Some thoughts on Carolina at Minnesota, 1 p.m. Sunday:
** If I’m the Panthers, I’m wishing that Minnesota made that quarterback switch in Week 4. Tarvaris Jackson was totally ineffective and was playing like he was afraid to make a mistake. That would have been ideal for Carolina. Gus Frerotte isn’t nearly as mobile, but he’s more aggressive and he’s going to be a more dangerous guy for the Panthers to stop.
** Do I expect Steve Smith to make an immediate impact for Carolina on offense? Absolutely. Smith always looks quicker on artificial turf.
If you remember, the first TD he ever scored in an NFL uniform was also the first time he touched the ball, on a kickoff return at Minnesota as a rookie in 2001. Smith once told me that TD was his favorite of his career, even superseding the “arms-outstretched” TD grab to win the playoff game at St. Louis. I’ll be surprised if Smith doesn’t score today.
** The Vikings have always had a great homefield advantage, but it’s been teetering in recent years. The team only got a sellout on Friday -- after a 24-hour NFL extension -- and that was only after the local Fox affiliate helped out by buying some of the extras.
** I was about to pick Minnesota to win this game, because one of these days the Panthers are going to lose one it seems like they should win. They have been living on a knife blade so far this season. If that continues, a cut is inevitable.
But Minnesota’s best player, Adrian Peterson, is either going to miss this game with an injured hamstring or, at best, play on the hamstring but be limited. His backup, Chester Taylor, is a good back but not a great one. So I think the Panthers’ Year of Living Dangerously continues with their third win in a row.
My prediction: Carolina 23, Minnesota 16.
Check back on this blog postgame Sunday for my comments about the game, and please feel free to add your own.