It's Official! No Smith Today

Why is Fred Smoot smiling? The Panthers arrived in Minnesota last night without All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith and two others, leaving them at home as they traveled north to play the Vikings.

The speculation that Steve Smith might not play today became reality when the Panthers checked into their hotel for today's game with the Vikings. Three players -- Smith, linebacker Dan Morgan and running back Nick Goings -- didn't even make the trip.

In his absence, the Panthers will start a rotation of Keary Colbert and Drew Carter opposite Keyshawn Johnson, who becomes the Panthers' No. 1 receiver option for today's game.

Sometimes it's just as important to be lucky as it is to be good, and the Vikings certainly have had luck on their side to start the regular season -- not facing Clinton Portis on a full-time basis in Week 1 and playing a Panthers team that will be without its primary offensive threat, its middle linebacker and offensive left tackle.

While the Panthers were the favorites for most of the week, it's clear that the tide has turned in the Vikings' favor and that they are looking much better to start the season 2-0.

* The Vikings' first three games and five of their first seven games are against teams that qualified for the 2005 playoffs. But of their final nine opponents, only one (the Bears) made the playoffs last season -- making a 2-0 start a huge advantage for the Vikings heading into their NFC North showdown with the Bears next week.
* Of their first seven games, only two of them will be against division opponents. The Bears' first three games are against the three other teams from the NFC North.
* The Panthers gave up a league-worst 252 rushing yards in Week 1 and it is expected that the Vikings are going to try to pound the ball at them as much as possible.
* The Vikings will look to reverse a trend that began late in preseason of taking a lot of penalties. In last Monday's win over the Redskins, the Vikings committed nine penalties.
* The Vikings and Panthers are 3-3 all-time against one another, but the Panthers have won the last three meetings -- including their last two contests at the Metrodome.

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