Who starts at QB vs. Eagles: Taylor Heinicke or Alex Smith?

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Mike DePrisco
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Who starts at QB vs. Eagles: Heinicke or Smith? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the division crown on the line in Week 17, Ron Rivera has a decision to make regarding the quarterback position. 

Start Alex Smith, who's been battling a calf injury and has missed the last two weeks, or go with new backup Taylor Heinicke, who flashed in the fourth quarter against Carolina but doesn't have much experience to lean on. 

So who should Washington go with? Despite a limited sample size, NBC Sports Washington's Brian Mitchell likes Heinicke as the starter considering Smith's injury status. 

"I'll go with Taylor Heinicke," Mitchell said. "The way he came in the game and worked the offense and moved [the ball] around and knew exactly where to go, I think you have to go with him. If Alex Smith doesn't have drastic improvement, you can't put him out there on the football field. It's about protecting yourself, and if he can't go out there and push off that leg and protect himself, you don't want to risk that."

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Smith's injury is the key factor here. For a quarterback who's already dealt with limited mobility coming back from what should've been a career-ending injury, further limitation could be troublesome against a formidable pass rush from the Eagles. 

If he was healthy, this wouldn't be a decision, and as JP Finlay points out, the Washington Football Team as an organization wishes that were the case. 

"I think the organization wants it to be Alex Smith, they just don't know if it's gonna happen," Finlay said. "I believe the way Heinicke came in, he provided that offensive spark. They were able to get up and down the field, get a touchdown. I think the receivers saw that he's gonna throw to them, he's gonna go deep, he's gonna make plays. He's a smaller guy but he'll squeak through the line of scrimmage and make plays with his legs. He gives them a chance and that's more than the starter did against the Carolina Panthers. The team wants it to be Alex, let's be clear about that, but I just don't know if you can trust that right leg."

Due to their game getting flexed to Sunday night, Washington has been afforded a sliver of extra time to figure out their quarterback situation. They kick off at 8:20 p.m. against the Eagles in Philadelphia where a win earns them a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.