EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings have their sights set on the Carolina Panthers — and an NFC North title.
Minnesota can clinch the division crown with a win this Sunday.
The Vikings sit at 10-2 and have won eight straight games after earning a 14-9 road win over the Falcons this past Sunday.
The Panthers (8-4) would be a Wild Card team if the season ended today. The Panthers trail the Saints (9-4) in the NFC South but lost both games against New Orleans this season.
Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
Road warriors | By@EricLSmith
What has seemed like a two-month road trip will soon come to an end.
U.S. Bank Stadium has been a lonely place of late, as the Vikings have grown accustomed to playing on the road in recent weeks. Minnesota has played just one home game since Oct. 22, which was a Week 11 win over the Rams on Nov. 19.
The Vikings have found plenty of success on the road, however, as they have beaten the Browns (in London), along with Washington, Detroit and Atlanta in hostile environments.
Minnesota has won five consecutive road games in all, which ties a franchise mark that has only occurred three times (1969, 1971 and 1974).
The Vikings can establish a new record this Sunday at Carolina, and could then look forward to playing two of their final three regular-season games (not to mention one or more playoff contests) in the friendly confines of their home stadium.
Pressuring the Panthers passer | By@LindseyMNSports
The Vikings have had success against the pass in recent meetings with the Panthers.
In the past two matchups, Minnesota's defense has notched 12 sacks of Cam Newton, including eight in the game at Carolina last season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer preaches the importance of affecting an opponent's quarterback, and the team will look to put plenty of pressure on Newton again Sunday.
Everson Griffen is looking forward to a reunion with former Vikings tackle Matt Kalil, who also was teammates with Griffen at USC, and defensive tackle Tom Johnson said on Wednesday that the Vikings have a familiarity with the Panthers offense and hope to capitalize on that.
Johnson also knows the challenge that Minnesota's defense could face with Newton, however.
"He moves around," Johnson said. "When guys beat their guys 1-on-1, clean, Cam's athletic enough to make them miss or [can] run the ball, which tires the defensive linemen. They do a lot of good things. We just have to stay disciplined, stay aggressive and when we get those opportunities to beat your man, you'll win your battle and be able to take them down."
Distance running | By@pcraigers
A significant part of the Vikings success on the road this season is the road-grating running game.
Minnesota has rushed for 681 yards in six games for an average of 113.5. The lowest totals of rushing yards in a game this season occurred against the Browns (88) in Week 8 and Steelers (91) in Week 2. The Vikings had 159 in Chicago, 102 in Washington, 136 in Detroit and 105 in Atlanta.
The Vikings have capitalized on a surge by Latavius Murray that has been accented by Jerick McKinnon, who have helped Minnesota average 122.8 rushing yards per game.
Carolina has allowed an average of 94.4 rushing yards per game at home, which is counter-balanced with 69 yards by Buffalo in Week 2 and 149 by New Orleans in Week 3.
The Saints rushed for 148 in the second meeting between the teams last week.
The Panthers have allowed more than 100 rushing yards in three of their four losses this season.
— The Vikings offense has been efficient and successful in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 13 of their past 17 trips inside the 20-yard line. (This does not include a series of three kneel-downs at the end of last Sunday's game in Atlanta).
— The Vikings sacked Panthers Newton eight times during the Week 3 matchup between the teams last season. That is the second-most sacks in a game in Vikings history. Minnesota has recorded nine total sacks four different times.
— Kyle Rudolph has a team-high six touchdown catches this season, bringing the career total for the Vikings tight end to 35. That is fifth all-time in franchise history behind Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Anthony Carter and Sammy White.
— The Vikings lead the NFL in both third-down offense and defense. Minnesota's offense has converted on 74 of 161 attempts, which is good for a league-best 46.0 percentage. The Vikings defense has held opponents to converting only 40 of 147 attempts (27.2 percent).
"We don't care where we play. We just care about how we play." — Zimmer on the Vikings success in road games this season.