With just 4 weeks to play, your Minnesota Vikings (10-2) are in the driver’s seat of the NFC conference. For the second year in a row, the Vikes will travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers (8-4) who are currently the 6th seed in the NFC. Last season the Vikings defense embarrassed Cam Newton in a game in which he was sacked 8 times, threw 0 touchdowns along with 3 interceptions, and his poorest QB rating of the 2016 season. Consequently, the Vikings finally control their own destiny and no longer have to rely on other teams to reach their playoff goals this season. A win on Sunday clinches the NFC North with three weeks left to play.
Here’s a look at the NFC Playoff Picture entering week 14:
- Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (9-3)
- New Orleans Saints (9-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
- Carolina Panthers (8-4)
In the hunt: Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys
Carolina Panthers Offensive & Defense Ranks
Total Offense: 18th Total Defense: 6th
Passing: 25th Pass Defense: 6th
Rushing: 5th (128 YPG) Rush Defense: 4th (88 YPG)
Offensive Line: 15th Pass Rush: 6th
3 Keys to Victory
Frustrate Cam: According to “NFL Matchups” on ESPN, Panthers QB Cam Newton has the 6th worst QB rating amongst active quarterbacks when he’s under pressure. Don’t get me wrong, Cam Newton is a phenomenal player, but since he’s entered the league in 2011 he’s always been a quarterback that makes poor decisions and forces throws when he’s under duress. After being put on his back 8 times in a game against the Vikings defense last season, the Panthers will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Expect a lot of chips and sheds with Carolina’s tight ends and running backs. Christian McCaffrey provides a better mismatch for the Panthers, but if Carolina wants to keep Cam Newton clean, Jonathan Stewart may see a lot of snaps in this one.
Stay balanced: The Panthers offense is nothing special on paper, but if they excel in any aspect of their game it’s on defense. The Carolina defense is arguably the toughest defense the Vikings offense will face this season. The Panthers are ranked in the top 10 in almost every statistical category on a defense led by all pros Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Kawann Short. For the first time since 2009, the Vikings have a balanced offense that can move the ball on the ground and through the air consistently. The Panthers have thrived when attempting to shut down the run this season. They will most likely look to shut down Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon early and make Case Keenum beat them with his arm. Vikings offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur has been terrific this season, but last week in Atlanta was arguably one of his poorer performances when calling a game. He’ll need to be less predictable this week if the Vikings offense is going to score more than 21 points.
Be aware of Christian McCaffrey: I don’t care how good a defense may be. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey will stand as a legitimate threat against anyone. The kid can do it all. He’s getting better at running between the tackles each and every week, he can catch any ball that’s thrown at him, he can pass block…oh, and he returns kicks/punts, too. The reason he’s a threat against the Vikings is because Anthony Barr will likely be used as a spy on Cam Newton. The Panthers like to run a lot of option sets and Barr is long and athletic enough to stay on pace with the physique of Newton. So how do you stop McCaffrey? Good question. The Panthers will line him up all over the field to find holes and mismatches. This is a big game for the Vikings linebackers and they’ll have to play at a very high level this week if they hope to slow down the dynamic duo of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey.
Scouting the Opponent with Brian Beversluis
This week, Brian Beversluis of catscratchreader.com answered a few questions for me regarding the game this week. For Carolina Panthers insight and news you can follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianBeversluis.
The Vikings have only lost 1 game under Mike Zimmer when they’ve scored at least 21 points or more. What do the Panthers need to do this week to ensure they slow down a red-hot Vikings offense? “It’s going have to come down to the pass rush in my opinion. The linebackers and safeties are good in pass protection, but the cornerbacks may have issues with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. I have a feeling those guys will see James Bradberry and Daryl Worley on islands at times while the Panthers scheme to attack the run. The defense has to get after Case Keenum and rattle him into poor choices. If they can do that, the turnovers will come. The tackling, in general, was unexpectedly off last week, but I think they come out a heck of a lot more disciplined after Steve Wilks and Ron Rivera get a hold of them following the Saints loss.”
