Charlotte, NC - Carolina will be making their first road trip of the season this week, up north to play the Minnesota Vikings. Their last visit there was the only taste of victory the guys got last year, and they are hoping to duplicate that feeling. A victory this week would have the team off to the same fast start that they enjoyed back in the magical season of 96'. Minnesota, on the other hand, will be looking to get the zero out of the left column. After two close games that resulted in losses, they will be looking to put things back on the right track.
For the third week in a row, Rodney Peete will get the call to lead the Carolina offense. After posting his first 300-yard game in a decade against the Detroit Lions last week, he will be hoping to do it again. With Minnesota's secondary being average at best, he will be looking to throw the deep ball on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see if Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning will let him open things up, or stay with the ground game that this coaching staff has preached since arriving in Carolina. Peete has proven himself to be great at managing the team, and will want to continue his run of solid performances.
On the other side of the field you have the always-dangerous Dante Culpepper. Last week against Buffalo he was sacked 5 times and also fumbled 3 times. This is a horrible stat line that he would love to erase from everyone's mind. Culpepper will also be looking to throw the deep ball every chance he gets. Carolina's secondary is just as suspect as Minnesota's, so look for Dante to try to turn this game into a shootout.
If Carolina decides that they are going to stay with the running game, look for Lamar Smith to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 carries. Smith has not looked great so far this year, but he has done what he has been expected to. That expectation has been for him to eat up clock, and pound away at the opposing defensive line. He also established himself as a receiving threat last week against Detroit, gaining more receiving yards that rushing. Minnesota is one of the better teams against the run stat wise. This stat is a little misleading, considering Buffalo only attempted 13 running plays against the Vikings last week. Carolina's rushing attack will be a little more balanced than Buffalo's. FB Brad Hoover should start to see the ball more after making a couple of impressive runs against Detroit. Hoover is also always involved in the passing game as well.
Could Carolina see a three-headed monster this week of Minnesota running backs? It appears it will be running back by committee this week in the Dome. Since second year man Michael Bennett has failed to really establish himself as the premier back, Moe Williams and Doug Chapman will get a chance to show what they have. Williams was impressive last week, breaking the century mark on a limited number of carries. Carolina has been good against the run, but showed some weakness against Detroit's James Stewart.
After showing signs of his old self last week, Muhsin Muhammad will be wanting to add to his stats with another great game. Moose made the catches he should have, giving a glimpse that the problem from last year is behind him. Peete really seems comfortable just throwing the ball up for Moose and letting him go up and get it, which is where he is at his best. With Minnesota's lack of size, look for this possession receiver to have a big day. Steve Smith will take advantage of Minnesota's lack of secondary speed, and will become a deep threat for the whole game.
Everyone knows all about the match-up problems that Randy Moss presents, now we just have to see if he can take advantage of it. When his mind is in the game, he is one of the best to play the position. When he is not, you hardly realize that he is on the field. He will see double and maybe triple teams all day long, but he should still have a big day. He has a major height advantage, and will look to exploit that. Minnesota will look to make him harder to cover by lining him up all over the field. Joining him at wide out will be D'wayne Bates and Derrick Alexander. Both are very solid, and Alexander is looking to have his first breakout game of the season.
Carolina's line has only given up 2 sacks this season and has looked great so far. They have been able to give Peete plenty of time to set up in the pocket and scan his receivers. If they give him that time this week, Peete will be able to pick Minnesota apart. The starting lineup will be: LT Todd Steussie, LG Jamar Nesbit, C Jeff Mitchell, RG Kevin Donnalley, and RT Chris Terry.
After letting Culpepper get sacked five times last week by Buffalo, this group will be looking to prove a point. Also, they will welcome the return of LT Lewis Kelly. Kelly will see as much playing time as he feels he is up to. Everett Linsay will be filling in for him when he takes a breather. The other starters are: LG Corbin Lacina (Former Panther), C Matt Birk, RG David Dixon, and RT Chris Liewinski.
Wesley Walls is always a threat when Carolina is inside the red zone. He wants to be able to get things clicking with Peete, and once that happens, he should return to his Pro Bowl ways. With Carolina now looking to throw deep, look for him to get open in the middle of the field underneath zone coverage's. Kris Mangum will also see plenty of playing time. He needs to learn to stop dropping the ball on third downs, and if he does, look for more two tight end sets from the Panthers.
This is the position that is completely up in the air for Minnesota as it has been an injury plagued one. First, their pro bowl TE Byron Chamberlain is going to be a game time decision. It looks as though he will play, but should not be very productive. Second, Jim Kleinsasser, who has really stepped up in Chamberlain's absence, was injured last week and is out for this game. This results in a probably start for pass blocking TE Hunter Goodwin. Don't expect to see a lot of passes thrown his way.
The special teams could really play a big role in this game. Carolina lost PK John Kasay to a groin injury this week and signed John Hilbert to replace him. He recently spent time with Chicago during training camp and was with Dallas before that. Todd Sauerbrun is continuing to show why he is one of the best punters in the NFL, and will add to that this week. Steve Smith will be returning kicks and punts, but also look for Terry Fair to see some return action as well.
Minnesota has also added a new place kicker this week, as they signed 43-year-old Gary Anderson. Anderson will be handling the FG duties, and from PK Doug Brien has been retained for kickoffs. Kyle Richardson will be taking the punts, and look for Nick Davis to handle return duties.