- Kickoff: Noon Sunday
- Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
- TV: Fox
- Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3; Sirius/XM 133 (Vikings), 384 (Panthers)
- Line: Vikings by 4½
The Vikings-Panthers matchup is one of two games this weekend between teams with 0-3 records. But while the other three winless teams — the Broncos, Bears and Panthers — each lost at least 10 games last season, the Vikings are winless after a 13-4 season, looking to make progress in a division they won by four games a year ago.
Here's a look at the key matchups and story lines for Sunday's game in Charlotte:
THE BIGGEST STORY LINE
Can the Vikings stop their self-inflicted wounds? They lead the league with seven fumbles lost this season and have turned the ball over on the goal line in each game. Last week, they went 1-for-4 in the red zone against the Chargers. They face a Panthers defense coordinated by Ejiro Evero, whom the Vikings tried to interview for their defensive coordinator job before he accepted an offer to join Frank Reich's staff in Carolina. If Kevin O'Connell's offense can keep the ball and score enough points on Evero's defense, a Panthers offense that's averaged just 4.65 net yards per pass attempt might struggle to keep up.
VIKINGS OFFENSE VS. PANTHERS DEFENSE
Offensive line could have a different look. The Vikings gave Dalton Risner some work with the first-team offense this week as they consider changes in the middle of the line following their loss to the Chargers. Risner has worked at both left and right guard since the Vikings signed him, and Blake Brandel could be another option for the Vikings along the offensive line if coaches deem further changes necessary. The group will face a pair of former first-round picks along the Carolina defensive front in edge rusher Brian Burns and nose tackle Derrick Brown, while veteran pass rusher Justin Houston will line up across from Christian Darrisaw.
Akers in line for first work at RB. Running back Cam Akers, whom the Vikings acquired in a trade with the Rams on Sept. 20, seems set to make his debut against a Panthers coaching staff with familiar faces from his time in Los Angeles (Evero and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown). The Vikings have said Alexander Mattison remains their No. 1 back, but Akers could see a set of carries as a change of pace for Mattison, who had 93 yards in his best game of the year a week ago.
VIKINGS DEFENSE VS. PANTHERS OFFENSE
Young back at QB for Carolina. The Panthers traded up to select Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young with the first overall pick, in a draft where three quarterbacks were taken in the first four picks. The Vikings were impressed with Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson as they considered a move up to draft a QB in the first round; as they seek their first win this season, they'll see if Brian Flores' defense can confuse and pressure Young in his first game back from an ankle injury. If Young's injury resurfaces, the Panthers would turn to Andy Dalton, who has started against the Vikings twice in the past three years for Dallas and New Orleans.
Thielen faces his former team. Carolina's leading receiver is one the Vikings know well: Adam Thielen, in his first year playing for a team at any level of football outside Minnesota, has 20 catches for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first three games. Thielen will line up in the slot when the Panthers have three receivers on the field, where he could have some matchups against former teammate Josh Metellus. Thielen has scored both of his touchdowns on red-zone receptions, after catching 34 TD passes in the red zone over his final five years in Minnesota.
Out: S Lewis Cine (hamstring)
Questionable: C Garrett Bradbury (back), OLB Marcus Davenport (ankle), QB Jaren Hall (personal)
Out: S Xavier Woods (hamstring)
Questionable: RB Miles Sanders (groin), LB Frankie Luvu (hip), WR Jonathan Mingo (concussion)
Despite playing on the road after losing their first three games of the season, the Vikings are 4½-point favorites in this one. They'll have to stop their costly turnovers if they want to end their losing streak, but against a Panthers team with inexperienced offensive linemen, they could have opportunities to make things difficult for Young and produce a couple of takeaways of their own. If the Vikings can get out of their own way on offense, they should be able to win their first game of the year and get to 1-3 before a game against Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and whoever else might be lurching toward their favorite city. Vikings 27, Panthers 23