CHARLOTTE - Know your foe? Say less.
The Panthers welcome Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday in a reunion of epic proportions.
The two teams played last year, but it marks Rivera's first game back in Charlotte, where he was Carolina's all-time winningest coach from 2011-19.
He brings with him a 53-man roster of eight former Panthers and a coaching staff with 15 assistants who have spent time with the Panthers.
Only 13 players on Carolina's active roster played under Rivera back in 2019.
But Sunday will have way more implications than last season's December matchup in Washington. The return of Rivera and Cam Newton to Carolina comes at a time when the Panthers currently sit in the final playoff spot and are making a push towards December.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke started just one game as Carolina's backup to Newton in 2018, getting hurt in the second half of a Week 16 loss to Atlanta.
After getting cut prior to the 2019 season, Heinicke played as a backup in the XFL and was out of football until December of 2020.
He came back to start in the Wild Card playoffs against Tampa Bay and nearly pulled off the upset over Tom Brady.
Fast forward 10 months, and Heinicke did just that in Week 10 of the 2020 season, as Washington beat Tampa Bay, 29-19, on Sunday.
Heinecke threw 256 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 110.4 against the Bucs defense.
This season, Heinecke has a 65.7 completion percentage with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a passer rating of 87.4, after taking over for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick in the opener.
SKILL POSITION TALENT
Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin have led Washington's offense at the running back and wide receiver positions.
Gibson had two rushing touchdowns on 24 carries last week, while McLaurin led Washington with six catches for 59 yards.
McLaurin ranks 16th in the NFL with 632 yards this season and four receiving touchdowns. He ranks 10th in the NFL with 84 total targets, but is last among players in reception percentage (58.3) with 80+ targets.
Gibson is 19th in the league with 506 rushing yards on 135 attempts with five rushing scores.
Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young is now out for the season with a knee injury suffered last week, leaving a big hole in Washington's pass rush.
Although Young had only managed 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles this year, he had been able to draw attention away from players like Montez Sweat (4.0 sacks) and Daron Payne (2.0 sacks).
As a team, Washington's pass rush is currently tied for 20th with 19 sacks, whereas they were fifth last year through Week 10 with 28 sacks.
That's translated to the rest of the passing game as WFT is 30th in the NFL with 279.33 net passing yards allowed and is tied for 19th with six interceptions.
Carolina is 7-9 against Washington all-time.