Commanders turn back to Carson Wentz as team fights for final playoff spot in NFC

With their season on the line, the Washington Commanders are turning back to Carson Wentz. After being benched earlier in the season, Wentz will return to the starting lineup in Week 17, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Wentz opened the season as the team's starter. He lasted six games in that role, leading Washington to a 2-4 record. During a Week 6 win over the Chicago Bears, Wentz sustained a finger injury that required surgery. With Wentz sidelined, the team turned to Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke played well early, leading the Commanders to wins in three of his first four starts. That performance was enough for Heinicke to remain the starter even after Wentz was cleared to return. Heinicke started nine straight games, but was benched during a Week 16 loss against the San Francisco 49ers. With two games left on the schedule, the team will turn back to Wentz hoping he can lead the Commanders to the postseason.

In seven games, Wentz has thrown 11 touchdowns against four interceptions.

Commanders hoping to stay in playoff spot

The move comes as the Commanders are engaged in a tight playoff race in the NFC. The Commanders entered Week 15 as the No. 5 seed in the conference but fell to the No. 7 spot — the final playoff seed — after losing to the New York Giants. The Commanders also lost in Week 16, but the teams chasing Washington — the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions — also lost, keeping the Commanders in the No. 7 spot. The Green Bay Packers won, however, and now have an outside shot at stealing the final playoff seed from the Commanders.

The Commanders' path to the playoffs is simple: Win and they are in. If the Commanders win their final two games of the season, they will make the playoffs. There are other, more complex scenarios that would allow the Commanders to clinch a playoff spot before Week 18, but those require assistance from other teams.

Winning the final two games of the season could present a challenge. The Commanders face the 6-9 Cleveland Browns in Week 17. The Commanders conclude the regular season against their division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, in Week 18. It's possible the Cowboys, who have already clinched a playoff spot, won't have anything to play for in that game, and will mostly play backups against Washington.

Then again, it's always a risk to allow a division rival to sneak into the playoffs on the final week of the season. Even if the Cowboys plan to take it easy, the team might have extra motivation to ruin the Commanders' playoff hopes at the last possible moment.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Carson Wentz #11 of the Washington Commanders warms up prior to a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Carson Wentz will start on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, his first start since Week 6. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) (Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images)