In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It's hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I'm sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Panthers preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
With kickoff fast approaching, here are a few final thoughts on today's Vikings-Panthers contest.
How to Take in Today's Game Game Time: 12:00 p.m. CT TV:FOXRadio:Vikings Radio Network; KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130Mobile:NFL Mobile (exclusively on Verizon)
Tolbert's return is good news for CarolinaThe Panthers are coming off their bye this week, meaning the Vikings will see a rested and much healthier Cam Newton today. It also means the Vikings will likely see the return of FB Mike Tolbert. While Tolbert may not be a household name, he can make a difference in football games, particularly in the red zone.
Tolbert has played against the Vikings twice, and in those two games he has five touchdowns. He scored three touchdowns against the Vikings as a member of the San Diego Chargers in 2011 and last season as a member of the Panthers Tolbert scored twice. All five touchdowns have been red zone scores. Speaking of the red zone, the Panthers are a much better red zone offense with Tolbert in the lineup. With Tolbert out for much of this season, the Panthers have struggled in the red zone, ranking just 28th in the NFL a touchdown rate of 47%. Last season with Tolbert in the lineup, Carolina ranked No. 7 in red zone offense with a touchdown rate of 58%.
The reason Tolbert makes a difference for the Panthers in the red zone is because of his versatility. He can lead block, he can carry the ball and he can catch the ball. Having Tolbert in the game near the goal line gives Carolina flexibility in their play calling and makes life difficult for the opposing defense. With Newton being a dual-threat quarterback, the size advantage WR Kelvin Benjamin has and now the addition of Tolbert, the Panthers will be a tough stop if they drive the ball inside the Vikings 20.
A chance to start fast and finish strongVikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater has three wins this season as a starter, and all three are of the come-from-behind variety. Today represents Bridgewater's newest – and perhaps best – chance to win a start from gate to wire. Over their last five games, Carolina has scored just one touchdown in the first half and has been outscored in the opening two quarters by a combined 85-16.
Vikings can pounce on poor Panthers ball securityAside from points scored, there is no more significant statistic in football than turnovers. Vikings defenders should be mindful of Carolina's fumbling problem today, as the Panthers have given possessions away via lost fumbles nine times this season, a total that includes five lost fumbles from Newton. Carolina's nine lost fumbles are tied for sixth most in the NFL, while the Vikings have lost just one fumble this season, tops in the NFL.
Odds and ends-- There will be three Charles/Charlie Johnsons in today's game. The Panthers have a defensive end (who is very good) named Charles Johnson, while the Vikings have WR Charles Johnson and LG Charlie Johnson.
-- Welcome back, Joe Webb! The former Viking signed with the Panthers this offseason and will suit up against his old team today.
-- Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera was the Defensive Coordinator on Norv Turner's San Diego Chargers coaching staff from 2008-10.
It's going to be cold todayThe air temperature three hours prior to kickoff sat at 14 degrees but the wind chill made it feel like 0 degrees. The forecast calls for a temperature at kickoff of 14 degrees with it feeling like -1 because of the wind. There is no precipitation in the forecast but winds are expected to remain persistent at around 15 miles per hour, meaning it's going to be cold and feel even colder for the duration of the game