The Vikings stick around Minnesota this week and will host the Carolina Panthers in the second of what will be three consecutive home games. Looking to bounce back from last week's loss to Green Bay, the Vikings will prepare this week for a Panthers team that was on a bye last week and has been held winless since Week 5.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Panthers prepare to battle.
1. Captain Munnerlyn Welcomes His Old MatesThis week's game is one CB Captain Munnerlyn has likely had circled on his calendar since last March when he signed with the Vikings during free agency. Munnerlyn was a seventh-round draft pick of Carolina's in 2009 and played in 77 games with 50 starts during his five seasons there. But now he's with the Vikings and has been solid in his debut season in Minnesota. A fiery personality and feisty player, Munnerlyn is surely looking forward to welcoming his old teammates to Minnesota.
2. Early Production Next Step in Bridgewater's DevelopmentRookie QB Teddy Bridgewater has this late-game production thing down. He already has three come-from-behind wins and he led yet another impressive 4th-quarter touchdown drive last week against the Packers. Perhaps the next step in his development is early-game production so that not as many late-game heroics are necessary. Bridgewater's numbers aren't drastically different from the first half to the second or from non-crunch time to crunch time, but if there's one aspect of the impressive rookie's game to criticize it may be accuracy. Granted, Bridgewater is completion 60.3% of his passes and he was an extremely accurate passer in college, but even still there have been completions left out on the field from time-to-time. Whether the product of inaccurate throws, improper routes or a combination of the two, expect this aspect of the Vikings passing game to improve over the final five weeks of the season, beginning with this weekend's game against the Panthers.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Panthers.
3. Next Man Up for Vikings as Attrition MountsThe Vikings have been playing without their starting right guard and running back for most of the season and they were without Kyle Rudolph for several games, as well, but no one will feel sorry for the Vikings because football is a game of attrition and all teams are dealing with those issues. The attrition continues for the Vikings this week with news that RT Phil Loadholt may be lost for the season and with DT Sharrif Floyd likely to miss more practice time this week. It's "next man up" for the Vikings this week as the team's depth will be tested at several positions. Injuries are never a good thing, but the silver lining is that the Vikings coaching and scouting staffs will see a truer test of their depth with players such as Joe Banyard, Mike Harris, Shamar Stephen and Ben Tate possibly getting significant in-game reps over the final five games.
4. A Dynamic Challenge: Vikings Defense Takes on Cam NewtonSince the Panthers drafted him with the top choice in 2011, Cam Newton has been one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He was a consensus choice for offensive rookie of the year honors following a debut season in which he accounted for 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) and has since remained a dual threat at the quarterback position. Newton has dealt with injuries this season and that has hampered him a bit, but he has still accounted for 14 touchdowns (12 passing, two rushing). Carolina had a bye last week, so Newton will be fresh and ready to take the field against the Vikings.
5. Asiata Returns, Ben Tate's Debut, or More Joe Banyard?With Adrian Peterson's absence, both Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have played a significant role in both the running game and the passing game. Last week, though, both missed practice time and that led to the Vikings signing Ben Tate, who was waived by the Cleveland Browns, and ultimately it led to Joe Banyard getting his first carries of the season in the game against Green Bay. This week Asiata may or may not return, Tate will get four more practices under his belt and the Vikings may feel compelled to give Banyard more opportunities given how he looked against Green Bay.