It’s hard to fathom how a game between two teams with losing records could mean all that much--but it does. The Carolina Panthers, who haven’t won in nearly two months, strangely are still in the division hunt. It’s been one of those seasons, where every time fans start to disengage, everyone else loses, leaving the Panthers neck in neck in a historically stinky division. The Panthers, unfortunately, haven’t done much of anything to take control of their destiny. Instead, they have left it all to everyone else. So instead of looking at the Panthers, maybe we should look out to the Vikings.
1) It’s going to be cold as hell:
It’s forecasted to be 12 degrees at noon tomorrow at TcF Bank Stadium. Living in Eastern, NC, I don’t even know what that means. That’s so damn cold, I don’t think you can call it a home-field advantage. It’s really just tortuous for everyone involved. I’m guessing the only thing more ridiculous about playing in such cold, is the fans sitting in the stands wathing a I guess the only thing more ridiculous is the people sitting in the stands watching a 4-7 and 3-7-1 play in 12 degrees.
2) Vikes will feature the run:
Nothing has been more punishing for Minnesota than Adrian Peterson’s absence. The stocky Matt Asiata filled in nicely in the opening weeks, but injury and mortality have prevented Minnesota from establishing the ground and pound type game needed in Teddy Bridgewater's developmental period. Just this past week, the Vikings brought in Ben Tate, a highly paid free agent cut from the Cleveland Browns because he was dissatisfied with his marginal role in the offense. Clearly, Minnesota is interested in relieving some of the burden from Bridgewater. They are also looking to get this back on track against what they consider a vulnerable Panthers' run defense.
Look for Asiata to be motivated by Tate's arrival, and Tate hopeful to show he is a viable option.
3) Solid coaching:
Mike Zimmer isn’t well-known, nor highly touted, but there’s some pedigree there. He’s been around the block, however, and is well-respected by his peers. Former defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells in Dallas, Zimmer implemented a 3-4 defense with 4-3 personnel--and he isn’t a 3-4 guy. Described as a coach that “get guys to perform regardless of scheme, and he’s an adaptable coach with enough flexibility philosophically to tailor schemes to suit the specific talents of his players,” Zimmer brings a certain stability that has long been lacking in Minnesota. He’s a defensive guy with an offensive mind, described by Scott Fujita: “uncanny was his ability to correctly and specifically predict what each offensive play would be, one after another.”
The defensive specialist clearly has an eye for the other side of the ball when he recruited Norv Turner to lead the Minnesota offense. A disciple of the Air Coryell system, Turner uses “Spread formations, multiple receiver and tight end sets, and constant movement,” all “hallmarks of Zampese's schemes with the Chargers and, later, with the Rams, one of the league's highest-scoring teams of the late 1980s.” Turner brings experience and flash to this team, and could ignite the spark in Teddy Bridgewater at any moment.
4) Weapon on the shelf
Where in the world is Cordarrelle Patterson? Last season Patterson flashed, accumulating 7 TDs rushing and receiving. He showed an explosiveness absent since Percy Harvin’s departure to Seattle. Throw in Norv Turner, and everyone figured this was lightning in a bottle. It hasn’t happened, however. Having these two guys together seems like putting a powder keg around a bunch of sparks, at some point it’s going to blow. Carolina’s secondary isn’t known for it’s youthful athleticism, so let’s just hope the weather prevents this explosion from happening.
5) Rookie QB
This is one that can go either way in the weird world that is football. On paper, Teddy Bridgewater has been underwhelming. To his credit, he's a rookie QB on an underwhelming team as well. The kid can play football though. Draft specialists questioned his pro workout and his combine performance, but the eye test says Bridgewater can ball. He's a quiet spoken kid that at any moment can breakout. As noted above, add Norv Turner to the mix, and it seems just a matter of time.