Each week, BringMeTheNews will analyze the Vikings’ upcoming game from both sides, and give you “5 key reasons the Vikings should be worried.” This week they host the Carolina Panthers.
For 5 key reasons the Vikings will win, click here.
5. Panthers not far from 12-4
The Panthers lost just four games in all of 2013 and entered this season as one of the NFC's favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
It's hard to believe that through 11 games, the Panthers still haven't won four games. Even still they remain just a half-game out of first place in the NFC South and have something to play for. Given their 12 wins a season ago, the Panthers could get rolling and run away with the division.
But Yahoo! Sports notes that after Sunday, the Panthers have games left at New Orleans (4-7), vs. Tampa Bay (2-9), vs. Cleveland (7-4), and at Atlanta (4-7).
It could set up a similar situation to when they came into Minnesota last year at 1-3 and beat the Vikings 35-10 to win eight straight and claim their NFC South Division Championship.
4. Injuries continue to take their toll on Vikings
The Vikings lost another offensive lineman for the season on Sunday when Phil Loadholt tore a pectoral muscle against the Green Bay Packers. It is the latest in a string of season-ending injuries that have the Vikings reeling.
In addition to Loadholt, the Vikings have lost right guard Brandon Fusco and quarterback Matt Cassel for the season due to injuries. That says nothing about being without Adrian Peterson because of his legal situation since Week 1.
But the Vikings have a few other injuries of note too.
3. Kalil's post game explosion
Obviously frustration is building for Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil. His play has disappointed fans and he has become the target of criticism from the median and fans alike.
That frustration boiled over after last Sunday's loss to Green Bay when he flipped the hat off a heckler outside of TCF Bank Bank Stadium, in a video released by Deadspin this week.
Carolina's Ryan Kalil came to his brother's defense this week.
"I talk to him after every game," Ryan told the Pioneer Press this week. "Obviously it's been a disappointing season for him personally, but more he's disappointed for his team."
Ryan Kalil said he thinks some of the criticism his brother has faced this season hasn't been fair.
"I think what bothers him most is when people say that he's letting the team down," Ryan added. "I don't think he's the problem with Minnesota not having a better record; I just don't."
Last week against Green Bay was the first week Kalil didn't allow a sack or quarterback hit, but he was penalized three times for 35 yards.
As we talked about in 5 reasons the Vikings will beat the Carolina Panthers, Kalil's play has to improve, especially in the wake of another season-ending injury up front.
2. Cam Newton
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been dealing with injuries and has been in one of the worst stretches of his NFL career.
Newton has thrown for nearly 2,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has run for two more scores and just shy of 300 yards.
One of the biggest factors is an offensive line that will start it's sixth different combination of players against the Vikings on Sunday. But Newton has refused to point fingers or use that as an excuse.
"It's not about accepting anything," Newton told the Charlotte Observer. "It's just realizing you have to be better. You can't get down on yourself because you're not getting the results. If anything you just got to keep going back to the lab and working on your craft and your product, and make that art shinier."
1. It's all about the Benjamin
Carolina rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin is emerging into one of Newton's top targets. So far, Benjamin has 52 catches for 768 yards and eight touchdowns.
While those aren't eye-popping numbers his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame should be, especially if the Vikings remember what happened two weeks ago when they ran into Chicago's bigger receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
According to ESPN, the Panthers are planning to feature their big target down the stretch this year.
"You've got to get him touches, because he gets going," said Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl. "Just like any great receiver, when you feed him he gets into the game."
Rant Sports predicts Benjamin will surpass 100 yards receiving this week.