Five fearless predictions for Monday’s Carolina Panthers game at Washington:
1. Josh Norman will shut down Kelvin Benjamin
This isn’t exactly going out on a limb – at least not the way Benjamin’s played the past two weeks (a combined three catches for 29 yards). In fact, there’s no guarantee Norman will shadow Benjamin all game. Norman’s always fared well against physical receivers (see Bryant, Dez), and he will be in his “Dark Knight” mode to face his former team. Norman could even be too amped-up and prone to pick up a penalty. But expect another quiet night from Benjamin.
2. The Panthers will get Norman on a double move
No one knows Norman’s tendencies better than the Panthers, in particular Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. He knows Norman is not afraid to forego his assignment to try to make a play on the ball. Newton will take advantage of Norman’s aggressiveness by getting him to bite on a pump fake and a double move by a receiver – likely Ted Ginn Jr. – for a long gain that will get both Newton and Norman’s competitive juices flowing.
3. Newton will complete 50 percent of his passes – barely
Newton is beginning to approach Tim Tebow territory with his streak of four games with a completion percentage below 50. (Tebow, Newton’s teammate at Florida, had a six-game streak in 2011). Washington has not been great defending the pass, allowing 257.8 yards a game to rank 24th. Newton will be playing with a sore shoulder on a cold night in Washington – not a good combination for getting on a hot streak. But Newton will complete just enough passes to tight end Greg Olsen to finish above 50 percent.
4. Ryan Kerrigan will get a sack – and more
Kerrigan, the outside linebacker who was in the same 2011 draft class as Newton, will be a matchup problem for Trai Turner, who moved from guard to right tackle because of injuries. Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert, who should be among those helping Turner, called Kerrigan an “animal.” Look for Kerrigan to collect a sack for the fifth game in a row. He’ll also force his 20th career fumble, which will tie him with Seattle’s Cliff Avril for the NFL’s highest total since 2011.
5. Washington will exploit the middle of the field
Kirk Cousins has a deep outside threat in DeSean Jackson. But Cousins loves working the middle of the field with tight end Jordan Reed and slot receiver Jamison Crowder. That could be an issue for a Panthers’ defense that again could be missing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Linebacker Thomas Davis called Crowder, the former Duke star, a young Steve Smith. Ron Rivera wasn’t ready to go that far. But the dynamic Crowder will be a problem for nickel back Leonard Johnson. Washington 24, Panthers 14.
Carolina at Washington
FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Monday, 8:30 p.m.
ESPN (Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters)