Ice up, son
With the high expected to be around 15 degrees, Sunday’s game figures to be the second-coldest in Panthers’ history. Carolina is 2-6 in games played at or below freezing, including a 30-13 loss at Green Bay in the 1996 NFC Championship Game when it was 3 degrees. The hard ball will be difficult to kick, catch and hold on to, and the conditions should favor the defenses. Panthers rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who is from south Florida, thought it was cold at New England this season. In August. The Panthers can’t afford to drop a bunch of passes and put the ball on the ground if they hope to snap a six-game winless streak.
Make Bridgewater beat you
Despite playing without Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have maintained an effective rushing attack. Rookie Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick from Georgia Southern, has rushed for 538 yards but is out this week with a lower back injury. The reserve backs are Matt Asiata, who is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, and Ben Tate, who has yet to play for Minnesota after Cleveland cut him Nov. 18. The Panthers, who were tough against the run vs. Philadelphia and Atlanta, will try to get the Vikings in second- and third-and-longs and go after rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who has been sacked 22 times.
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Play and coach with urgency
The 3-7-1 Panthers, remarkably, remain in the thick of the NFC South, despite not having won in two months. Ron Rivera was too conservative against the Falcons, playing for a field goal instead of a put-away touchdown. The Panthers have nothing to lose at this point, so there’s no reason for Rivera not to take some gambles, be it on fourth down or by having defensive coordinator Sean McDermott throw some blitzes at Bridgewater. Fullback Mike Tolbert returns after missing eight games with a leg injury and will help the short-yardage offense. And it’s time for Cam Newton to step up his game, regardless of the makeshift line in front of him.