If you didn’t know better, you would think the Carolina Panthers were a member of the NFC East.
They would make more geographic sense than Dallas does, certainly. And the Panthers have been playing NFC East teams nearly every week this season. After completing their road games against Washington and Philadelphia in Weeks 5 and 6, Carolina will have played all four NFC East teams by mid-October.
It’s a good year to have the NFC East on the rotation, because it’s not exactly bulging with playoff teams. No team in the division is above .500. Carolina has already beaten Dallas and the New York Giants.
Philadelphia (3-3) is the defending Super Bowl champion and the class of the East. The Panthers’ Oct. 21 game at the Eagles will be a difficult one.
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Washington, on the other hand, is a team that veers all over the place. At 2-2, Washington is an advertisement for parity in some ways. But in individual games, Washington either plays very well or very poorly. All of the team’s games this season have been decided by at least 12 points.
▪ Former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has not exactly been lighting it up in Washington lately. He hasn’t had an interception since Week 16 of the 2016 season. And he was benched for the first series of the second half in Washington’s 43-19 loss to New Orleans Monday night after blowing a coverage that allowed a touchdown.
I expect Norman to do something noteworthy on Sunday playing against his longtime “frenemy,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
I still love what Norman once told me about Newton when he was explaining the training-camp fight the two got into in 2015: “We had an admiring respect. A respect, like, a sniffing kind of respect. You know when two dogs sniff and they know what’s good and then they go their different ways? And don’t really play with each other? Like that. I just wanted to one-up him, and he just wanted to one-up me.”
▪ The Panthers’ 3-1 start bodes well for the postseason. The team has started 3-1 or better six times before and made the playoffs five times in those seasons (2002 was the exception).
▪ Superstitious fans can knock on wood here: Newton has played four games against Washington and has never thrown an interception. Not surprisingly, the Panthers won all four.
▪ Prediction time. I am 4-0 picking Carolina’s outcomes so far this season. Washington is a one-point favorite in this one, but I’m not sure why. My pick: Carolina 27, Washington 20.