Minnesota Vikings: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 6 Matchup with Carolina Panthers
The idiom for the week in Minnesota is simple: One man's trash is another man's treasure.
At least the Vikings front office hopes that's the case, as the big news during Minnesota's bye week was the Sunday night signing of quarterback Josh Freeman, who was waived last week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Freeman joins the Vikings quarterback carousel that now has three players, Freeman, Matt Cassel, and Christian Ponder, who were all solid starters when last season began.
So what happens now?
According to the Associated Press, the Vikings announced on Tuesday that Freeman will not start on Sunday.
That same report has Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier saying that Ponder will remain the starter as long as his injured rib allows him to play. Everyone who pays attention the Vikings knows that that is just Frazier's way of not completely pulling the plug on the Ponder era.
What happens after Sunday's game at the quarterback position in Minnesota is anybody's guess. One would imagine that Cassel is given the ball as long as he performs like he did against the Steelers.
With both Cassel and Ponder willing and able to go, the Vikings have the luxury of getting Freeman up to speed on the offense and getting him acclimated to his new team without having to start under the gun.
Seriously, what other league other than the NFL could you muster up such drama during the bye week of a 1-3 team?
We look ahead to Sunday's matchup with Carolina Panthers and make some predictions on what might go down in a game pitting two 1-3 teams against each other.
Matt Cassel Will Start at Quarterback
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As we said in the previous slide, newly acquired quarterback Josh Freeman won't play Sunday against the Panthers.
That leaves the Vikings to decide between Christian Ponder, who's still listed as the starting quarterback, and Matt Cassel, who played an excellent game in leading the Vikings to their only win against the Steelers while filling in for the injured Ponder.
Head coach Leslie Frazier has given nothing but coach-speak when addressing the question as to who will start this week, saying that Ponder is still the starter, but that the team needs to see how his sore rib feels during the week.
Pay no attention to the coach-speak. Matt Cassel will start on Sunday.
Cassel earned the start by playing a very good game against the Steelers. He provided exactly what the Vikings hoped he would when they signed him in the offseason. He got a spot start due to Ponder's injury and went 16 of 25 for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns in leading Minnesota to a 34-27 victory.
Cassel brought a spark to an offense that sorely needed one. He was calm and poised in the pocket and showed off a strong arm, hitting receivers in stride so that they could make things happen after the catch.
The Vikings offense is simply better with Cassel, rather than Ponder, on the field at this point.
There's an old sports adage that says you shouldn't lose your starting job due to an injury. There's a better sports adage that says you play the guy who gives you a better chance to win.
That guy is Matt Cassel.
Adrian Peterson Is Going to Have a Huge Game
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Watching Adrian Peterson play football is akin to watching a bomb tick.
Peterson has been ticking for all four of the Vikings games so far this season, but he has yet to have one of his explosion games.
Peterson is going to have one of those games Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
There is no empirical data to support this prediction. There's no chart or graph that indicates when Peterson is going to have one of "those" games, where he pounds the opposing defense into submission.
This is just a guess, but it feels like Peterson is due.
It's been a huge news week in Minnesota surrounding the quarterback position. Peterson is going to remind everyone that he's the one everyone should be talking about when it comes to the Vikings offense.
It's almost comical to say that guy who is second in the NFL in rushing and first in rushing touchdowns (including romps of 78 and 60 yards) hasn't had an explosion game yet but that's where we're at with Peterson now after his video-game performance over the last 10 games of 2012.
The Panthers have a very good defense, giving up the fifth fewest rushing yards per game in the league. They are very strong up the middle with rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short manning the line in front of second-year tackling machine, middle-linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Those three studs have spearheaded a resurgent defense for the Panthers and will certainly make running up the middle a touch task for Peterson and the Vikings.
But he's due. And he's Adrian Peterson. It's time for an explosion game.
The Vikings Will Get at Least 2 Interceptions
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The Carolina Panthers tried to open up their stagnant offense last weekend against the Arizona Cardinals. The results were less than stellar.
Newton had his first 300-yard passing game of the season, but he was picked off three times in a hugely disappointing 22-6 loss to the Cardinals.
Newton seems to have taken a small step backwards in his passing accuracy in a year where the Panthers were hoping he would show improvement.
That's good news for the Vikings defense, and while predicting a two-interception game might not seem like much, it's a step in the right direction for a defense that seemed downright allergic to picks the past two seasons.
The Vikings are on pace for 28 interceptions in 2013. They had 18 combined over the last two years.
This isn't to say the Vikings have cured their ills in pass defense, they haven't. But they are, at least, generating turnovers so far.
And while it would be really nice for Chris Cook to make his first career interception before rookie Xavier Rhodes makes his, the Vikings will gladly take turnovers from whomever can get them. Seeing either Cook or Rhodes get on the board with an interception would be a huge boost to a defense that has been allowing far too many big plays so far in 2013.
Cordarrelle Patterson Will Make His First Touchdown Catch
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The Minnesota Vikings were absolutely delighted to be able to trade back into the first round of last spring's draft to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson out of the University of Tennessee.
The 6'2", 220-pound burner only played one season at Tennessee, but the Vikings saw enough potential in Patterson as a receiver and a returner to move up to take him.
Patterson hasn't disappointed as a returner, averaging 33.8 yards per return, including a dazzling 105-yard touchdown return against the Bears.
It's high time for the Vikings to start utilizing that athletic ability in the passing game.
Patterson has caught just eight passes for 82 yards so far, lagging far behind the other two receivers taken in the first round, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins, who have caught 23 and 22 passes respectively.
It's not exactly a fair comparison as those two came out of college as far more polished products, but Patterson has certainly flashed enough ability to become a bigger part of the Vikings passing offense.
With Matt Cassel more than likely at the helm on Sunday, Minnesota will finally have a quarterback who can throw downfield with some accuracy.
It's time to see No. 84 in purple hauling in some bombs once again.
A Vikings Win Will Have Them Right Back in the Hunt
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If there was ever a year to lose your first three games and not be completely out of it, 2013 might be the year.
Ten out of 16 teams in the NFC currently have less than three wins. The Vikings three division rivals have all lost twice already.
If the Vikings win on Sunday, and the guess here is that they will, 2-3 will have them comfortably back in the playoff hunt in the topsy-turvy NFC.
Yes, talking about playoff positioning is absurd this early in the season, but since the Vikings were inundated with all the horrible odds of making the playoffs after starting 0-3, we thought we'd counter with some hope.
For better or worse, the quarterback carousel in Minnesota has put a renewed energy in the 2013-14 season. Sure, it was only one game, but Matt Cassel's fill-in performance showed the Vikings and their fans that this offense can put some points on the board.
The defense has been surprisingly bad so far in 2013, especially in the secondary, but there are too many good players on that side of the ball for the Vikings to continue to give up so many points.
It's shaping up to be a crazy season across the NFL. A convincing win over the Panthers will put the Vikings at 2-3 and give them consecutive victories with the woeful Giants up next on Monday night.
There's hope. The Cleveland Browns looked like they were taking a knee on the season three weeks ago and now they're 3-2 and tied for first place.