One man's prediction: This has been a crazy and somber week at Winter Park, marked by quarterback movement and the death of a 2-year-old son of Adrian Peterson. This is only the second true home game for the Vikings, and the guess here is that they emerge from a difficult week with a victory.

Stout defense

The Carolina Panthers rank third in the NFL in total defense and third in scoring defense. Their previous two opponents managed only 400 total yards combined. The Panthers are led by stud middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year who led the NFL in tackles with 164. Kuechly already has collected 48 tackles this season with two interceptions.

Top return men

This matchup features two of the best returners in the NFL in Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and Carolina's Ted Ginn Jr. Patterson, the NFC special teams player of the month for September, leads the NFL in kickoff return average at 33.8 yards. Ginn ranks fourth in the NFL in kickoff return average and seventh in punt returns. Both players will put stress on coverage teams in trying to prevent big returns.

Cam control

Carolina ran 14 read-option plays against the Arizona Cardinals last week, according to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. The Vikings defense prepared all week for that look, and their success will hinge largely on their ability to limit Cam Newton's ability to extend plays with his feet. Newton has scored 23 rushing touchdowns since entering the league in 2011, and 41 percent of his 273 career runs have resulted in first downs. "Can Newton is a guy that you're not just going to shut down," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "We have to make sure that we don't let him just run around all day long."


Vikings CB Chris Cook vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith

About Cook

Cook is returning after missing the Pittsburgh game because of a groin injury. Cook said he's 100 percent healthy and the Vikings need him to prove he can stay on the field.

About Smith

Smith has caught at least one pass in 95 consecutive games, a team record. His seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons are second-most among active NFL players.

Who has the edge?

Smith is always a tough matchup and the Vikings secondary isn't exactly playing at a high level right now. It will take a group effort — not just Cook — to contain Smith.

Advantage: Smith


12The Vikings have produced 12 takeaways, which ranks fourth in the NFL. That total includes seven interceptions — three fewer than their entire output from 2012.


Kyle Rudolph: The Pro Bowl tight end has been fairly quiet with only 12 catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. Rudolph ranks 27th among NFL tight ends in catches and 35th in receiving yards. Rudolph is a big, reliable target — particularly in the red zone — and the Vikings need to get him more involved.