unwanted attention to the team in the middle of a playoff push, and rather than talking about the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, coach Ron Rivera has had to answer endless questions about the level of punishment dolled out to his potential starting QB. It’s fair to say he’s getting a bit fed up with it all. https://twitter.com/SharlaMcBride/status/1341835492472569866 That brings us to Sunday, where Washington will be asked to set all of those distractions aside and get the job done on the field. One could argue that this type of turmoil in the locker room might actually bring the roster closer together — save for one specific person — and drive the team to play harder than they would have, looking to make a point. If that’s the case. great. However, when players are asked to focus on anything other than their opponent in the middle of a playoff push, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Get Teddy on the run early in the game
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We expect the Washington Football Team to come out with a lot of fire and fury on Sunday as they look to put the last week of distractions behind them and play football, and there’s a real chance that could manifest itself on the defensive line, where the front-four has a real chance to do some damage. When it comes to sackable quarterbacks, Carolina Panthers passer Teddy Bridgewater is pretty much middle of the pack. He is fairly mobile but doesn’t often look to get out of the pocket at his first opportunity, and he ranks 13th in the NFL for sacks taken this season. If Washington can get some pressure early in this game and make sure that Bridgewater can never get comfortable in the pocket, the rest of the defense should be able to clean up and hold Carolina’s offense down. What’s important is that this pressure happens early in the game though, allowing Washington to assert some dominance and control the tempo as much as they can. What you don’t want to see is the Panthers’ offense find a way to move the ball and have enough success in the first half to believe that they have a chance to win this game. We’ve seen Washington struggle to get off on the right foot a lot this season, but if they can come out and squash Carolina’s hopes early, it will make everything a lot easier as the afternoon goes on.
Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
There’s some hope that RB Antonio Gibson is going to be able to give it a go for the first time in a couple of weeks on Sunday, but new questions have popped up about the availability of WR Terry McLaurin after the young star has missed consecutive practices with an ankle injury. All of this leads us to say that Washington might not know who they can rely on in the offense, outside of one player. That player is Logan Thomas, and he needs to continue to get a high target-share this weekend. Over the past month or so, Thomas has been one of the top-10 TEs in the NFL, and his ability to step up in the offense and assume a larger workload while hauling in a high percentage of his targets has been invaluable to the offense, and with the injuries that have hampered production over the past few weeks, the stability that Thomas brings can’t be understated. We don’t quite know what we’re going to get from Scott Turner’s bunch on Sunday, or who is going to be playing. Will it be Alex Smith or Dwayne Haskins? Will Antonio Gibson or Terry McLaurin be able to trot out there? Who knows? What we do know is that Thomas will be there, reliable as ever, and a successful offense needs to run through him.
Hope for some injury luck
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
This next key builds off of the last one, and unfortunately, it isn’t something that Washington really has much control over. The injury bug needs to take a week off. The last couple of games have left Washington’s roster a bit worse for the wear, and a number of high profile players on the team have either missed time or been severely hampered throughout the process. Here are the names that have either been on the injury report or missed games in December:
Shaun Dion Hamilton
Of course, any NFL team in December is going to be dealing with its knicks and bruises, but there is a chance that Washington could be without some of their best players going into Sunday, a game where they have a chance to clinch the NFC East division with a win. At the moment, we don’t know the status of Smith, Gibson, McLaurin, or Holcomb. Any of those players missing the game will hurt, and all of them missing could be detrimental. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck in order to win in this league, and considering all that Washington has been through over the past week, it’s fair to as for some good will going forward.
#Washington #Carolina #keys #clinching #playoff #berth #Sunday