1. BLOCK OUT THE NOISE
Normally, a post-Christmas game between two teams with losing records wouldn’t make a blip on the national radar. But this one has plenty of story lines. Even before this week’s quarterback controversy in D.C., Ron Rivera no doubt had mentally circled this date as his chance to face the team that fired him last fall (after a loss to Washington) despite coaching it to its only Super Bowl appearance. And there’s the little matter of the home team having a chance to clinch an unlikely NFC East title if the New York Giants lose to Baltimore earlier in the day. Oh yes, and that whole QB kerfluffle. None of that will matter as much as blocking and tackling, though, and if Washington is distracted, the short-handed Panthers could pull off the upset.
2. NO OFFENSE
Quarterback isn’t Washington’s only position of uncertainty. Alex Smith hopes to play after missing last week’s loss to Seattle with a calf strain, but if he can’t, Washington reluctantly again will return to the inconsistent and irresponsible Dwayne Haskins. Also unlikely to be at full strength (if they play at all) are 1,000-yard receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) and standout rookie running back Antonio Gibson (toe). Yards and points may be hard to come by, which puts additional strain on complementary players like tight end Logan Thomas, running back J.D. McKissic and receiver Cam Sims—as well as a defense that will need to contain Carolina receivers Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore.
3. LOCAL CONNECTIONS
Aside from Washington, the Panthers may be the NFL’s most interesting team for Fredericksburg area fans. North Stafford High School graduate Joey Slye is in his second season as Carolina’s kicker and is tied for third in the league with 29 field goals made. He has 60-yard range and may be a key factor in a close game. Meanwhile, Chancellor alumnus Yetur Gross–Matos starts at defensive end but has been plagued by injuries during his rookie season. He has made 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2020. If fans were allowed in FedEx Field, both would have sizeable rooting sections today.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE:
CAROLINA 20, WASHINGTON 16