The Vikings and Carolina Panthers will meet this Sunday night in Charlotte in what is a matchup between 2008 division winners. The NFL scheduling formula annually pits division winners in the same conference against each other, which is why these teams are meeting for the 4th time in 5 years.
The Vikings come in having just clinched a playoff spot after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals last week and needing either a victory against Carolina or Green Bay loss this week to capture the NFC North title for a 2nd consecutive season.
The Panthers, meanwhile, enter this matchup far from the division-winning form of last year. They were 12-4 in winning the NFC South in 2008 but have regressed since then and currently have a 5-8 record with 3 losses in their last 4 games.
The Vikings realized significant statistical advantages in each of their first 3 games coming out of the bye. But then they faced 2 teams – Arizona and Cincinnati – that stacked up much better from a statistical standpoint. This week, though, we are back to the Vikings realizing a distinct statistical advantage, not the least of which is scoring offense – the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL at 29.9 per game while Carolina ranks 25th at 17.3 per contest.
But there is one area of the game on which Carolina has consistently been able to hang its hat – the running game. RB DeAngelo Williams is one of the league’s best and he has a sidekick in Jonathan Stewart who, like Chester Taylor, would start for many teams across the league. Together, Williams and Stewart spearhead a rushing attack that averages 149.9 yards per game, 4th-best in the NFL.
That’s about where the statistical advantages end for Carolina, though. The Vikings are superior in passing offense and defense, total offense and defense, red zone and 3rd-down offense and defense, turnover margin, time of possession, 1st downs and sacks.
All of those advantages are on paper, however, and we don’t play these games on paper. They are played on the field, and the Vikings will have to overcome one significant obstacle if they want to best the Panthers on the field – playing on the road in prime time.
The last time the Vikings played a Sunday night road game was in Arizona, a 30-17 loss. There’s something to be said for the disadvantage endured by traveling 3 hours across the country and then sitting in a hotel all afternoon waiting to go to the stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Just as there was in Arizona 2 weeks ago and against the Bengals last week at home, the Vikings have a lot riding on the outcome of this game. A win will clinch the NFC North championship and a win along with a Philadelphia Eagles loss will also ensure the Vikings of the NFC’s 2nd seed, which sets them up with a 1st-round bye in the playoffs and then a home playoff game in the Divisional round.
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