GAMEDAY: Panthers vs. Vikings

The Panthers have won the last three meetings between the teams, including a 38-13 rout of the Vikings last year.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/17/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Steve Byrnes, Bill Maas
SERIES: 7th meeting. Series tied 3-3. The Panthers have won the last three meetings between the teams, including a 38-13 rout of the Vikings last year.

In that game, wide receiver Steve Smith caught 11 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown to shut up trash-talking Fred Smoot and running back Stephen Davis ran for two more scores. Jake Delhomme threw for three touchdowns and 341 yards, the second-highest total of his career, while posting a quarterback rating of 141.1. The Panthers led that game 24-0 at halftime.

2006 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 29th (28th rush, 23rd pass); defense 28th (32nd rush, 7th pass). Vikings: offense 15th (22nd rush, 12th pass); defense 11th (14th rush, 11th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers are in desperate need of a strong start mentally. They're coming off a lopsided home loss to Atlanta, have had to juggle an injury-plagued offensive line and still don't know if WR Steve Smith's hamstring will keep him out another week. If Carolina falls behind, the running game becomes a non-factor and Minnesota can attack the line, which will be minus injured LT Travelle Wharton and possibly C Justin Hartwig. The defense is also banged up, with MLB Dan Morgan out. However, the secondary remains strong and the Vikings will attempt to establish the ground game early to avoid making mistakes against CBs Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas.

FAST FACTS: Panthers: Smith caught 11 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota last season. ... Have won six of their past seven road games. Vikings: Have not been shut out in an NFL-high 237 consecutive games. ... S Darren Sharper's 40 interceptions since 2000 leads the NFL.

Panthers:
--WR Steve Smith did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. While he remains questionable on the injury report, don't expect to see Smith on Sunday. He hasn't even made it out to the practice field in the past two weeks.

--WR Drew Carter is likely to start in place of Steve Smith this week against the Vikings in Minnesota.

--WR Keyshawn Johnson has four 100-yard receiving games against Minnesota, the most of any team he's played against during his career. He should be Jake Delhomme's primary target on Sunday.

--RB DeAngelo Williams could see an increased workload this week against the Vikings.

--RB DeShaun Foster could see a decrease in reps this week with DeAngelo Williams possibly getting more caries.

--RB Eric Shelton is likely to see his first NFL action with Nick Goings still listed as questionable. Goings did not practice again Thursday, while Shelton is getting more reps in the backfield.

--RB Nick Goings sat out his second straight day of practice on Thursday and remains questionable for the game.

--WLB Na'il Diggs is practicing for the Panthers, but look for him to play a backup role behind Chris Draft.

--WLB Chris Draft is likely to start over Na'il Diggs, who is probable with a knee sprain.

--MLB Dan Morgan (concussion) will not play this week and is likely to miss at least two to three games.

--MLB Adam Seward will start for the Panthers this week in place of Dan Morgan.

--LB James Anderson is likely to see increased action this week with Dan Morgan on the sidelines with a concussion.

Vikings:
--S Will Hunter (hamstring) remains listed as probable on the injury report. He practiced Thursday.

--RB Ciatrick Fason (shoulder) also is listed as probable and went through practice.

--CB Ronyell Whitaker will continue to be used in nickel situations on Sunday against Carolina. He replaces strong-side linebacker Ben Leber on passing downs.

--Rookie S Greg Blue, who started in place of the inactive Dwight Smith on Monday night, will return to mainly playing on special teams Sunday. Smith is expected to return to his starting role.

--Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said he would like to see improvement in Ryan Longwell's kickoffs on Sunday. Longwell agrees that his performance should be better. "It was one of those things where I was trying a bunch of different things to try and get them deeper," Longwell said of his kicking Monday night. "The first one I hit really well and it came down at like the 9- or 10-yard line and I was shocked it came down that short. So they'll definitely be deeper, there's no question. And they were all preseason, but the other night was just a weird night with the way the wind was blowing and the balls we had just didn't fly."

--Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro made it clear he wants to see better numbers from Chris Kluwe, who averaged 38 gross yards and 28.4 net yards on five punts against Washington. "I just think he had a bad night," Ferraro said. "I don't expect to see that kind of a performance from him again. He knows he needs to improve, and he will. It was just a bad evening."

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