The Washington Redskins are surging and the Green Bay Packers are struggling.
The story line for Sunday night's game at FedEx Field isn't too much different than it was for last year's wild-card playoff game in Washington.
The Redskins had won four in a row and the Packers had lost two in a row. Washington promptly jumped on Green Bay, taking a quick 11-0 lead. It was all Green Bay the rest of the way, though, as it advanced with a 35-18 win.
Washington is hot again. After back-to-back home losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas to open the season, the Redskins are 5-1-1. The Packers have dropped three in a row and four of their last five to tumble to 4-5.
"The main thing is just sticking together and staying the course and preparing and working hard," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "I think these guys play hard. We didn't point any fingers. We just continue to come to work and try to fight our way out of it and try to make plays in crucial situations."
It has been the same message from Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Green Bay is in a rare spot, with a losing record through nine games for the first time since 2008. That's also the last time they failed to make the playoffs.
The Packers' string of seven consecutive playoff berths is matched only by the New England Patriots. With Green Bay's season in deep trouble, McCarthy is hoping for a repeat of last year's playoff performance.
"I think you always look at your past experiences," McCarthy said. "To me, that's part of developing your awareness and your instincts and how you move forward.
"With that, you have to make sure it applies to your current situation. I do that. I think everybody does that. That's a part of this league. No one walks through the NFL unscathed.
"This is a tough spot as far as what's going on the last three weeks, but, if anything, it brings you back to your foundation and makes you focus even more on what's most important, and that's beating the Redskins."
Doing that will be a major challenge. Washington's offense is led by quarterback Kirk Cousins. He has thrown for 2,716 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He has one of the deepest group of pass-catching threats in the league, with six players having at least 26 receptions.
Slot receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed have a team-high 44 catches and receiver Pierre Garcon has added 42 catches.
Green Bay's pass defense, on the other hand, ranks 29th in opponent passer rating. Last week at Tennessee, the Titans threw five touchdown passes and only seven incompletions.
"The thing that has always impressed me from afar -- and then I think it's like anything when you get to see a quarterback play live -- is the command of the offense," McCarthy said. "He's running it. There's no ifs and buts. The way he gets in and out of plays, the way he distributes the football, he's accurate with the football. I think he's playing extremely well."
On the other side of the ball, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled for most of the season. Without even the pretense of a running game the last four weeks, Rodgers ranks in the bottom half of the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Redskins cornerback Josh Norman doesn't care what the stats say, though. He considers Rodgers and the Patriots' Tom Brady the best quarterbacks in the league.
"Hey, man, let's not get things mistaken over there. That's No. 12," Norman said. "That guy can hit you at any time, any place, anywhere, any given day, any given game.
"I really don't care what the outside noise is. I know who we're facing and that's a cerebral quarterback that's the best of the best at what he's doing.
"Regardless of what others may think of him, I know for a fact that that is the toughest quarterback challenge to face because he has everything in his toolbox, in his arsenal, to make them win."
Injuries have slammed the Packers. They had nine Week 1 starters out of the game by the end of last week, with right guard T.J. Lang (ankle) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) dropping out of that blowout loss.
Lang, especially, is questionable this week, but the Packers could get back outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has missed the last three games, and tight end Jared Cook, who has missed the last six games. In four games without Matthews, the Packers have allowed an average of 34.5 points.
- Australian Open 2017: Nadal beats Zverev in four-hour epic
- Australian Open 2017: No shirt sponsor but big wins for Dan Evans
- Rodgers: Cold-flu won't keep him from game vs. Falcons
- Gov. Walker declares Friday ‘Green and Gold Day'
- Adams may be game-time decision on Sunday for Green Bay
- Sprained toe won't keep Jones from playing against Packers