Upcoming Gauntlet Schedule Gives Sunday a “Must-Win” Feel For Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are off to Charlotte, Carolina this weekend where they’ll play the Panthers in a very important game on Sunday at Noon. With a 2-3 record and a bye week on the horizon, this weekend carries extra importance. The difference between a 3-3 bye week, rather than 2-4, is stark.
A win will carry good vibes for the team and more job security for the head coach. But most importantly, a win will get the Vikings back to .500 as they enter what looks like the most difficult stretch of their schedule.
Difficult remaining schedule
Sunday’s matchup in Carolina is, on paper, the easiest game on the Vikings will play in, through Thanksgiving. After the Panthers, their next four opponents hold a 16-4 overall record. Those teams, the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers, are all 4-1 entering week 6.
That’s a gauntlet. Tankathon.com agrees, ranking the Viking remaining schedule as the toughest in the NFL.
Using wins and losses to judge schedule difficulty is a bit faulty, especially after just five weeks. But these opponents are no joke. Out of the 12 remaining games, the Vikings would be current favorites in less than a handful. They’d look pretty good at home vs the Bears and Steelers and probably be favored in Detroit vs the Lions too.
The NFC is as competitive as its been in some time and the Packers are threatening to pull away in the North. The Vikings cannot afford to fall to 2-4 if they want to make a playoff push. Another Green Bay win paired with a Minnesota loss would be absolutely devastating to the purple’s playoff odds.
Beating Carolina is extremely important
Calling a week 6 game “must win” feels wrong. But if Sunday vs the Panthers isn’t “must win” it’s about as close as it can get. From everything we can calculate right now, the Minnesota Vikings cannot afford to lose this weekend. The hole would be too deep to climb out of, given the difficulty of their upcoming schedule.
The Carolina Panthers were (-1.5) favorites to start the week but bets have come in heavy on the Vikings, swinging the odds the other way. As of Thursday afternoon, BetOnline.ag has Minnesota giving the (-1.5) points.
Carolina are losers of two straight games, including a rough one at home against the Eagles last weekend. The Panthers started 3-0 behind the arm of Sam Darnold but have looked much more vulnerable of late.
Both teams are built fairly similarly on offense. Kirk Cousins is unquestionably the better quarterback but the weapons are solid for both. The headliners are running backs, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, who are considered two of the best in the game. But both guys have missed the last couple weeks and have been limited in practice leading up to Sunday. Dalvin Cook was able to practice on Thursday, however.
Some good news for the Vikings at practice today: Dalvin Cook, Anthony Barr, and Alexander Mattison are participating though they may be limited.
On the other hand, Michael Pierce isn’t practicing and is probably out Sunday. And Thielen and Jefferson stretched then walked off.— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) October 14, 2021
On defense, the Panthers have allowed over 21 points just once this season. It was against the Dallas Cowboys, who are running one of the best offenses in the league. The Minnesota Vikings have the same type of talent as the Cowboys but the purple offense hasn’t been able to operate efficiently in the second-half of games.
The Minnesota defense, on the other hand, has been pretty good of late, something that’s gone under the radar. In each of the last three games, the Vikings have held opponents under 17 points. Given how well Carolina’s defense has played, they might have to make it four.
But no matter how they do it, Zim and Co have to find a way to come out of Charlotte with a victory.
Cooper Carlson | Minnesota Sports Fan