The two-man quarterback race for the Carolina Panthers hits the road on Saturday in a Week 1 preseason showdown with the Washington Commanders. Carolina bit the dust with another five-win year and a fourth-place finish in the NFC South last season. Meanwhile, the Commanders only won seven games and finished third in a much-improved NFC East division.
A two-headed preseason monster in CarolinaThe Panthers should have an edge in the preseason with most of the starting reps being taken up by veteran quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. So it’ll essentially be two players with starting experience facing first, second and sometimes even third-team units.
But the preseason is obviously important for Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who is still trying to decide on a starter for the season-opener.
Carolina would probably be better off keeping all-world running back Christian McCaffrey on ice against that monstrous Commanders defensive front. Getting through that line is like trying to punch your way through a concrete slab. They had the eighth-ranked run defense in the league last season with opponents averaging only 104.4 rushing yards per game against them.
The best way to attack the Commanders defense has been through the air. It makes sense for the Panthers to open up the offense a bit more and try to push the ball downfield some to get a better look at their quarterback options.
It’s also important to note the Panthers won’t have Stephon Gilmore in the defensive backfield this season. They finished last season ranked No. 3 overall in passing defense with the former Defensive Player of the Year, who left for the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason. It’ll be interesting seeing if they take a step back against the Commanders' offense.
Wentz’ revenge seasonCoach Ron Rivera has already green lit Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz to play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Panthers. This will be a great opportunity for the veteran to get loose with his new receivers, including rookie first-round draft pick Jahan Dotson, in an actual game situation.
The Commanders are hopeful the combination of Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Pro Bowler Terry McLaurin can boost a unit that has underwhelmed in recent years. You better believe Wentz will be excited to start his journey towards proving critics wrong. This could be a revenge season in a way against those that have tried to write his career obituary at 29 years old.
The Panthers' defense should provide a solid test right out of the gates. They ranked third in the league last season by holding opposing quarterbacks to an average of 192.1 passing yards per game. But Wentz and company can breathe a sigh of relief with no Stephon Gilmore in the defensive backfield.
Carolina has also been inconsistent in its ability to generate pressure along the defensive front. That could prove vital to Wentz and rookie Sam Howell, who should also get reps at quarterback. Taylor Heinicke, who started 15 games for the Commanders last season, is the other option on the roster.
It’ll be interesting seeing how the Commanders’ secondary match-up against Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. While Washington had a formidable defensive front last season, their defensive backfield was always full of question marks. If those struggles continue, it could be a long afternoon of headaches against a pair of veteran quarterbacks that could play significant minutes.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams find themselves in the unique situation of having two starting quarterbacks on their roster. Baker Mayfield started for the Cleveland Browns before he joined Sam Darnold and the Panthers. And Taylor Heinicke started last season for the Commanders, despite predominantly being perceived as a backup quarterback. He’ll revert back to the latter role with Carson Wentz on the team.
I like the Mayfield and Darnold tandem in this particular matchup. I’m also interested in seeing rookie Matt Corral get an opportunity to air it out against a Redskins defense that has had issues on the backend. They’ve mostly depended on their ferocious defensive front to pancake opposing quarterbacks, which could happen early in this game.
But as both teams work their way down the depth chart, I’m expecting the Panthers to pull away.
No, Carolina doesn’t have Stephon Gilmore on the backend of their defense, but they still have playmakers that can cover. Gilmore is a tremendous player, but he wasn’t shutting the entire field down by himself last season. I believe the Panthers will make enough plays to come out of Washington with the victory.
Give me the points on Saturday.
Full-Game Total Pick
There will be a lot of experienced starting quarterbacks on the field in this particular matchup. The Panthers are kick-starting their quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, while Carson Wentz joined Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders in the offseason.
Things might be a bit tight early in this game, but eventually, I’m expecting both offenses to open up. The Commanders got burned on multiple occasions on the backend defensively last season. Carolina might also struggle a bit adjusting with a unit that no longer has Stephon Gilmore lurking in the secondary. Both teams also ranked in the bottom-half of the league in points allowed. I’m taking the over in this one