It's pretty simple. The Panthers are 29th in the league in run defense (133.4). The Vikings have the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry with a league-high eight rushing touchdowns.
Christian Ponder will be making his debut NFL road start, but he showed poise in relief of Donovan McNabb in the fourth quarter at Chicago two weeks ago. With Ponder, the Vikings have a quarterback capable of getting outside the pocket and making more plays downfield. The Vikings need more of that Sunday to loosen up the Panthers' defense the way they did last week against Green Bay.
Defensively, the Vikings need to pressure QB Cam Newton, even though he's obviously a huge running threat. Newton throws more picks (nine) than TDs (eight), so a little heat will help Newton's indecisions. The Vikings then need to hang on to potential picks.
The Vikings come into the game ranked 27th in the league in pass defense, so don't expect the Panthers to back off their vertical passing game. This has the potential to be a huge day for Steve Smith, who already has more than 140 yards in four of his seven games this season. Also, the Panthers are starting to click in the running game, jumping from 31st in the league last month to eight overall this week.
The Panthers should be fairly healthy heading into their final game before the bye week. Linebacker Omar Gaither is the only real question mark. He's missed the last two games with a sprained MCL. His recovery time was slated for 2-4 weeks, so he's on the near side of that recovery period. He's likely to be a game-time decision Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin, who has been burned many times this season for big plays, vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith, who has crushed the Vikings in their only two trips to Carolina -- Smith has 23 catches for 358 yards and two touchdowns in those two games played in 2005 and 2009. He's leading the NFL in receiving yards this season (818) and has a 21.0-yard average per catch. Griffin isn't the only corner who will be responsible for Smith. With left corner potentially down to Asher Allen because of Chris Cook's suspension and Antoine Winfield's neck injury, Smith probably will line up some on the right side as well.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing with 712 yards and eight touchdowns on 146 carries (4.9), vs. Panthers SLB James Anderson, who leads the Panthers in tackles with 68 – It'll take a heck of a lot more than James Anderson to slow down Peterson, who's coming off one of his best games, a 175-yard effort against the Packers. The Panthers give up 133.4 yards per game, but only 3.6 per carry. MLB Dan Connor, who is second on the team in tackles, also needs to plug holes that Peterson finds up front.
If the Vikings are going to win this one they're going to need to rely heavily on Peterson. The Panthers surrendered 205 yards to Matt Forte and 107 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew this season, so they're vulnerable to a strong running attack like the Vikings.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of times in the Vikings' 51-year history they've played a game with two rookie starting quarterbacks. That will change Sunday with Christian Ponder and Cam Newton starting.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Bernard expressed to me he really wanted to be a part of our team and help our team to be successful, but for what we're trying to do and where we are, it's just so important that every guy tries to adhere to the way we want to get it done. It's one thing to say what I'm going to do. It's another thing to do those things." -- Coach Leslie Frazier when asked if Berrian's poor attitude contributed to his release.