Just one season after a trip to the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers won't even return to the postseason.
Their fate was sealed Sunday when both Green Bay and the Atlanta won. The Packers win locked the Panthers out of a Wild Card possibility, and the Falcons win shut Carolina out of the NFC South playoff spot.
What does this mean for the Redskins on Monday night in the Week 15 finale?
It could mean 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly doesn't play.
Kuechly sustained a concussion in the Panthers win over the Saints in late November and has missed his team's last three games. He was cleared this week of the NFL concussion protocol and returned to practice, but some questions remain if the linebacker should play with the team eliminated from the postseason.
"We are excited to have Luke healthy and cleared from the protocol," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said via the team website last week. "I know he is extremely motivated to get back on the field and help us win games. Whether he plays this week or not, I don’t know. We have to balance our enthusiasm with what’s best for Luke and the team long term."
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Sure sounds like the coach is hedging his position.
Reports show that Kuechly will make the trip up from Charlotte to D.C., but the decision if he plays is not expected until Monday afternoon. Kuechly has a history of concussions, as he also missed three games last season with a head injury.
A three-time Pro Bowler, the Panthers need to weigh the risk and reward of sitting their middle linebacker in a game with no meaning for the franchise.
For the Redskins, not facing Kuechly is obviously an advantage, though Carolina's defense is still quite stingy.
The Panthers lead the NFL in sacks and have forced eight turnovers in the last three weeks without Kuechly.
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