Minnesota (11-2), coming off a 20-point victory over Cincinnati, is in a position to clinch its second-consecutive NFC North title and possibly a first-round bye.
The latter will happen if the Vikings win and Philadelphia loses or ties or the Vikings tie and Green Bay loses or ties and the Eagles lose. Minnesota will clinch the division with a victory or if the Packers fall in a late-afternoon game at Pittsburgh.
The Vikings certainly have to feel better about their situation as they begin preparation for Sunday's game. Their one-sided victory over the Bengals helped wipe away most of the distaste of their 30-17 defeat a week earlier against Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Minnesota was dominated in every phase of that game, including up front on both lines. That was particularly disturbing for Brad Childress, who has emphasized winning the battles up front since he took over as the Vikings coach in 2006.
Childress' team got a quick chance to redeem itself against the very physical Bengals and did an excellent job. Despite facing the NFL's second-ranked run defense, the Vikings had 142 yards on the ground, including 97 yards on 26 carries from Adrian Peterson.
That was a season-high in carries for Peterson and sent the clear message that the Vikings have every intention of re-establishing the run after they got away from that part of the game. Peterson had only 19 yards on 13 carries against the Cardinals, his second lowest single-game rushing output in his three-year career.
In their previous two games, the Vikings combined for 93 pass attempts and 54 runs. But on Sunday, they had 37 runs and Brett Favre attempted 30 passes.
The fact the Vikings had gone toward a passing game does not come as a complete surprise given the fact many defenses put an eighth man in the box to try to slow Peterson. But if Minnesota is going to make a deep playoff run it's going to need to be able to establish that it can control the ball and run between the tackles.
"We know that we're not really an outside zone team," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "We went back to our inside zone where it's just straight-up football. Just man-against-man. It's not positioning and things like that. It's the guard's will against the tackle's will. More smash-mouth football. Just running right at them instead of trying to get the edge on the defense."
In a sense, the game plan took the Vikings back to a training-camp mentality and enabled them to pound the football.
"It lets our offensive linemen really kind of set their pads and be able to thump off the football," Childress said. "We just thought that was important to kind of play to our strong suit."
SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 5-3. They've won the past two meetings (2006 and 2008) both at the Metrodome. This will be the ninth time the Vikings have met the Panthers and only the second time the teams will play in North Carolina.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 — Total giveaways by the Vikings, the second-lowest in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You guys are going to spin it." — Quarterback Brett Favre asked if he had returned to being a game manager after passing for only 192 yards in Sunday's victory over Cincinnati.