Fearless Prediction: Vikings-Panthers
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer)
KEYS TO THE GAME: To be competitive the Panthers have to hold their own in the trenches. It starts with getting strong run-blocking in front of RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart so Carolina can control the ball. QB Matt Moore won't take many chances deep downfield, so the Panthers likely will have to string together long drives in order to score. Minnesota got back to featuring RB Adrian Peterson last Sunday, letting its big offensive line take over. The Panthers give up 137.3 rushing yards per game and are far stronger defending the pass, so the Vikings would be wise to set up effective play-action for QB Brett Favre.
FAST FACTS: Vikings WR/KR Percy Harvin leads all rookies with eight touchdowns. ... Carolina's defense has forced 21 turnovers the past seven games.
Inside The Camps
The Vikings have little idea if wide receiver Percy Harvin will be able to play Sunday in Carolina, and at this point that probably isn't even that big of concern.
What is worrisome is the long-term prognosis for Harvin, who has been dealing with migraine headaches for much of this season.
Harvin, the favorite to win NFL rookie of the year honors, missed his first game of the season Sunday against Cincinnati because of migraines and has not practiced this week. He also missed practice all of last week.
Harvin had missed various other practices this season because of the intense headaches but had been able to play in games. He went to see more doctors last Monday and was put through tests but because the episodes are so unpredictable it has the team concerned.
"We're attempting to look into and see if there are any common denominators," coach Brad Childress said of the tests Harvin is undergoing. "He's been having them for a good period of time. It's important for us to get some kind of baseline if we can, doctor-wise, and yet still know that (the migraines) are fairly unpredictable. We as coaches -- you know, the controlling types -- we would like to control those things but that's something beyond my control. So I'm maturing too in the things I can control and can't control."
Harvin has suffered from migraines since he was 10 years old. He missed two games as a sophomore at the University of Florida. However, the episodes seem to be more frequent of late and Childress said doctors want to rule out any other possibilities.
"You know I think (the doctors) attempt to allay their fears in terms of other things, worse things, by asking questions," Childress said. "But not being a doctor, they've got a whole set of kind of protocols that they are taking him through."
The Minnesota Vikings come into this week's game with an NFL-high 41 sacks and face a Carolina Panthers offense that will be without starting offensive tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, both on injured reserve.
Not a great combination for the Panthers.
Geoff Schwartz will make his first NFL start on Sunday night.
Schwartz, a seventh-round pick in 2008 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, said the biggest problem he had adjusting from college to the NFL was learning to line up in a three-point stance. That's largely because Schwartz almost never did that at the University of Oregon, where he operated with his hands on his knees.
"I spent three years in college never getting in a three-point stance," said Schwartz. "I might have taken three to five reps ever in a three-point stance. So I focused on that last year, just getting comfortable in that. And I worked on it in the off-season with Jordan Gross on that. I think that's the biggest thing I've improved on is just playing from a three-point stance."
Although it might seem like an easy change, Schwartz said the concept takes some getting used to.
"You run-block better from a three-point stance and your angles are a little different. I don't know how to explain it but it's just a whole different game. Mainly the run blocking is different when you're in the three, rather than the two," Schwartz said.
Schwartz spent last year on the practice squad and coaches urged him to get stronger.
He thinks he accomplished that goal.
"You want to be on the roster, but then I realized I needed a year to get stronger and to mentally get ready and also physically to lift every day," said the 6-foot-6, 331-pound Schwartz. "I used it as an opportunity to get better. In the end it helped me out a lot."
Running back Jonathan Stewart, who ran behind Schwartz at Oregon, said he's confident his former college teammate can do the job.
"We go way back to the days where he had long hair," said Stewart. "I guess you could say he got me to the NFL (blocking for me). He's got great feet, that's one of the reasons I think they drafted him. Big guy, good feet, I think he's going to do well this week. He did well in college while I was in the backfield with him.
"He's more aggressive now with his hands. I think that's something that Mags (offensive-line coach Dave Magazu) has been trying to get him to do. Just being more aggressive, he's such a big guy, he can do a lot with his size."
PREDICTION: Vikings 30-16