After a big win over the Falcons in a playoff like atmosphere, the Vikings find themselves atop the NFC with a 10-2 record. While that is certainly worth celebrating, the Vikings find themselves in another big game this week as they head to Charlotte to take on the 8-4 Panthers.
Let’s take a look at how the rosters compare.
Cam Newton vs Case Keenum. In the past five games, Newton has passed for over 200 yards only once, but holds a 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio during this period. He has been playing some of his best football lately; his mobility and size in and out of the pocket make him tough to bring down. However, Keenum has been as good as any quarterback in the NFL since Week eight, sporting a 11:3 touchdown to interception ratio during this time.
Edge: Vikings. Keenum has been as hot as any quarterback lately and Newton has struggled against Mike Zimmer defenses.
The way the Panthers and Vikings use their running backs is similar. Jonathon Stewart and Latavius Murray are both tough runners in between the tackles that grind for every yard. Christian McCaffrey and Jerick McKinnon both are used as receiving threats out of the backfield that have been creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Edge: Vikings. The combination of Murray and McKinnon has outplayed the Panthers duo and I expect it to happen again, especially the way Carolina has struggled against the running game recently.
The combination of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs has been electric this season and I do not expect it to change against the young Panthers secondary. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the league, but nobody has found a way to completely shut down Thielen and Diggs. Conversely, for the Panthers, the main weapon here is Devin Funchess. Since the Kelvin Benjamin trade, Funchess has been given the keys as the number one receiver on the team and he has flourished in this role. In his past four games, Funchess has 21 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
Edge: Vikings. Thielen and Diggs have been arguably the best duo in the NFL so it’s hard to pick against them. I expect Funchess to have Xavier Rhodes shadow him all game.
For the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph has been very involved in the passing game, catching at least four passes in each of his last eight games. In his past two games, he has three receiving touchdowns as he’s been Keenum’s top option in the red zone. For the Panthers, Greg Olsen re-injured his foot in his return two weeks ago and missed last weeks game against the Saints. Behind Olsen is Ed Dickson, who’s production has significantly fell off since his big week four and five games.
Edge: Vikings. If Olsen had been healthy all year, I would tend to go Panthers here. However, with the way Rudolph has played and Olsen’s health and status still up in the air, the safe play is Rudolph here.
Both the Vikings and Panthers feature good offensive lines in this matchup. Minnesota’s offensive line got beaten up a little in Atlanta from their skilled young pass rushers, but still gave Keenum ample time to pick apart the defense in the second half. The Panthers still sport a good offensive line but feature ex-Viking Matt Kalil and Darryl Williams who have been liabilities in pass protection.
Edge: Vikings. The Vikings offensive line has been one of the best in the NFL this season and the Panthers have really struggled against the Vikings defensive line the last two matchups between these teams.
Once again, both teams here feature very good offensive lines in this matchup. For the Panthers, they are lead by Mario Addison and Julius Peppers with 8.5 sacks apiece. For the Vikings, they are lead by Everson Griffin with 12 sacks and Danielle Hunter with six.
Edge: Vikings. The Panthers actually have four more sacks on the season than the Vikings, but the Panthers will be faced having Matt Kalil trying to stop Griffin. I think we know how that will go. Advantage Vikings.
In a battle of two teams with great defenses, the linebacking trio is another group that is a close call here. The Panthers’ trio of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson is one of the NFL’s best. They have combined for 197 tackles on the season. For the Vikings, the trio of Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Ben Gedeon is how they start games and have combined for 171 tackles this season.
Edge: Panthers. When Kuechly is healthy, I think he is the best linebacker in football. Kendricks and Barr definitely hold their own, but in a very close call, I give the Panthers the advantage here.
Although Xavier Rhodes may have not “shut down” Julio Jones last week, he held him to two catches and made life difficult for him. He seems to be at his best against the best and Devin Funchess will be a matchup of strength on strength. With weekly-improving play from Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander and the ageless Terrance Newman, the Vikings’ secondary have been a reason why they are a top five defense this year. Combine that with Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo’s play and you understand why points are hard to come by against this unit.
Edge: Vikings. The Panthers have some very good defensive backs in Kurt Coleman, James Bradberry, and ex-Viking Captain Munnerlyn, but this Vikings unit is just better.
Graham Gano has been a weapon this season for the Panthers, as he has only missed one field goal. Kai Forbath has gone 24 for 28 this season, along with five missed extra points. Marcus Sherels handles the punt and kick return duties and has been solid there this season.
Edge: Panthers. This is a close one, but Gano and this unit has been a little more of a sure thing these past few weeks. Forbath and the interior Vikings special teams blocking struggled mightily during the Lions game on Thanksgiving Day.
I think this has the making of a grind it out, tough game for both teams. I think it will be close at halftime, but the Vikings start to pull away in the second half. The edge goes to the Vikings here in a game that doesn’t look as tough as the final score indicates.
Prediction: Vikings 28, Panthers 17
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