Two of the NFC's top teams are set to do battle at Bank of America Stadium today, with the Vikings and Carolina Panthers both coming off wins last week and looking to maintain their spots atop their divisions. Kickoff is coming up quickly, so here are a few final thoughts on today's game.
Early-down defense important for Vikings creativity
For the Vikings defense to do a number on Cam Newton today the way it did a number on Aaron Rodgers last week, it must first do a number on the Panthers early in the down and distance. Carolina has a powerful and diverse rushing attack and they will stick with it if it's not stopped. For the Vikings defense to get creative and exotic with its sub-package tactics, it must put the Panthers offense in a position where it gets out of its base personnel and is behind schedule in the down and distance.
New-look rushing attacks
The Vikings and Panthers have long been known as teams who emphasize and excel in the rushing attack. But each team will unveil a new look in the running game this week. The Vikings will be without the best runner in the game – Adrian Peterson – and will deploy Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in his stead. Carolina is also without its star runner – Jonathan Stewart – and will likely go with a multi-pronged approach that could start with second-year back Cameron Artis-Payne but will also include a combination of Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker. Carolina's attack figures to undergo the least amount of change in terms of structurer and execution, largely because QB Cam Newton is a big part of it and he'll be in the lineup, whereas the Vikings figure to look profoundly different in the running game with Peterson sidelined and the more versatile pair of Asiata and McKinnon splitting the workload.
If you like linebackers, you will like today's Vikings-Panthers matchup. Carolina features as good a duo as you'll see in the NFL with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, plus they have an impressive youngster in Shaq Thompson. The Vikings feature a talented duo of their own with Antony Barr and Eric Kendricks, plus they can throw veteran Chad Greenway in for good measure.
The field position game
Expect the Vikings to take field position at a premium today against the Panthers. Vikings opponents have started drives inside their own 20 eight times this year, and they've scored zero points on those drives. The drives have ended like this: punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, downs, fumble, INT. The Panthers offense, meanwhile, has started drives inside their own 20 eight times, and has scored just one touchdown. Their drives have ended like this: TD, punt, INT, punt, fumble, punt, punt, fumble. When it comes to be decision-making time for head coach Mike Zimmer, he'll keep field position top of mind as he makes choices on how to manage the game.
Heat could be a factor today
The forecast calls for a kickoff temperature of 84 degrees and an increase to as high as 88 degrees before today's game should conclude, conditions that could be hot enough to be a factor for the Vikings. In our hotel interview with Ronde Barber on Saturday night, the FOX game analyst said he thinks the heat was an adverse factor for the San Francisco 49ers last week as the Panthers pulled away from them late in the 4th quarter.