Vikings vs Panthers: Week 6 preview

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The Vikings come out of the bye with a home game against the inconsistent Carolina Panthers. Kickoff is set for Sunday at 12:00 p.m. CT. Minnesota hasn't won a game immediately following their bye since 2009.

The NFC North standings could become a total logjam if the Packers lose at Baltimore, the Lions lose at Cleveland and the Bears find a way to choke at home against the Giants. Losses for Green Bay and Detroit seem far more possible than the Bears losing to the winless Giants. Either way, the Vikings need to win to win to stay in the mix.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The playoffs, essentially. Since 1990, 118 teams have started a season 1-4 and only six made the playoffs. That means the Vikings have a five-percent chance reaching the playoffs if they lose to the Panthers. Also at stake is Matt Cassel's starting job (assuming he gets the start). If he struggles there's a guy named Josh Freeman sitting at Winter Park right now studying his playbook, waiting for his chance to play.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET: Minnesota leads the all-time series 6-4. The most recent meeting came on October 30, 2011, with the Vikings beating the Panthers, 24-21. Adrian Peterson dominated with 162 total yards and two touchdowns. Interestingly enough, it was Christian Ponder's first career win as a starter.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Adrian Peterson: "You have to match it (his intensity level), because if not, he has the opportunity to break one at any point and time."

PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Josh Freeman. Even though he's not going to play, all eyes will be on the former Buccaneer, because as we mentioned above, if Cassel struggles the fans will be all over the Vikings to simply forget that Christian Ponder exhists and find a way to get Freeman into the week 7, Monday Night Football game against the Giants. (We all know that we all want Freeman to eventually start)

WHAT THE OTHER GUYS ARE SAYING: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton admits the Vikings have a "stout" defensive line, but he's more worried about trying to elevate his own game. According to the Pioneer Press, Newton's passer rating of 78.2 is down quite a bit from his first two seasons in the NFL.

INJURY REPORT:

BEST QUOTE OF THE WEEK SO FAR: Panthers coach Ron Rivera on if he's preparing as if Matt Cassel will be the Vikings' starting QB:"Yes. We most certainly are."

If Frazier won't divulge who the starter is going to be, that's cool... we'll just find it from the the guy on the other sideline. Pretty obvious that Cassel is the guy. Even Ponder knows Cassel is starting.

THE LATEST LINE, OUR PREDICTION: Depending on which pointspread is used, the Vikings are anywhere from a 1-3 point favorite.There is a very strong possibility Cam Newton knocks down the Metrodome's revolving doors and throws all over Minnesota's last-ranked passing defense. However, our prediction will ultimately be determined by Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel. If Ponder starts, which we doubt he will, the Vikings will lose, 34-20. If Cassel starts, which he probably will, the Vikings win by a solid margin, 34-20.

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