2016 NFL Week 3 Preview: Panthers vs. Vikings
In Week 2 the Carolina Panthers bounced back with a 46-27 win over the 49ers. Despite the impressive margin of victory, Carolina was hot and cold for most of the game. However, Carolina provided plenty of reasons for optimism heading into Week 3. Sloppy turnovers aside, Cam Newton returned to MVP form in Week 2, throwing for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns. His favorite target, Kelvin Benjamin also had a big day with 7 catches for 108 yards and two scores. The defense looked good as well, but it came against a 49ers team that starts Blaine Gabbert at quarterback so that is to be expected.
Carolina will face a Minnesota Vikings squad that comes into Bank of America Stadium with a surprising undefeated record. Sam Bradford got his first start as a Viking in Week 2 and he led them to victory against preseason NFC favorites, Green Bay Packers. Losing running back Adrian Peterson for the next several weeks is a huge loss but the Vikings should be full of confidence after their impressive performance during Week 2.
What to Watch For:
Sam Bradford to Stefon Diggs
Sam Bradford went to his new favorite receiver on 11 of his 31 pass attempts in Week 2. Stefon Diggs had his way against the Packers and caught 9 of those 11 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings have struggled running the ball so far this season even when Adrian Peterson was healthy, so expect to see Bradford look for Diggs often once again in Week 3. The Panthers will have rookie corners Daryl Worley or James Bradberry on Diggs for most of the game which means Bradford will look to exploit the matchup as much as possible. Diggs is leading the NFL in receiving yards and is second in catches through two games. The Panthers haven’t allowed more than 75 yards or more than 5 catches from a receiver through two games. Something has to give on Sunday and I expect it to be the latter.
Who leads the Panthers rushing attack?
Carolina’s leading rusher in 2015, Jonathan Stewart is out for the next several weeks with a hamstring injury. This leaves a huge void in Carolina’s running game against a Minnesota defense that is allowing just below 74 yards per game on the ground so far this season. The Panthers have rushed for at least 100 yards in 29 consecutive games and it will be up to Fozzy Whitaker and Cameron Artis-Payne to help Carolina continue that trend on Sunday. In Week 2, Whitaker looked up to the task as he rushed for a career high 100 yards against the 49ers. The Vikings defense made Aaron Rodgers looked average this past Sunday and if Cam Newton has the same fate in Week 3, Whitaker and Artis-Payne will be relied on heavily to help take the pressure off the reigning MVP.
This game should be a defensive struggle throughout and won’t be decided until the final 15 minutes of play. With Adrian Peterson out, the Vikings are without a true threat to move the chains on the ground late in the game and that will ultimately cost them. Carolina will get a win that can hopefully provide some cheer during an immensely tough time for the city of Charlotte. Prayers up for the city and for the family and loved ones of Keith Lamont Scott. #BlackLivesMatter
Final Score: Panthers 24-20