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5 Vikings-Panthers Storylines To Follow

The Vikings are off to a hot start at 2-0 and this week they hit the road to take on one of the hottest teams in the League over the past couple seasons – the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers. Both teams are coming off wins in Week 2, as the Vikings won their inaugural regular season game at U.S. Bank Stadium with a dramatic 17-14 triumph over the Green Bay Packers and the Panthers won a high-scoring affair over the San Francisco 49ers at home.

Here are five storylines to chase during the buildup to one of Week 3's best matchups…

1. New look running games for both teams

In what has become a passing league, both the Vikings and Panthers are identified as teams whose offensive identity is a physical running game. But that may be changing as these two teams prepare to meet on Sunday. It's changing for the Vikings because Adrian Peterson's status is unknown after he left last week's game against Green Bay with a knee injury. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon will shoulder the load in Peterson's stead, but with the best running back in the NFL on the sideline and with Sam Bradford coming off an impressive debut, the Vikings offensive leaning may be shifting more toward the pass than the run for the near future, at least. Carolina will likely be without its starting running back for this game, too, as Jonathan Stewart left last week's contest with an injury. Don't expect the Panthers to shy away from the running the football with the same frequency, though. They have several capable replacements for the veteran running back, plus they have Cam Newton, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Carolina is one of the most creative and versatile running teams in the League and they'll likely remain that way even without Stewart on Sunday.

2. Stefon keeps shining

It looked like the Vikings may have been on to something with rookie receiver Stefon Diggs last year. The fifth-round pick out of Maryland was inactive for the first three games of the season, but then he hit the field and started filling up the stat sheet, with 100-yard efforts in two of his first three games and totals of 52 receptions and 720 receiving yards in 13 games. Now we know the Vikings are onto something with Diggs. He has hit the ground running in his second season, with back-to-back 100-yard games and 16 receptions on 20 targets. Diggs is the NFL's leading receiving through the first two weeks. His emergence as a bona fide NFL playmaker comes at a perfect time as the Vikings will be without Peterson for the time being and are trying to get new quarterback up to speed.

3. Zimmer's next challenge: Cam Newton

Head coach Mike Zimmer's defense has carried the day for the Vikings through the first two games, and that outfit is tasked with another steep challenge this Sunday in facing Newton, the reigning NFL MVP. Newton can make every NFL throw and he has big, talented receivers at his disposal. Newton is hard to bring down in the pocket and he can escape pressure to extend plays and run for yardage. He runs the read-option/zone read and Carolina designs plays for him in the running game. Newton can do it all. The Vikings defense made adjustments at halftime and found a way to slow down the Titans in Week 1. They devised a great game plan to battle and stifle Aaron Rodgers in Week 2. This week's challenge is the toughest yet and it'll be interesting to see what the Vikings defense does next.

4. Takeaways are trending for Vikings defense

Creating turnovers was identified by many as the way in which the Vikings defense could take the proverbial next step. Through two games, the Vikings defense is marching toward that goal. The Vikings have plus-five in turnover margin, registering three takeaways in Tennessee and two more last week against Green Bay. The offense hasn't turned the ball over once in the first two games. Among the takeaways are first career interceptions for LB Eric Kendricks and CB Trae Waynes as well as a first career touchdown for Danielle Hunter on his fumble return score in Tennessee.

5. Which winning streak gives?

Both the Vikings and Panthers enter this week's game with impressive winning streaks intact. The Vikings have now won five straight regular season games, dating back to Week 15 last year. With their victory over San Francisco at home last week, the Panthers have now won 14 consecutive home games, dating back to Week 15 of 2014. One of those streaks will come to an end on Sunday, while the other will be extended at least one more week.

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