The most difficult game the Minnesota Vikings will play this season, based on last season’s record, comes in Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers defeated the Vikings last season at Mall of America Field and went on a long winning streak to win the NFC South Division.
2013 Record: 12-4 (first in the NFC South)
2013 Offensive Statistics: 22.9 points per game, 316.8 total offensive yards per game, 126.6 rushing yards per game, 190.2 passing yards per game, 19 turnovers
2013 Defensive Statistics: 15.1 points allowed per game, 301.3 total offensive yards allowed per game, 86.9 rushing yards allowed per game, 214.3 passing yards allowed per game, 29 turnovers forced, 43 sacks
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (fourth season in Carolina)
Key Returning Offensive Players: QB Derek Anderson, RB Kenjon Barner, OT Byron Bell, TE Richie Brockel, OL Nate Chandler, C Ryan Kalil, G Edmund Kugbila, QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, G Chris Scott, G Amini Silatolu, RB Jonathan Stewart, FB Mike Tolbert, RB DeAngelo Williams
Key Returning Defensive Players: DE Frank Alexander, LB Chase Blackburn, DT Colin Cole, LB Thomas Davis, DT Dwan Edwards, CB Charles Godfrey, DE Greg Hardy, DE Charles Johnson, LB Luke Kuechly, S Robert Lester, DT Star Lotulelei, DT Drake Nevis, CB Josh Norman, DT Kawann Short
Free Agent Additions: WR Jason Avant, CB Antoine Cason, WR Jerricho Cotchery, S Thomas DeCoud, TE Ed Dickson, TE Mike McNeill, S Roman Harper, WR Tiquan Underwood, QB Joe Webb
Draft Picks: Round 1, Pick 28 - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State; Round 2, Pick 60 - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri; Round 3, Pick 92 - Trai Turner, G, LSU; Round 4, Pick 128 - Tre Boston, S, North Carolina; Round 5, Pick 148 - Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State; Round 6, Pick - Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
Outlook: The Panthers came to Minnesota last season with a 1-3 record through the first five weeks of the season (bye week in Week 4). They were struggling to move the ball and had just turned the ball over four times the previous week.
The Vikings had two weeks to prepare after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, England. The feelings were good after Matt Cassel’s first start as a member of the Vikings and the team’s first win on the season.
Despite the good vibes, the Vikings proved to be what ailed the Panthers. After the decisive 35-10 victory at Mall of America Field, the Panthers were a dominating team that won eight straight games and 11 of their last 12. As a result, they climbed the standings and finished with the second best record in the NFC and tied for the third best record in the entire league.
The Panthers are not expected to have a well balanced offense and have little receiving depth. No wide receivers on this season’s roster caught a pass from Cam Newton last season. Free agent additions Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood have been solid receivers in their respective careers. However, no wide receiver on the roster is a true No. 1 at this point. First round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin has the potential to be that guy, but it will take a little time before it happens. Opposing defenses will load the box and force Newton and company to beat them through the air. The Panthers will struggle to move the ball again in 2014 until they prove they can beat someone through the air.
The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the league. They are loaded in the front seven with some of the best linebackers and defensive linemen. Losing cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to the Vikings in free agency will hurt, but they have the personnel to make up for it.
The Panthers have a good team, but it will be difficult for them to repeat as division champs with the likes of the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.