The Panthers currently have the 4th best rushing defense in the league. Which running back poses a bigger threat to the Carolina defense (Latavius Murray/Jerick McKinnon) and why? “Jerick McKinnon simply because of the passing and lateral ability. The Panthers generally don’t have issues with power backs (Mark Ingram aside), Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will swarm. As I mentioned above, the tackling was off last week but I think they correct that and return to their swarming rush defense. The issue with McKinnon is if he matches up with Shaq Thompson or Thomas Davis in the passing attack or along the perimeter he could make them miss. I think both will be heavily involved, and if the tackling isn’t there the Panthers will struggle regardless.”
Xavier Rhodes is having a terrific season locking down the opponent’s #1 WR week in and week out. Which Panthers WR needs to step up this week to help Cam Newton out in the passing game? This seems counter-intuitive to your point, but I think Devin Funchess will have to step up despite the matchup. Currently, Russell Shepard and Damiere Byrd are the next guys in line, and neither of them has done much this season. If we were to go with “receivers” I would say, Greg Olsen. Cam is going to need a security blanket and the hope this week is Olsen returns to form, and fast.
- Give me one matchup you are looking forward to watching. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the Vikings interior offensive line handles the combo of Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Vernon Butler. These guys are having fantastic seasons and how the Vikings handle the Panthers stout interior rotation could be the difference in this game.”
Give me one Vikings prediction, one Panthers prediction, and a final score prediction.
Brian’s Vikings prediction: “I think the Vikings will sack Cam Newton four times, and keep him pretty well contained. The last few times these teams have met the Vikings have done an outstanding job of stopping him and therefore the offense.”
Brian’s Panthers prediction: “For the Panthers, I think McCaffery eclipses 100 yards total and scores at least once. He should be heavily involved if Funchess is (and this probably will happen) shut down by Xavier Rhodes.”
Brian’s Final Score Prediction: “My score prediction is a thorough defeat, 28-14 Vikings. I just don’t see Carolina doing enough on offense to keep this one close.”
Final Thoughts and Game Notes
- I expect Sunday’s game against the Panthers to be somewhat similar to the Atlanta game. A game that features two very good defenses, but in the end the Minnesota offense is just better. I think the Carolina offense is going to have a hard time staying on the field and that will affect the Carolina defense in the second half. Ron Rivera is a good head coach and he knows how much Cam struggled last season against the Minnesota defense. I’m certain he has a plan in place to make sure his offense is productive…but is it better than Mike Zimmer’s?
- My Vikings Prediction: The Vikings defense will score its first defensive touchdown of the season.
- My Panthers Prediction: Cam Newton: 2 total touchdowns (1 pass/1 run) 1 interception.
- My Final Score Prediction: Vikings-23 Panthers-17
- Cam Newton’s career stats against the Vikings:
- 7 Touchdowns
- 4 Interceptions
- 247 Yards Per Game
- 93.6 QB Rating
- Record: 1-3
- The Vikings will face 5 familiar faces this weekend. LT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, DE Zach Moore, S Kurt Coleman, and WR Charles Johnson have all spent time with the Vikings.
- The Vikings can clinch the NFC North with a win.
- Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph needs 2 yards to pass Gene Washington for 13 most receiving yards in franchise history.
- Vikings DE Everson Griffen needs 1 sack to pass Kevin Williams for 7th most sacks in franchise history. He could get it against former teammate (Matt Kalil) this weekend.
- LB Eric Kendricks needs 11 tackles to reach 300 for his career.
- Vikings RT Mike Remmers and TE David Morgan have been ruled OUT for Sunday. Panthers LB Shaq Thompson has been ruled OUT for the Panthers.
*For all the latest Vikings news, stats, analysis, and breakdowns you can follow me on Twitter at —> @Purple_Post. #SKOL