By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings play three straight home games from from Week 12 through Week14. The Carolina Panthers will be the middle game of the only time this season that the Vikings will play consecutive games at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings are coming off a tight loss to the Green Bay Packers and the Panthers had their bye last week.
The Panthers have a 3-7-1 record on the season, but have lost five straight since recorded a tie at the Cincinnati Bengals. The Panthers are 1-3-1 on the road this season. Their only win on the road came in Week 1 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Panthers on Offense
The Panthers have been very inconsistent on offense this season. They have the 19th ranked passing offense and 24th ranked rushing offense in the league this season.
They have been hit hard by injuries to their running backs. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert have missed a combined 17 games this season. The lack of a consistent running game and porous defense had led Cam Newton being on pace to set career-highs for completions and pass attempts per game this season.
The Panthers jettisoned just about everybody from their passing attack last season during the offseason. Newton was left with no one other than Greg Olsen and running backs to throw to. That has resulted in rookie first round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin being the primary target and Newton’s second lowest completion percentage of his career.
The Panthers offensive line has been hit by injuries as well. They currently have five players on injured reserve, most notably offensive tackle Nate Chandler. He had started all 11 games he played this season. The Panthers offensive line is led by center Ryan Kalil, the older brother of Vikings starting left tackle Matt.
Panthers on Defense
The Panthers had one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2013. Things have changed greatly in 2014, despite most of the key pieces returning. They rank 26th in passing yards allowed and 23rd in rushing yards allowed.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is still one of the best in the game. He is currently tied with Lavonte David of the Buccaneers for the league lead in tackles with 116. He is a tackling machine.
The strength of the group is in the middle with tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, the team’s first two picks in the 2013 draft, in front of Kuechly.
Charles Johnson is still a quality pass rusher, even though he is on pace to set his lowest sack total since 2009. Johnson will be matched up against Mike Harris, who is filling in for Phil Loadholt, most of the game.
Greg Hardy entered the season as the starting right defense, but a domestic violence charge has landed him on the commissioner’s exempt list. In his place is Wes Horton. The second-year former USC Trojan has just two sacks and two tackles for a loss on the season. He is a matchup that Matt Kalil can use to get his career back on track.
The Vikings missed opportunities to upset the Green Bay Packers in Week 11. This week, they need to capitalize on them and build momentum toward next season as their playoff hopes have all but been extinguished.
Last season, the Panthers blew out the Vikings at Mall of America Field and went on a run to the NFC South Division crown. They finished with the second best record in the NFC and had a first round bye. They were carried by their defense, but this season has been a disappointment for the unit.
Neither team is going to the playoffs, so pride is on the line Sunday between the two teams.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.