Washington Football Team vs. Carolina Panthers: Storylines, prediction for battle of two old friends

What are the main storylines in this Washington Football Team vs. Carolina Panthers matchup, and what is our prediction for the game?

This week’s Washington Football Team vs. Carolina Panthers matchup has one major storyline that has stolen the headlines, but what else should we be on the lookout for? Let’s take a look through the storylines for Washington at Carolina and the current NFL odds before making a prediction for how this game may turn out?

Washington Football Team vs. Carolina Panthers Prediction | Storylines to watch in Week 11

From the moment Cam Newton returned to the Panthers ahead of their Week 10 game, his presence stole the storylines. The fact that he faces his old coach on the opposing sideline in Week 11 just adds to the lore. Newton and Ron Rivera have tried to play down the personal element, but its presence is important to the potential direction of this game. An interesting fact is that Rivera is 68-55 in games with Newton but 18-23 without him.

While other Carolina players will know Rivera’s defense well, fewer Washington players are familiar with Cam’s skill set in the way Rivera is. Rivera coached Newton for a long time and will know a lot of his little tells that other coaches who only view his tape for a week at a time might not instantly recognize. If he can teach his defense what those are this week, it could give them a great advantage in stopping the Panthers’ offense.

Will it be the Cam Newton show for the Panthers?

The one advantage the Panthers have over their former head coach is the unknown over how much each QB will play. Matt Rhule said on Friday that P.J. Walker will be active and will likely have a role at QB as well. Rhule contextualized this by saying there are elements of the playbook and situations that Newton is not up to speed with yet.

That does add an extra layer of intrigue into any prediction for this Washington at Carolina matchup. How much will the Panthers be switching their QB? Could it be just the two-minute drills that we see Walker, or will his role be on plays such as third-and-long where Cam’s legs are less of a threat? This all makes for an intriguing element for us as spectators to see how Washington has prepared for this offense ahead of Week 11.

Is Taylor Heinicke’s time as a starting QB in Washington running out?

It has been a tough year for Taylor Heinicke, and the roller-coaster nature of his Offensive Value Metric grades this season have indicated that. After a strong start in the first month, Heinicke struggled in Weeks 5-7. He has bounced back with two strong performances in the last three weeks, but the narrative is definitely against him.

This season, his box score numbers are unconvincing. Heinicke has thrown for 2,184 yards with a completion rate of 65.7%, as well as 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He has brought some spark with his legs, but without a strong second half of the year, Washington could be looking to add a starting QB in the 2022 NFL Draft. Could a strong outing against the team he was with in 2018 be the catalyst Heinicke needs?

Can Washington’s defense back up a strong Week 10 performance?

The key to any prediction in this Washington vs. Panthers matchup is the Football Team’s defense. Overall, the unit ranks 28th in points allowed and 31st in average points allowed per drive. However, they have significantly improved over their past three games.

Between Weeks 2-6, opposing offenses averaged 33.2 points per game. In Weeks 7-9, the most the defense has allowed is 24 points (at an average of 20 points per game). During that time, they have allowed no more than 304 total yards in a single game. Additionally, in the past five contests, they have forced 9 turnovers.

Things are trending in the right direction for Washington, but this is a different test. Assuming Newton can be effective passing the ball, this defense will be tested rigorously in this game. Putting Newton alongside Christian McCaffrey is a dangerous combination. McCaffrey is playing superbly, and now the defense has to account for his QB potentially taking off with the ball as well.

Washington has only allowed an opposing team to rush for 100 yards once since Week 3. Yet, they have not faced an offense like this. Without two talented young defensive options in Chase Young and Montez Sweat, can Washington’s defense hold up? The key will be their performances on third down, something they currently rank last in defensively.

Washington at Panthers betting line and prediction

It is not really that surprising to see the Panthers as 3-point favorites at home. While they have not won at home since Week 2, they should have a tremendous advantage this week. The return of Newton has seemingly reinvigorated the fan base. Throw in that this team is currently sitting in the final NFC playoff spot, and there should be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding them.

However, Washington will not simply roll over. At 3-6, they are fighting for their playoff lives in 2021. They finally won their first game since Week 4 last week, and now they need to back up that impressive performance. The Newton factor gives the Panthers the edge, but will he be ready to execute a new playbook? There is every chance that this will be a close encounter in Carolina.

Washington vs. Panthers prediction: Panthers 23, Washington 20

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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