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Early Look: Vikings at Panthers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A division title is within reach for the Vikings. 

Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a road win on Sunday against Carolina.

The Vikings are 10-2, have won eight straight games and hold a four-game lead in the NFC North after Sunday's 14-9 win over the Falcons.

Minnesota also currently holds the top spot in the NFC playoff picture.

The Panthers are 8-4 and in second place in the NFC South behind New Orleans.

Carolina dropped a 31-21 decision to the Saints on Sunday, but would be a Wild Card team if the season ended today.

Here's an early look at Sunday's game:

Passing: Vikings quarterback Case Keenum completed 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. He had a passer rating of 120.4 on Sunday and completed his least 15 pass attempts.

Keenum is 8-2 as a starter this season. Keenum has thrown for 2,703 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed 17 of 27 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. He had a passer rating of 107.5.

Newton has completed 228 of 377 passes (60.5 percent) for 2,583 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. He has a passer rating of 83.0.

Rushing: Latavius Murray led the way on the ground Sunday, rushing for 76 yards on 16 carries. Jerick McKinnon added 24 yards on nine carries. 

The Vikings hit the 100-yard mark as a team for the ninth time in 12 games. 

Murray leads the Vikings with 572 yards and five touchdowns this season. McKinnon has 414 yards and three touchdowns.

The Vikings rushed for 105 total yards Sunday, and rank sixth in the NFL with 122.8 rushing yards per game.

Carolina ran for 112 yards on 23 carries with a score against the Saints. Newton had 51 yards on six attempts, and Jonathan Stewart had 45 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

Stewart leads Carolina with 531 yards and has three touchdowns on the ground. Newton has 515 rushing yards and a team-high five scores.

The Panthers rank fifth overall in rushing with 127.8 yards per game.

Receiving: Tight end Kyle Rudolph had four receptions for a 36 yards and a score, and  McKinnon had five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Adam Thielen led the Vikings with 51 receiving yards on four receptions. Jarius Wright and Murray each had three receptions. Stefon Diggs and Michael Floyd each had two catches. 

Thielen now has 74 receptions for 1,056 yards and three scores on the season. He ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards. 

Rudolph now leads the Vikings with six touchdown receptions. He has 35 career touchdown catches, which ranks fifth all-time in franchise history.

Carolina's Devin Funchess had four receptions for 60 yards Sunday, and rookie Christian McCaffrey had five catches for 33 yards. Each player caught a touchdown.

Funchess leads the Panthers with 703 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He has 54 catches this season.

McCaffrey has a team-high 64 receptions for 501 yards and four scores.

Defense: The Vikings defense came up big against a high-powered Falcons offense, especially on third down as Atlanta converted just once in 10 tries.

The Falcons, who entered the game with the league's top third-down offense, were held to a season-low 275 yards of offense. Atlanta had scored 95 combined points in three previous games but was held to just nine points.

Minnesota didn't have a sack or takeaway against the Falcons, but didn't allow Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to throw a touchdown pass, ending his streak of 30 straight games with one.

Everson Griffen leads the Vikings with 12 sacks, and safety Harrison Smith has a team-high three interceptions.

Minnesota ranks second in the NFL in both yards allowed per game (289.1) and points allowed per game (17.0).

Carolina allowed 400 yards of offense to New Orleans as the Saints moved into first place in the NFC South. Carolina had a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery on defense.

Defensive ends Mario Addison and Julius Peppers each have 8.5 sacks, and linebacker Luke Kuechly has a team-high three interceptions.

The Panthers rank sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (297.6) and are 11th in points allowed per game (19.8).

 

Special Teams: Vikings kicker Kai Forbath made both of his extra point tries against Atlanta and did not attempt a field goal. He is 24 of 28 on field goals this season.

Punter Ryan Quigley averaged 45.0 yards on five punts and had one of them roll out of bounds at the 2-yard line.

Carolina kicker Graham Gano made all three of his extra point tries Sunday and did not attempt a field goal. He is 23 of 24 on field goals this season.

Panthers punter Michael Palardy averages 46.8 yards per punt.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Panthers.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 8-5 all-time against Carolina, a series that includes no playoff meetings.

After winning their first three games against the Panthers, the Vikings lost the next three. Minnesota is 2-0 since Mike Zimmer became the Vikings head coach.

Carolina became an expansion franchise in 1996 and played the Vikings that same season. Minnesota won 14-12 behind a pair of touchdown catches from Cris Carter.

Last meeting: Vikings 22, Panthers 10, Sept. 25, 2016, in Charlotte

The Vikings stayed undefeated on the young season by rallying from a halftime deficit to get past the Panthers in Week 3.

Minnesota trailed 10-0 before Danielle Hunter sacked Newton for a safety late in the first quarter.

Marcus Sherels then took a punt back 54 yards for a touchdown, making it a 10-8 game at the break.

The Vikings defense pitched a shutout in the second half as Rudolph caught a touchdown pass and Minnesota added two field goals.

Minnesota sacked Newton eight times. Griffen had 3 sacks, and Hunter, Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph, Brian Robison and Smith each had a sack.

Terence Newman, Trae Waynes and Tom Johnson also had interceptions for the Vikings.

Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 171 yards and a touchdown, and Rudolph had seven catches for 70 yards and a score.

Minnesota improved to 3-0 with the victory.

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