Not even the struggles of the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins can mar the matchup that many had circled on their Week 9 calendars in the preseason, as we'll get our first glimpse of Robert Griffin III versus Cam Newton on Sunday.
The luster has somewhat worn off Newton in his second season, but he still remains one of the most captivating young talents in the league.
More intriguing, though, is how he contrasts to Griffin. Incessantly compared despite their marked differences, criticism of Newton has mounted as praise of RGIII has reached an apex.
That means nearly every fan that enjoys fun will tune in, despite the Redskins and Panthers coming into this contest a combined 4-11 and scrambling for playoff relevancy.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Sunday's contest of NFC opponents.
Where: FedEx Field in Landover, MD
When: Sunday, Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Redskins (-3.5), according to Bovada.
Over/Under: 46.5, according to Bovada.
What's At Stake
While both teams obviously still have a mathematical shot to make the postseason, it's not exactly the likeliest scenario at this point.
The Panthers come in six games behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and seem to find new and excruciating ways to lose every Sunday.
Though competitive, the Redskins are 3-5 and are playing in a division with the New York Giants, one of the three best teams in football.
Considering the NFC's strength, it would almost surely take a 10-6 record for Carolina or Washington to make the playoffs. It's not a spoiler to say that's highly unlikely.
So, from here on out, it's likely time to play for draft position and pride. Or, in the Redskins' case, the St. Louis Rams' draft position and pride.
Panthers Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
LB Antwan Applewhite, Thigh, Missed Week 8
DL Dwan Edwards, Ankle, Left Week 8
DL Thomas Keiser, Elbow, Missed Week 8
Redskins Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
LB Perry Riley, Hamstring, Probable
WR Pierre Garcon, Foot, Missed Week 8
DB Brandon Meriweather, Knee, Missed Week 8
DL Doug Worthington, Calf, Missed Week 8
Fantasy Player to Watch: QB Cam Newton
To put this as bluntly as humanly possible, if Newton is unable to put up a banner fantasy day against the Redskins' defense, you might as well stash him on the bench for the rest of the season.
Coming into Week 9, Washington has far and away the worst pass defense in the NFL, giving up 314.3 yards per game. In a league that also contains the New Orleans Saints, that's saying something.
The Redskins' struggles cannot even all be blamed on an ineffective secondary, as injuries have left Washington unable to amount much of a pass rush.
For Newton, that should mean a massive fantasy day. After being the unquestioned fantasy football MVP last season, the second-year quarterback has hit a massive wall in 2012.
With just five touchdown passes against eight interceptions, Newton has taken a marked step backward through the air. That has left the dual-threat's only fantasy value to come from his ability to gain yards on the ground.
If there is one defense that Newton can right the ship and become a valuable asset to fantasy owners again, it's this one.
What They're Saying
With just one win on the season and many of their six losses coming in close games, frustration is mounting in Carolina. That was apparent when defensive coordinator Sean McDermott spoke on the criticism of his defensive strategy.
Per the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person:
It’s frustrating because defensively I feel like we’ve improved by leaps and bounds over last year. Is there more to do? Yeah, there’s more to do. You’ve got to look at yourself and say, ‘What else can we do?’ Well, we win the game. We win the darn game.
Meanwhile, despite also hanging in most games this season, Washington's loss to the Steelers wasn't much of a contest. Like Carolina, it would be hard to blame the Redskins' players if they were frustrated.
Nonetheless, quarterback Robert Griffin III seemed kept the message positive, according to the Washington Post's Dave Shenin:
We’re ready to go. Next week is a home game against Carolina. We’ve got to keep pushing forward. . . . You learn from [this loss], you move forward to the next week, and you just know that no one’s going to quit.
Panthers Key Player: RB Jonathan Stewart
Part of the reason Newton has struggled so mightily is that the team has failed to create any momentum this season in the running game.
Despite cashing their hefty paychecks on a weekly basis, neither Jonathan Stewart nor DeAngelo Williams have been anything resembling an effective NFL running back this season.
Some of that falls at the feet of the offensive line. According to Football Outsiders' advanced measurements, the Carolina's line ranks in the back half of the league in all run blocking categories.
Nonetheless, both guys have shown a shocking lack of burst through the hole and lack of top-end speed when they reach the second level. With Stewart essentially taking over the reins as the Panthers' top running back, that's a trend that has to change going forward.
There are few quarterbacks who can survive in the league without an effective ground game. Newton hasn't developed enough to become one of them.
Stewart needs to buck a half season full of ineffectiveness and find a way to open up the field for Newton on Sunday.
Redskins Key Player: QB Robert Griffin III
First of all, let's state the obvious: It wasn't RGIII's fault that Washington lost in Pittsburgh last week. Any time your receivers drop 10 passes, all blame ceases exist for the quarterback.
Nonetheless, anyone who watched that game would tell you it wasn't Griffin's best performance. Some of those drops were on balls thrown behind open receivers and the young quarterback looked genuinely rattled in the pocket at times.
Unfortunately for Washington, things won't get any easier on Sunday. The Panthers come into Week 9 with the seventh-best adjusted sack rate in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
That means relentless hits will once again come for Griffin this week unless the Redskins continue to adjust their playbook for more short passes. Washington has done a nice job at mitigating weaknesses in the offensive line lately, but they allowed RGIII to get hit far too many times last week.
How Griffin handles that nearly guaranteed pressure will likely be the difference on Sunday.
These are two talented teams that you can almost never feel comfortable picking. Both have massive deficiencies that can be exploited by the right personnel and Carolina and Washington have the ability to take advantage of the others' weaknesses.
For no other reason than we've seen them be more consistently competitive, I'm going with the Redskins to win at home.
Final Score Prediction: Redskins 27, Panthers 24
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