Sunday's Week 16 trip at Washington has been circled on many calendars since the schedule was announced in the spring. It's the long-awaited matchup at Washington between head coach Ron Rivera and the team he coached for nine seasons.
While Carolina (4-10) is on an eight-game losing streak, the Washington Football Team (6-8) is on the verge of its first division title since 2015. If Washington wins and the New York Giants lose to Baltimore, Washington clinches the NFC East.
Sunday marks the fourth time the Panthers will face a former head coach with his new team. Carolina is 0-3 against former head coaches after losing to Dom Capers once (Houston, 2003) and John Fox twice (Denver 2012, Chicago 2017).
Rivera was in Carolina from 2011-19, leaving as the franchise leader in all-time wins (79).
Sunday also marks the first time that linebacker Thomas Davis will face his former team. Davis is the Panthers' all-time leader in tackles (1,098) after playing 13 seasons from 2005-18. He was with the Chargers in 2019 and joined Washington in 2020, appearing in seven games this season.
Other former Panthers currently on the Washington active roster include quarterback Taylor Heinicke, linebackers Jared Norris and Jordan Kunaszyk and cornerback Cole Luke. Much of the Washington assistant coaching staff and football operations staff were also in Carolina.
Chase Young comparisons
The eyes of Panthers fans will be on rookie defensive end Chase Young. Many consider him in contention with Panthers linebacker Jeremy Chinn to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Young's résumé was boosted this week after he earned a Pro Bowl nod over Panthers defensive end Brian Burns, despite Burns holding an edge in total tackles (56-38), sacks (8.0-5.5) and pressures (34-17). Young did score a high-profile 47-yard touchdown in Washington's win over San Francisco in Week 15.
But Panthers fans will be watching to nitpick every move he makes.
Haskins' rollercoaster season
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has had an up-and-down sophomore season in Washington. The 2019 first-round pick was benched four games into the year after throwing just four touchdowns with three interceptions.
When Kyle Allen and Alex Smith were both injured, Haskins returned in Week 14 and helped Washington hold on to a win over San Francisco. But in his start against Seattle last week, Haskins managed a passer rating of 72.9, throwing two interceptions as Washington lost, 20-15.
This week, video emerged of Haskins at a strip club after Sunday's game, putting him in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
On Monday, Rivera said Smith would start if he's healthy enough after straining his calf two weeks ago. The status of Washington's signal-caller will certainly be worth watching throughout the week.
Carolina is 7-10 against Washington all-time in the regular season.