GAME SNAPSHOTKICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa
PREDICTION: Panthers 24-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers' pumped-up running game, featuring QB Cam Newton and RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all averaging better than 4.6 yards per carry, becomes essential to slowing down the Vikings' vaunted pass rush. Newton was blasted repeatedly last week in addition to four sacks. WR Steve Smith, averaging 116.9 yards per game, could light up the depleted secondary of the Vikings.
Minnesota received a spark from rookie QB Christian Ponder in his debut, but the Vikings will have to live with some mistakes borne of inexperience. RB Adrian Peterson needs to pave the way to keep the rookie out of long passing downs, and Carolina allows 4.7 yards per carry.
FAST FACTS: The Panthers lead the NFL with 41 plays of 20-plus yards. ... The Vikings have been outscored 70-13 in the third quarter.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
A Vikings team that hasn't fared well against some of the league's best receivers heads to Carolina with a depleted secondary and the task of having to face the NFL's leader in receiving yards.
And, oh yeah, that same player, Steve Smith, has 23 catches for 358 yards and two touchdowns in the only two games the Vikings have played at Carolina.
"He's very, very competitive," Vikings defensive coordinator Fred Pagac said. "Plus, he has great burst. And he's very strong. He's a feisty fighter who plays with an attitude."
In 2005, Smith set team records for catches (14) and receiving yards (201) in a 38-13 win over the Vikings. Four years later, he had nine catches for 157 yards in a 26-7 upset of a Vikings team that was 11-2 and on its way to the NFC title game.
The Vikings are without cornerback Chris Cook, who remains suspended by the team without pay because of a felony domestic assault charge.
Meanwhile, starting left cornerback Antoine Winfield hopes to return after missing the past three games because of a neck injury that he now says is more serious than what the team described as a "strain."
In Week 3, the Vikings allowed Detroit's Calvin Johnson to go for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. A week later, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe had 107 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown, against the Vikings at Kansas City. And last week, the Packers' Greg Jennings had 147 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown against the Vikings.
The Vikings hope they can frustrate Smith the way they did Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (four catches, 66 yards) in a win over the Cardinals in Week 5.
"When things aren't going his way," linebacker Erin Henderson said of Smith, "he gets upset every now and then."
Jimmy Clausen has spent the entire season inactive after starting 11 last year.
But Clausen is staying positive.
He's become a backdrop in the Panthers offense now dominated by Cam Newton, the team's rookie sensation who is setting all kinds of rookie records.
"Yeah, it's hard. I want to play," Clausen said. "But at the same time it's not my time right now. And what I'm here to do right now is to learn and to watch and learn from and the things Cam's doing, and help the team."
For now, Derek Anderson is the team's No. 2 quarterback.
That means Clausen hasn't even been dressing for games.
"Jimmy's a competitor," coach Ron Rivera said. "At the same time, he understands the circumstances and situation. He knows his time will come. And I think it will, too. This may be a good chance for him to have a reset - take a step back, look at things, re-evaluate and then develop himself."
Clausen said the key for him right now is to focus on being a teammate and helping the team's overall success rather than worrying about any personal goals.
"I'm just looking forward right now and doing everything I can to help the defense, help Cam and help the team win," he said.
Clausen said he's impressed with Newton, but not surprised.
"I watched him last year when he was at Auburn. I watched him when he was in high school," Clausen said of Newton. "We actually came out together, coming out of high school. He's a heck of a talent and he's doing really well."