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Opposing Viewpoint: 5 Questions (and Answers) About Panthers

The Vikings are looking to make a late push for the playoffs with six games to go.

Minnesota is 4-6 and hopes to get back on the winning track Sunday at home against 4-7 Carolina. The Vikings saw their three-game win streak snapped last weekend.

The Vikings will see an old friend at quarterback Sunday, while Dalvin Cook will look to keep up his recent stretch of high productivity and boatloads of fun.

But what are some key storylines from the other side?

To find that out, Vikings.com chatted with Panthers reporter Kristen Balboni for a glance at what Carolina is thinking before Sunday's game.

View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Panthers during practice at TCO Performance Center.

Here is the Week 12 edition of Opposing Viewpoint:

We'll start with the most obvious storyline of Sunday's game … Teddy Bridgewater's return to Minnesota. A two-part question here on Teddy: how beloved is he as a teammate in the locker room and as a leader, and how has he looked on the field this season in his first full-time starting role since his devastating 2016 knee injury?

KB: I'm sure you have experience with the legacy he left in Minnesota, but it's so much a part of who he is. That leadership is really the core of him being a quarterback. We started to hear about it a lot in the offseason, even guys on defense, saying how he came in and owned the leadership role … and the team wasn't even in the building. He went out of his way to get to know everyone, whether that was through texts or [video] meetings.

He's come in and commanded the team and is an established leader, even when he's started with a brand-new team and teammates and coaching staff. I think it's just so impressive. He just has a way of talking to you like you're the only thing that matters, listening to what you say and then being very thoughtful in what he says. It's a quiet confidence and it's easily understood why his teammates love him and listen to him and respect him the way that they do.

As for how he looks physically, I haven't been able to tell there's been anything involving his past injuries that have hampered him this season. To my sideline reporter eye, he looks good. We've seen him run and scramble and score a few times, make some plays with his legs.

Carolina sits at 4-7 on the season under Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule, who is in his first season in charge. How has Rhule put his stamp on the Panthers more than halfway through the 2020 season, and what does he want the team's identity to be?

KB: He's put his stamp on this team in every single way. He's been a big emphasis in the building, and from Day 1, said that they want their brand to be tough and hard-working and detail-oriented. He's a big process person … but that's who he wants this team to be. It's all about the process.

That's actually something I think we saw in the last game against the Lions. The Panthers had just come off a really tough second half against Tampa Bay … and they just all — from Matt Rhule and the coaching staff to some veterans — they all preached attention to detail and buying into the process this coaching staff has brought. I think everyone on the team felt the result of that win over the Lions was a result of this team executing on the process that Matt Rhule and the coaching staff has laid out.

The Panthers are coming off perhaps their best performance of 2020 with a 20-0 home win over the Lions. What does that win do for Carolina going forward, and do the Panthers have visions on making a late run at the postseason?

KB: I don't want to sound like a coach here, but I couldn't tell you, because if you were to ask anyone here they would say they want to go 1-0 this week. I think that's part of the whole process we were talking about.

They are just so laser-focused on every detail going into this game against Minnesota that I don't think they stop and think about what the [Detroit] win means for the rest of the season.

However, they do want to win every game. They've been known for doing fake punts or going for it, and Matt Rhule does those things because he wants to win. Of course, they want to win out and make a run at the playoffs, but they are just so hyper-focused on this next game.

I'll admit it's weird not seeing Luke Kuechly's name on the Panthers roster after his retirement, although he's still with the organization as a scout. Who has stepped up as Carolina's key defensive player this season?

KB: I think you can ask any Panthers fan, and it's weird for them not to have Luke out there. It will probably take a couple years to really get used to it. But he's still here in the building, and I think anyone would tell you that not one person could fill his role. He was the leader of that defense, the quarterback of that defense, for so many years because of his talent and ability to put his guys in the right situations based on what he was seeing at the line.

I think some veterans — Shaq Thompson and Tre Boston — have done a great job in terms of the leadership role. There's not a lot of veterans on the defensive side … the Panthers drafted seven rookies on defense and every single one of them played against the Lions. It's a very young team that's still learning and still getting used to the NFL.

Jeremy Chinn, I think, is going to be a really incredible player. He's still got a lot to learn and develop, but I think he's a special player and a smart player and I think he'll be great the more and more he plays.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.

And finally, what's Carolina's biggest challenge when it comes to Minnesota? In other words, what have the Panthers really focused on this week that they believe is a key to getting a win Sunday?

KB: I think it's got to be Dalvin Cook, and being able to stop him or limit him. [In Week 10,] Ronald Jones [of Tampa Bay] just destroyed the Panthers … I don't know how else to say it. We saw the 98-yard touchdown run and that was just one of the things he was able to do [on 23 carries for 192 yards and a TD] against a Panthers defense that wasn't being gap sound. I think anytime you face Dalvin Cook, that's going to be your No. 1 issue, especially for this young defense.

I talked to Matt Rhule earlier this week, and he said something he also wants to focus on is that the Vikings are such a mentally tough team. They'll find ways to get it done and stay competitive, and that's something he wants this Panthers team to grow into, something he wants them to aspire to. That's something he's also looking at … can we hang with this very tough-minded Vikings team?

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