Panthers vs. Vikings 2013 game preview: 1-win teams face off in Minnesota

Michael Steele

Both teams sit at 1-3, and any chance at the playoffs could go out the window with a loss this Sunday.

With each team having only one win to its name, this weekend's contest between the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers may be a now or never opportunity for both teams. At 1-3, the Vikings sit in last place in the NFC North, and any shot at catching the Lions and Packers could end with a loss on Sunday. Thanks to the ineptitude of the Falcons and Buccaneers, the 1-3 Panthers are actually in second place in the NFC South, but sit well back from the undefeated Saints.

Meet the Vikings

Don't look now, but there's a full-blown quarterback controversy in Minnesota. Matt Cassel came off the bench to help the Vikings to their first win of the season last week in London, throwing two touchdowns and no picks in the process. Coach Leslie Frazier has refused to name him the starter over Christian Ponder just yet, but considering the Vikings are 0-3 under Ponder, don't expect a change heading into Week 6. Throw in the fact that Josh Freeman was just signed last week, and this thing is shaping into a full fledged circus. Regardless of who's under center, however, this offense runs through Adrian Peterson.

The Minnesota defense has been shaky, particularly in an injury-riddled secondary that has allowed the third-most passing yards in the league. Josh Robinson has struggled at his left corner position and has been the most targeted corner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Things should start to turn around though, as cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford return from injury this week.

Meet the Panthers

It's been somewhat of a tumultuous week for the Panthers, who lost starting guard Amini Silatolu for the season with a torn ACL, a major concern for a team that gave up seven sacks of Cam Newton last week. Newton's struggled to show his rookie year form, putting up a 57.5 completion rate and just six passing touchdowns to five picks. DeAngelo Williams has been the driving force of a rushing attack that ranks seventh in the league, but we'll have to see if Silatolu's loss hurts his success.

The Panthers defensive unit has been dominant, ranking first overall in the total defense and third against the run. Three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason was shipped to New York in a trade with the Giants last week, but injuries and age had kept him from being a consistent contributor. Greg Hardy has developed into one of the league's better edge rushers and is tied with Charles Johnson for the team lead in sacks.

Local Takes: Vikings

Ted Glover at the Daily Norseman believes the signing of Freeman signals the official end of the Christian Ponder era in Minnesota:

Oh, no one is coming right out and saying it, but when Ponder struggled coming out of the gate, there was a substantial cry from the masses to put in Matt Cassel. And when Ponder suffered a broken rib in a week three loss to Cleveland, it was the door that lead to the hallway that lead to the room we like to call at Valhalla Estate ‘The End Of The Christian Ponder Era’ room.

And who did we find sitting in that room? Josh Freeman and his shiny new Vikings contract.

Local Takes: Panthers

With receiving great Steve Smith's play declining with age, the 34-year old's ability to change the game from the wideout position has become increasingly limited. Cat Scratch Reader proposes that he can still be a valuable contributor on offense if moved inside to the slot:

...At this stage in his career, Steve Smith can still be an excellent slot receiver. He still runs precise routes, and his YAC ability is also still above average because he has excellent field vision and elusiveness in small spaces. And although he is dropping more passes than he used to, he is still a fairly dependable pass catcher because he is very physical at the catch point.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Daily Norseman and Cat Scratch Reader, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@DailyNorseman

@CatScratchReader

@GoesslingESPN - Vikings beat writer

@josephperson - Panthers beat writer

Prediction

From the Week 6 picks:

Sure, the Vikings are no great shakes themselves, not with Christian Ponder under center. Josh Freeman probably isn't going to help things either. Or Matt Cassel. However, with Adrian Peterson heating up -- 140 rushing yards in Week 4 and a bye week to rest  -- Minnesota can do more than enough to turn back the Panthers.

The pick: Vikings

Odds

The Vikings opened as 2-point favorites, but the spread has moved in opposite directions in various sportsbooks. It's as low as one point in some and as high as three points in others, according to Oddsshark.com.

Next Week

The Panthers host the St. Louis Rams in the early round of games next Sunday, while the Vikings play under the prime time lights of Monday Night Football against the wayward New York Giants.

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