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Sports Illustrated: Panthers Will Be Vikings Toughest Game in 2016

It's been almost a month since the Vikings 2016 schedule was announced.

Since then, football fans and analysts alike have dissected and analyzed the schedule from every angle.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated recently added a different take to the schedule madness by projecting the toughest 2016 game for each NFC team.

Banks said the game Minnesota should circle on its schedule is a Week 3 matchup at Carolina. That's a date with the defending NFC-champion Panthers.

Banks wrote:

The Vikings opening their new stadium against the archrival Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 2 would make for the easy choice, but the bigger test actually is on tap the following week. At least when it comes to discerning where the Vikings will stack up this season in the NFC hierarchy. Minnesota travels to Carolina in Week 3, and you know what they say: If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. Adrian Peterson says just watch and see, the Vikings can win it all this year. We'll be watching to see how Minnesota fares against the defending NFC champs in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium.

Carolina has won 19 of its past 21 regular-season games but one of those losses was to the Vikings. Minnesota notched a 31-13 win the Panthers on Nov. 30, 2014, behind a pair of blocked punts that were returned for touchdowns.

Peterson, defense could carry Vikings to deep playoff run

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wasn't shy when asked a few days ago about his expectations for his team this season.

Anthony Riccobono of the International Business Times agreed with Peterson that the Vikings could be primed for a deep postseason run.

Riccobono said the combination of Peterson and a stout defense, plus shrewd offseason moves, could be the key to playing games in late January or even Feb. 5, 2017, when Houston hosts Super Bowl LI.

Minnesota was smart with its available salary cap space, spending $26.8 million to sign guard Alex Boone. The Vikings needed to improve their offensive line, and they did just that, giving quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more protection and improving one of the NFL's best running games.

By drafting wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round, the Vikings addressed their biggest area of need. It's unknown how successful the Ole Miss product will be, but he has a chance to make an immediate impact. A rookie wide receiver has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, and Treadwell has already garnered comparisons to Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins due his size and natural feel for the game.

*Most importantly, Minnesota didn't lose any irreplaceable pieces. They are returning top defensive players like Eric Kendricks, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, who helped the Vikings rank second in the NFC in points allowed. Peterson is arguably the best running back in all of football, and Bridgewater is only improving. *

Time will tell if the Vikings can put together a season for the ages and make it to the Super Bowl. Their schedule includes five playoff teams from last season (Green Bay, Carolina, Houston, Washington and Arizona), plus tough challenges from NFC North rivals Chicago and Detroit.

The prevailing optimism, at least on the surface, appears to be justified. Despite an improving NFC and perhaps an over-reliance on young players, the Vikings have every reason to believe they can once again overachieve to become serious Super Bowl contenders next season.

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