The Vikings celebrated their big win over the Packers by sending three starters off to get surgery, so they’ll be shorthanded Sunday when they take on the reigning NFC champs. Call me crazy, but I’m picking Mike Zimmer’s resilient bunch to pull off the upset. Prediction: Vikings 17, Carolina 14.
Three big story lines
Running back Adrian Peterson will miss significant time, perhaps even the rest of the season, following knee surgery. Athletic freak Jerick McKinnon will take over as the lead back with Matt Asiata subbing in from time to time.
T.J.’s Back in the fire
The Vikings placed LT Matt Kalil on IR when he couldn’t keep playing through a major hip injury. He will be replaced by T.J. Clemmings, who struggled as a rookie RT, especially against speed rushers.
Zimmer’s defense kept tabs on two mobile QBs the past two weeks. But reigning MVP Cam Newton is the NFL’s most dangerous. He’s nearly unstoppable on designed QB keepers near the goal line.
two key matchups
Vikings LB Anthony Barr vs. Panthers TE Greg Olsen
The Vikings won’t stick Barr on Olsen all afternoon, but the oversized OLB often covers tight ends. Olsen is one of the league’s best, as he showed again in Week 2 by getting behind the 49ers to catch a bomb from Newton.
Vikings QB Sam Bradford vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly
Bradford starred in his Vikings debut, throwing two TD passes and no picks against the Packers. In his encore performance, he must be wary of Kuechly, the best MLB in football. He has six INTs in his past 11 games.
one stat that matters
44 Career rushing touchdowns, the most by a QB in NFL history, in 80 starts for Newton
The Vikings will win if…
They win the turnover battle, keep a formidable Panthers front seven at bay long enough for Bradford to throw, and punish Newton whenever he escapes the pocket.
The Panthers will win if…
They keep on doing what they’ve been doing. Led by Newton and one of the NFL’s most stifling defenses, they are 22-3 since losing at TCF Bank Stadium late in 2014.
Vensel’s win probability