In 2015, the Vikings and Panthers appeared destined to clash in the postseason. The NFC North and South champions were seconds away from meeting in the Divisional round of the playoffs before Blair Walsh's 27-yard field goal attempt hooked left of the uprights, sending Seattle into a hornet's nest in Charlotte instead of Minnesota.
That pushed the much anticipated showdown between two of the NFC's best teams to Week 3 of the 2016 season. However, a pair of major injuries have taken some of the luster from the game. Minnesota was already without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who tore his ACL in the preseason. Now the team won't have All-Pro tailback Adrian Peterson, who could also miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery.
While the recently acquired Sam Bradford shined in a Week 2 win over Green Bay with 286 passing yards and two touchdowns, the Vikings aren't as stable at running back. Even with Peterson healthy, Minnesota rushed for a league-low 95 yards in two games this season.
Carolina lost its season opener to defending champions Denver, but rebounded with a 46-point explosion against San Francisco. Cam Newton threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns, proving he's still an MVP-caliber athlete when defenders aren't haphazardly launching themselves into his helmet play after play. Fozzy Whittaker had the biggest game of his career in the win, rushing for 100 yards -- only eight fewer than he gained all season in 2015.
It's hard to predict what's next for the Panthers. Beating the brakes off the 49ers was a solid step forward, but San Francisco is supposed to be one of the league's worst teams.
While Minnesota has been the more consistent team early this season, Carolina is still a heavy favorite and the picks for Sunday's NFC showdown swing decidedly in its favor.
Eight of ESPN's nine experts are choosing the home team, with Dan Graziano standing out as the lone voice of dissent. Over at CBS, it's a clean sweep. All eight writers there are backing the Panthers.
As far as SB Nation's experts go, precisely no one is giving the Vikings a chance to unseat the reigning NFC Champions.
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