For the third time this season, the Vikings spotted an opponent at least a one-touchdown lead. And for the third time the Vikings won thanks in large part to a dominant defense and the uncanny ability to make game-turning plays. Make no mistake: Even through all the injuries and problems with the offensive line/running game, this is a very good team. How good?

My thought going into the Vikings' game at Carolina was this: With the Cardinals and Seahawks struggling early this year, a Minnesota victory over the Panthers one week after defeating Green Bay would establish the Vikings as the team to beat in the NFC.

I can't back off that now, nor should I.

Three weeks into the season, Minnesota has established itself as the new team to beat in the conference. That is subject to change, and the distinction carries far more weight in January. But this is where we are now.

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