MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-2) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (8-4)
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 8-5. The Vikings are 2-2 at Carolina, including a 22-10 win last season. Coach Mike Zimmer is 2-0 against the Panthers. His other victory was a 31-13 rout at Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. The Vikings also have won three of the past four meetings and five of the past seven. The teams have never met in the playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings will look to control another road game the same way they did last week in Atlanta. Facing the No. 1 third-down offense in the league, the Vikings slammed the door on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co., limiting them to one third-down conversion in 10 tries.
Meanwhile, the Vikings converted six of 12 third downs and didn't turn the ball over. That's how you win 14-9 on the road against a hot team that was coming off back-to-back 34-point games.
The Vikings rank first in red-zone offense and defense. Keep that up, win the turnover battle, and they should be 11-2.
The Panthers likely will have to be up to snuff on the defensive side because the Vikings have been stingy in many of their games.
Carolina was most disturbed by some of the big plays it has allowed the past two weeks on the defensive side, so there should be no shortage of motivation for that group, though some absences on that side are of concern.
The Panthers have excelled more often when their rushing attack has been clicking, so again they'll try to get moving on the ground -- which could be tough against the league's No. 2 run defense.
There is significant inexperience with the wideouts and it will be interesting to judge the trust that QB Cam Newton has throwing downfield or whether he's more apt to tuck the ball and run in tight spots.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers LT Matt Kalil vs. Vikings DE Everson Griffen. These two know each other very well from having gone against each other in practice as Vikings teammates from 2012, when Kalil was the fourth overall draft pick, until Kalil's season-ending injury early last season. Griffen has 12 sacks and should have the upper hand on Kalil, whose career tailed off sharply after he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He was a target of fan discontent for years in Minnesota.
--Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn spent the past three seasons as a Viking. He was a reliable nickel back the past two seasons, so he got to see first-hand the evolution of Thielen from former D-II player to NFL starter. Thielen has taken that a step further this season, posting the team's first 1,000-yard receiving season since Sidney Rice in 2009. His route running and moves to get off the line of scrimmage have allowed him to use his underrated speed and exceptional ball skills. Munnerlyn is familiar with all of this. Whether it helps him is another thing.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORTS
--Out: TE David Morgan (concussion), T Mike Remmers (back)
--Questionable: C Pat Elflein (shoulder)
--Out: LB Shaq Thompson (foot)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings QB Case Keenum. Some keep waiting for this career backup to smash into a wall as he continues to steer the Vikings from win to win to win. So far, the team is 10-2 and atop the NFC with Keenum playing all but six quarters of the season. He's 8-2 as a starter and has won eight straight. He has a 1.4 interception percentage, which puts him up there in the stratosphere of Tom Brady (0.9) and Drew Brees (1.2). He also has posted four straight games with a passer rating of 100 or more. That's tied with Brett Favre (2009) and Daunte Culpepper (2004) as a franchise record. Now, here comes another tough road game at Carolina. But the Vikings are going for a franchise-record sixth straight road win. All with Keenum at quarterback.
FAST FACTS: Minnesota can win the NFC North with a win or tie OR with losses or ties from both Detroit and Green Bay. ... Vikings RB Latavius Murray has 323 rushing yards (80.8 per game) and four TDs in his past four games. ... RB Jerick McKinnon has 421 scrimmage yards (84.2 per game) and three TDs in his past five road games. ... WR Adam Thielen ranks second in the NFC with a career-high 1,056 yards. In his past five games, he has 527 yards and three TDs. ... TE Kyle Rudolph has scored three TDs in his past two games. He caught seven passes for 70 yards and a TD in the last meeting. ... DE Everson Griffen ranks fourth in the NFL with 12 sacks. He has six sacks and two forced fumbles in his past five games on the road. He tied a career-high with three sacks in the last meeting. ... Carolina QB Cam Newton has four passing TDs and no interceptions in his past two home games. ... RB Jonathan Stewart has 292 scrimmage yards (97.3 per game) and two TDs in his past three games vs. Minnesota. ... RB Christian McCaffrey leads NFL rookies with 64 receptions, ranks second among rookie RBs with 501 receiving yards and is tied for the lead among NFL RBs with four TD catches. ... WR Devin Funchess has 346 receiving yards and three TDs in his past four games. In his past two home contests, he has 178 yards and two TDs. ... DE Julius Peppers has 5.5 sacks in his past seven games vs. Minnesota. He has three sacks in his past five home games.
PREDICTION: The Vikings' defense is made to travel and will force Newton into some sloppy mistakes and turnovers.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 24-17.