The Minnesota Vikings have mostly been involved in lower scoring games since Teddy Bridgewater took over at quarterback, but that could change vs. defenseless Carolina.
It could be a higher scoring game than the total suggests Sunday afternoon when the Carolina Panthers (3-7-1, 1-3-1 away) pay a visit to the Minnesota Vikings (4-7, 2-3 home) at the latter’s temporary home for this season, TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN at 1:00 ET in a game televised locally on FOX and available on NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV.
The posted total at Pinnacle Sports is 42½ for this contest with the current odds on the ‘over’ set at -105.
Vikings Played Well in Their “Super Bowl”
While this has been a lost season for the Vikings, they did come to play in what was essentially their Super Bowl vs. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week, coming up just short in a 24-21 loss where they were only outgained by 54 total yards by one of the hottest offenses in the NFL. Yes that probably puts Minnesota in a huge letdown spot here, but that usually shows up by playing with less energy on defense.
The offense actually has a chance to look decent (or better) again vs. a Carolina team that has now been a winning NFL pick since beating the Chicago Bears way back in Week 5. The Panthers then played to a rare 37-37 tie at Cincinnati in Week 6 and have since lost five straight games. But in what has become life in the NFC South, at 3-7-1 the Panthers are only one-half game out of first place with Atlanta and New Orleans virtually tied atop the division at 4-7!
Technically the Falcons are in first place by virtue of their head-to-head victory over the Saints in Atlanta back on Kickoff Weekend, although those teams have another matchup remaining in New Orleans.
Carolina Misses Hardy
The Vikings’ two best offensive showings this season have both come here at TCF Bank Stadium, first in a 41-28 upset of the Falcons in Teddy Bridgewater’s first NFL start in Week 4 and then in a 29-26 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 9. Bridgewater has yet to match that starting debut when he passed for 317 yards against a lousy Atlanta secondary without an interception, but another common thread in those two games was the running game.
More specifically, it was the running of Jerick McKinnon, who has unexpectedly rushed for 538 yards on an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in his rookie season while at least temporarily making people forget about Adrian Peterson. When McKinnon runs well, it allows Bridgewater to relax and put less pressure on himself and he subsequently makes fewer mistakes.
Well, the Carolina defense has gone from being one of the best in the league last season to one of the worst this year while playing without the suspended Greg Hardy as it ranks 25th in the NFL in total defense and 28th in points allowed at an alarming 27.3 per game. The Panthers are also 25th in the league in yards per rush allowed at 4.4, meaning that Minnesota should be able to establish McKinnon on the ground.
Once that happens, we could expect to see the “good’ Bridgewater attacking a Carolina secondary that is surrendering 7.1 yards per pass attempt, no thanks to a pass rush that has suffered with Hardy’s absence.
Two Weeks to Prepare and Get Healthy
While not much can be done to help the Carolina defense, the Panthers have had two weeks to prepare for this game after a bye following a home loss to Atlanta two weeks ago that unbelievably would have had Carolina in first place right now had it been able to win that game! But just as important as the extra preparation time, the week off has allowed Cam Newton to get healthier after being constantly harassed this season.
Only on a few rare occasions this year have we seen Newton as the dual threat he usually is when at full strength, and we see him being more aggressive this week by taking off and running more often, either with called runs or via improvisation. Perhaps the best aspect of the entire Minnesota team is its pass rush, and Newton has the allusiveness to escape that rush when healthy and test a Minnesota run defense ranked 18th in yards per rush allowed.
Also the threat of Newton taking off could slow that pass rush down and afford him more time to find Kelvin Benjamin downfield. The Florida State product Benjamin has been one of the most impressive rookie wide receivers in the NFL while averaging 14.8 yards per reception and catching eight touchdowns.
Tolbert Should Be Back Too
And the Carolina offense could get another boost as the off week probably means that running back Mike Tolbert will be ready to make his return in this game to help the struggling rushing attack after missing eight games.
Thus there is reason for optimism for both offenses this week so expect an ‘over; when Carolina visits the Twin Cities on Sunday.
NFL Pick: Panthers, Vikings ‘over’ 42½ (-105)