A pair of playoff teams from last season will meet on Sunday at Lambeau Field when the Washington Football Team and Green Bay Packers face off.
The Packers have picked up where they left off last season after a shocking 38-3 Week 1 loss to the Saints. They've since won five in a row, three of which have come by double digits, and Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate once again.
Not much has gone right for Washington, on the other hand. New starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't make it through the season-opener before getting injured, and Taylor Heinicke ranks 24th in the league with a 46.0 QBR.
Green Bay enters Sunday afternoon’s game as the heavy favorite, but the line has moved towards Washington by a point since opening as both teams deal with a bevy of injuries.
Washington (2-4) at Green Bay (5-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How healthy will Washington's weapons be?
Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin have been the stars of this offense since Washington spent third-round picks on them in consecutive drafts, but their availability and effectiveness are in question for Sunday.
Both missed practice on Wednesday and were limited on Thursday, neither Gibson (shin) nor McLaurin (hamstring) were very effective when they played through their injuries last week. Gibson picked up 44 yards on 10 rushes and did not catch either target while McLaurin reeled in just four of eight targets for a season-low 28 yards.
Beyond them, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (quad) and wideout Dyami Brown (knee) were limited in practice, and big free-agent signing Curtis Samuel (groin) and Logan Thomas (hamstring) remain out.
Washington already has a below-average offense and will have trouble keeping up with Green Bay on the road if Heinicke doesn't have an effective array of skill position players.
2. Can Green Bay's veteran additions bolster the defense?
While Washington has been decimated on offense, Green Bay has struggled to stay afloat on defense.
Specifically at linebacker, the Packers lost Pro Bowler Za'Darius Smith (back) 18 snaps into the season, and Chauncey Rivers landed (knee) on the IR in early October. Preston Smith will see his streak of 102 straight regular-season games to open his career come to an end after suffering an oblique injury last week.
Green Bay did bring in former Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith, but the Cowboys released him midseason for a reason. After sitting out a week, he only appeared in 17 snaps against the Bears this past Sunday and didn't record any counting stats. The latest addition is former Texans first-rounder Whitney Mercilus, who has three sacks through six games this season, but it's unclear if he'll be available after signing on Wednesday.
Regardless of who suits up, the Packers will need to shore up a unit that ranks 23rd in defensive DVOA and 26th in adjusted line yards.
3. What happened to Washington's pass defense?
If Green Bay's defense needs to improve, Washington's is in major need of a wake-up call. After finishing third in defensive DVOA last season, Washington is down to 29th in 2021.
Perhaps the biggest fall-off has come on pass defense, where the team has fallen from second to dead last. There haven't been any major departures — apologies to defensive backs Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau — so this fall is a bit inexplicable.
One potential explanation is that Washington's defense may not have been as good as the stats indicated last year. Just look at the quarterbacks they faced. Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson are undoubtedly good, but they also faced Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones, Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Mullens, and Nate Sudfeld.
However, with so many first-rounders on the defensive line, they should be rushing the passer better. They rank just 24th in adjusted sack rate (5.8 percent), but a 26.8 percent pressure rate (10th) indicates that improvement could be on the way.
Going up against Rodgers will be a major test, but they'll need to show improvement quickly to take a run at one of the three wild-card spots this season.
Washington should improve on defense soon — even if last year's unit wasn't as good as previously thought. But the team would feel a lot better going into this matchup several weeks down the line. Rodgers has this Green Bay offense clicking at home, and it's hard to see the visitors out-pacing the Packers in a boat race.