The Minnesota Vikings have the inside track for the top seed in the NFC at the three-quarter mark of the season and put their eight-game winning streak on the line when they visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Minnesota, which holds the tiebreaker with Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed, has a chance to clinch the NFC North title.
While the Vikings hold the tiebreaker over Philadelphia for home field throughout the playoffs, coach Mike Zimmer is more concerned with the immediate task at hand against an opponent also in contention for a division title. "We've got four games left," Zimmer said. "My only thoughts are on the Carolina Panthers and trying to get a win this week. All that stuff is nice to talk about, but for us we'll go about our business." Carolina had a four-game winning streak snapped at New Orleans last week in a showdown for first place in the NFC South, but it sits one game behind the Saints and two back of Minnesota. "There's still things in our future that can get us on the right track again," acknowledged quarterback Cam Newton of the Panthers, who play their next three games at home.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Vikings -3. O/U: 41
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (10-2): Minnesota improved to 3-0 against NFC South competition with an impressive 14-9 road win at Atlanta last week, limiting the defending conference champion to three field goals and 275 total yards. The Vikings lead the NFC in scoring defense (17.0 points) and are the league's best third-down defense, holding Atlanta to 1-for-10 in such situations. Quarterback Case Keenum posted his fourth consecutive 100-plus passer rating and completed a season-high 83.3 percent of his passes at Atlanta, giving him five touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past three games. Wideout Adam Thielen (74 receptions) is Keenum's top target while Latavius Murray has stabilized the running game with seven straight games of at least 15 carries.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (8-4): Newton has rushed for at least 50 yards in five of the seven games, and he may be on the run again facing a Minnesota defense that sacked him eight times in a 22-10 win last season. Newton, who has six touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past three games, could be bolstered by the return of tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil, who have each missed the bulk of the season due to injuries but are on track to play. Devin Funchess has thrived since the trade of top wideout Kelvin Benjamin with 21 receptions and three TDs in four games since the deal. Linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) is a question mark for a defense that coach Ron Rivera said was "embarrassed" by last week's performance.
1. Keenum is averaging 275.3 passing yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions in his last four road games.
2. Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart is averaging a career-worst 3.2 yards per game.
3. Vikings DE Everson Griffen ranks fourth in the league with 12 sacks.
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