The Carolina Panthers have entered must-win territory as they get set to face the Washington Redskins in Week 13. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 1 at Bank of American Stadium in Charlotte. Fans throughout the Washington-Baltimore corridor and the Carolinas can watch the game on CBS.
If we check the Week 13 NFL betting odds, the Panthers are favored by 10 points at home. The game also has an over/under of 40 points.
The Panthers are seeing their once-promising playoff chances disappear right before their eyes. Carolina left five points on the field last week in the form of missed kicks, ultimately losing 34-31 to the Saints in a game they nearly won. The Panthers have now lost three in a row and four of their last five games, dropping them to 5-6 on the season.
As it stands, the Panthers are four games behind the Saints in the NFC South and three games out of a Wild Card spot. In all likelihood, Carolina will have to win the rest of their games and get a lot of help to make the playoffs. They have a somewhat favorable schedule with three of their final five games at home, so winning out isn’t impossible. But the Panthers surely have to get back on track this week against Washington.
The Redskins, surprisingly, are coming off a win last week. In fairness, Washington had the benefit of facing the Lions with a backup quarterback. They also failed to score an offensive touchdown in the game. But a kickoff return for a touchdown and four field goals was enough to outlast the Lions 19-16 and snap Washington’s four-game losing streak.
Of course, the win only gets the Redskins to 2-9 on the season. On the bright side, they’ve likely done enough to avoid the stigma of being the worst team in the NFL. The Redskins also have a chance to avoid a last-place finish in the NFC East if they can steal another win or two over the final five weeks of the season. They should have another chance to pull off another surprise win this week when they host a Carolina team that’s struggling and also using a backup quarterback.
A few weeks ago, I’d have no hesitation in laying down the points in this game. But given Carolina’s recent struggles, I’m not willing to take that risk. The Panthers are surely the better team and likely to win the game. However, we’re now talking about a struggling team having to cover 10 points on the road. That’s asking a lot of Carolina and now I feel more comfortable taking the Redskins to beat the spread.
The Panthers managed to hide some of their defensive deficiencies during their four-game winning streak earlier in the season, but now they’re starting to show. Despite being one of the best in the NFL at getting after the quarterback, the Panthers are giving up 26.5 points per game. They’ve also given up a minimum of 20 points in seven straight games. If that trend continues, Carolina’s chances of covering 10 points will go down considerably.
The biggest weakness for the Carolina defense this year has been their ability to stop the run. This is the one area where the Redskins will have a chance to take advantage of the Panthers. For the record, I don’t trust Dwayne Haskins any more than I can throw him. But the Redskins have had a viable rushing attack for most of the season behind Adrian Peterson. If the Redskins can avoid falling behind early and having to abandon the run, they can ride Peterson and Derrius Guice as much as possible and avoid having to rely on Haskins.
Meanwhile, Kyle Allen’s performance continues to slide. He was able to have a decent performance last week against the Saints, throwing three touchdown passes. But he also threw four interceptions the previous week against Atlanta, so he’s not been particularly trustworthy from one week to the next. The Carolina offensive line is also starting to let him down, with Allen being sacked 22 times over his last five games. Washington’s pass rush has been surprisingly effective this season, especially considering how rarely the Redskins play with a lead, so I’m expecting them to take advantage of Carolina’s porous offensive line.
In fact, the Washington defense as a whole hasn’t been as bad as the team’s 2-9 record indicates. They’re only giving up 24.5 points per game on the season, which is actually fewer than the Panthers. In four of their last six games, the Redskins have held opponents to less than 20 points. Doing so against Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers won’t be easy. But McCaffrey has just three touchdowns over his last three games, so teams have slowed him down just a little with Allen’s recent struggles.
Again, it’d be a shock to see the Panthers lose this game, even amidst a three-game losing streak. But I have enough questions about Carolina after the last few weeks to avoid eating the points in this game. The few strengths that the Redskins have conveniently coincide with some of Carolina’s weaknesses. That should lead to a close game, which is why I think Washington beating the spread is the best bet in this game.