A Minnesota team without its best quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), its best running back (Adrian Peterson) and its best offensive tackle (Matt Kalil) would seem on paper to be easy pickings for Carolina Sunday in Charlotte.
It’s not that simple, though. Sam Bradford did a remarkable job replacing Bridgewater last week in the Vikings’ 17-14 victory over Green Bay. The Vikings have beaten Carolina without Peterson before (in 2014). Kalil’s loss will be problematic, but it’s not like the Panthers are getting a bunch of sacks from their defensive ends, either.
What Sunday comes down to in my opinion will be two questions the Panthers must answer to win:
1. Can Carolina block the Vikings effectively? If you saw how often Minnesota got after Aaron Rodgers with its pass rush, you saw Rodgers sacked five times, harassed many others and completely turned into a mediocre quarterback.
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2. Can Carolina contain wide receiver Stefon Diggs? One of the NFL’s rising stars, Diggs zipped through the Packers for 182 receiving yards and a touchdown. Safety Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston better know where No. 14 is on every play, because Diggs is capable of going 70 yards on any play. Minnesota is 4-0 all-time when Diggs catches at least 100 yards worth of passes.
BOOK UPDATES: I will be signing copies of my new book “Panthers Rising” and talking to Carolina fans at two different upcoming events, so come say hello.
The first is Thursday at the Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall in Pineville starting at 7 p.m.
Then, on Saturday Oct. 8, I will be at the Medical Center Pharmacy in Gastonia from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
There are also signed copies of “Panthers Rising” available at Park Road Books in Charlotte. And The Observer’s photo-centric book called “Super Cam” – all about quarterback Cam Newton – is also available wherever books are sold.
PREDICTION TIME: I am 2-0 so far picking Panthers games this season. Carolina hasn’t lost a home game since 2014, and I don’t expect this will be the one. My prediction: Carolina 33, Minnesota 23.
Fowler: Twitter: @scott_fowler