Earlier today I looked at the offensive side of the ball that looks quite favorable to Carolina, but what does the defense hold for the boys in black and electric blue?
X-Factor: Percy Harvin
While Adrian Peterson is definitely the most feared aspect to the Vikings' game, it's Harvin who's the wild card on Sunday. Doing a little bit of everything for Minnesota he is tied with Michael Jenkins leading the team in receptions with 27, he's run the ball 16 times for over 10 yards per carry and is gashing teams on special teams averaging 31.1 yards per kick return.
While I have no doubt Chris Gamble will eat him alive in the passing game it's this added utility that scares me a little. The Panthers' young defense doesn't deal with trick plays very well and the Vikings could use a heavy dose of trickery on Sunday to keep them off balance. This coupled with almost certain favorable field position on kickoffs could give the Panthers some major headaches.
Carolina run defense Vs. Minnesota run offense
This is going to be a potential bloodbath. Adrian Peterson is on pace for over 1,600 rushing yards and his career long achilles heel, fumbles, seems to have corrected itself. Add eight rushing touchdowns in seven games and you have the perfect storm for Peterson to have a mammoth day.
The last time Carolina saw a runner of Peterson's caliber it was Matt Forte who ran for over 200 yards, except Peterson is vastly more talented. I expect the Panthers to stack the box, but I'm not sure that will even be enough with their bad gap coverage and poor tackling.
Carolina pass defense Vs. Minnesota pass offense
Here is where Carolina can make some big gains. While the change to get rid of Donovan McNabb was necessary there will be growing pains as rookie Christian Ponder gets acclimated to the NFL. Last week Ponder showed flashes of his potential, but there were also plenty of 'WTF?' moments. This is the case for many rookie QBs, especially ones without a good receiving corps.
The Panthers are playing the pass quite well, and without a stud WR Carolina should be able to get to the QB a lot with their pass rush and shut their receivers down. In this area I'm not afraid of a the pass at all.
While I have the six matchups scored 3-3 the reality is further from this. I think Jared Allen's pass rushing ability coupled with Peterson's running and Harvin's random playmaking will give the Panthers headaches, but nothing compared to what Cam Newton and Steve Smith will dole out. What we saw against Washington was a Panthers team who could move the ball the entire length of the field in 3-4 plays, and I expect more of the same on Sunday.
This is all about the Panthers pass vs. the Vikings rush in a game that could be extremely high scoring due to a lack of reliable defense. When it's all said and done I think a few critical turnovers helps the Panthers get the W on Sunday.
Final Score: Carolina 37 - Minnesota 21