NFL Game of the Week: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Injuries are a part of sports; they always have been and they always will be. Some teams handle injuries to star players well. Just ask the New York Mets, who currently occupy an NL Wild Card spot despite a ravaged pitching staff. Some teams handle them poorly. Just ask the 2008 Patriots, who lost the AFC East that year for the only time in the past 13 seasons when Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1.
So far, the Minnesota Vikings have handled their injuries pretty darn well. After third-year starter Teddy Bridgewater went down before the season with a gruesome knee injury, the Vikings traded for former first overall pick, Sam Bradford, to take the reins of their offense. Minnesota won a softball season opener against the Tennessee Titans, but then really turned some heads in Week 2.
Facing the always stout Green Bay Packers, Minnesota got out to a halftime lead then never gave it back despite the huge loss of their star running back, Adrian Peterson, to a torn meniscus during the third quarter. Bradford was the surprising hero, leading his team to victory with two touchdown passes, a 71 percent completion percentage, and a passer rating of 121.2.
There are still a lot of questions about how legitimate the Vikings’ success is. ESPN’s preseason power rankings had the Vikings sitting at 12 while the Packers were ranked 6. Could the Vikings really be a playoff contender while lacking their best player Adrian Peterson? Many believe their 2-0 record is a fluke. This will be put to the test Sunday in Bank of America Stadium when the Vikes play the reigning NFC Champion Carolina Panthers.
After the Denver Broncos banged up Cam Newton in the Panthers’ season opener, a Super Bowl rematch, Newton righted the ship with four touchdowns on the way to a 46-27 shellacking of the 49ers. This game essentially dispelled any queasiness over whether the 2016 Panthers would be a strong contender in the NFC after their shaky start at Mile High. Carolina is back and Cam Newton is already statistically exceeding last year’s MVP pace.
The real significance of the game in Charlotte on Sunday will be its use as a measuring stick for Minnesota. To be sure, analysts aren’t giving the Vikings much of a chance. Even with Carolina starting running back Jonathan Stewart out with a hamstring injury, most prognosticators are placing the Panthers as heavy favorites. They have not lost a home game in their last fourteen and likely won’t cede this one to a Peterson-less, Bridgewater-less Vikings.
But Minnesota doesn’t need to score more points than the Panthers to leave this game with a moral victory. Playing in the relatively weak NFC North and already with a divisional win, the Vikings have a clear path to the postseason. With Peterson hopefully back by the end of the regular season (the Vikings are giving no clear timetable for his return), they could plausibly make a run in the playoffs. Just keeping this game close in one of the most inhospitable road environments in the NFL would be a huge accomplishment for Mike Zimmer’s squad and could be a sign of good things to come.
Prediction: The Panthers don’t lose at home. Period. However, the Vikings will prove that they’re legit and keep this one interesting down to the final moments. Panthers 24, Vikings 21.
Tyler Olson is a freshman majoring in print journalism and pursuing minors in political science and Spanish. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.