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What to watch: Panthers at Vikings

Posted Oct 11, 2013

The Arizona Cardinals welcomed the Panthers back from their bye week with a 22-6 loss. Now, Carolina heads to Minnesota in Week 6, hoping to return the favor to a Vikings team coming off the bye with an identical 1-3 record.

To silence doubters and double their win total, the Panthers will have to earn their first road victory in one of the loudest NFL venues – Mall of America Field, formerly known as the Metrodome.

They'll also have to contain the reigning NFL MVP, a challenge that serves as a predictable starting point for this week's what to watch.

ALL EYES ON AP: When any team faces the Vikings, objective No. 1 is to contain running back Adrian Peterson, who earned MVP honors after amassing 2,097 yards – the second-highest total in NFL history – in 2012.

The challenge Carolina faces in Peterson was discussed all week, and considering recent history, the Panthers are ready for that challenge.

Since Week 14 of 2012, the Panthers are allowing just 39.9 rushing yards to opposing starting running backs. Luke Kuechly and Co. have their hands full this week against Peterson – the NFL's second-leading rusher – but they have reason to be confident entering this matchup.

As defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, "(Peterson) is the best back in the league. But we feel like we're pretty good on defense."

AERIAL OPPORTUNITY: The Vikings rank 29th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 326 yards per game. And the Panthers offense, which has struggled to produce consistently through the air in its own right, is looking to redeem itself after a mistake-filled performance in Week 5.

Wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell each had costly drops, and quarterback Cam Newton threw a season-high three interceptions in the loss at Arizona. They hope to bounce back in a big way on Sunday.

NEW GUARD: Starting left guard Amini Silatolu is out for the year with a knee injury suffered against the Cardinals, meaning Carolina is now without its opening day starters at both guard spots (right guard Garry Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1).

Chris Scott has started the last three games at right guard, and Travelle Wharton will be counted on to step in and start for Silatolu moving forward.

"Early on I was rotating in, and now this is a starting spot," Wharton said. "It's just about going out there and playing at a high level. That's what you prepare for."

After allowing seven sacks last week, the Carolina offensive line faces a defensive front that ranks 29th in the league with nine sacks on the season.

QB PREP: The Vikings waited until Friday to announce that Matt Cassel will make his second consecutive start.

Head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers prepared to face either Cassel or Christian Ponder, who has been recovering from a rib injury, but "leaned" the preparation toward Cassel.

"Christian is a little more athletic, a little more fast," Rivera said. "Matt is a little bit more of a prolific style passer."

Cassel started against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4, throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota's lone victory. Cassel will have to get the ball out of his hands quick – much like Carson Palmer a week ago – to avoid pressure from potent edge rushers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.

The Vikings signed former Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman this week, but head coach Leslie Frazier said he wouldn't play against the Panthers.