This Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings will travel to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers in a crucial Week 6 matchup. The Vikings currently sit at 2-3. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their season is over; the playoffs have expanded to allow seven teams per conference, and this year the league has implemented a 17-game schedule, which both work in their favor.
So, why exactly is this Week 6 game so important?
In Week 5, the Vikings squeaked by the Detroit Lions, winning on a 54-yard field goal as time expired. This was after Minnesota blew a 10-point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Thrilling? Far from it.
The clunky victory highlighted troubling trends from this frustrating season. For the fourth consecutive game, the Vikings failed to score an offensive touchdown in the second half. Problems within the two-minute warning of the first half fell on the offense this time as they opted to head into halftime with a 13-6 lead despite having 37 seconds on the clock and two timeouts. And the run game was once again inconsistent with Dalvin Cook still trying to get healthy.
If these problems showed up in a game that the Vikings should have won handily, what will happen when they face more formidable opponents? Carolina may be 3-2, but they rank third in points allowed and second in yards allowed. Is that a recipe for a bounce-back game for an offense that has only scored two touchdowns in the past 10 quarters? Toss in that these same Panthers essentially handed the Vikings a victory in Week 12 last year and this could be a get-right game for a Carolina team that has dropped their past two. But with quarterback Sam Darnold coming back to Earth with three touchdowns and five interceptions the past two weeks, the Vikings stand a chance to escape at 3-3.
A 2-4 start shouldn’t be insurmountable for Minnesota. But what lies beyond Week 6 is a five-game stretch that will make or break the season. After a Week 7 bye, the Vikings host the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys on Halloween night. Led by a healthy Dak Prescott, the Cowboys boast the league’s second-ranked offense and the second-ranked rushing attack in football. This comes even after they abandoned the run game in their Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay.
Following Dallas, the Vikings play the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Unlike Minnesota, the Ravens are a team that could be 2-3 but is 4-1 because they make critical plays at the end of games. They have the league’s top-ranked offense, and quarterback Lamar Jackson could scramble Minnesota’s defense like Kyler Murray did for the Arizona Cardinals back in Week 2.
In Week 10, the Vikings go from the East Coast to the West Coast to face the 4-1 Los Angeles Chargers. Led by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers have the league’s third-ranked passing game. Remember that Cleveland Browns defense that the Vikings only scored seven points against two weeks ago? The Chargers put up 47 against them in Week 5. Their only defeat was a 20-17 loss to the Cowboys in Week 2.
Then comes the Green Bay Packers, who have ripped off four straight wins after the New Orleans Saints beat them 38-3 to begin the season. Things don’t look as easy for the NFC North rivals this year, but the Packers still possess the sixth-ranked defense in the league this year. They also can’t feel good after letting their guard down last year in a 28-22 loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field. Still, Green Bay has won the past two matchups at U.S. Bank Stadium and three of four total matchups with head coach Matt LaFleur.
This gauntlet ends when the Vikings travel back to the West Coast to face the 2-3 San Fransisco 49ers. Minnesota didn’t have much luck the last time they played the 49ers, losing 27-10 in the 2019 NFC Divisional Playoffs. The Niners have been plagued by injury again this year. But they bring an offense similar to what the Cleveland Browns used to gouge the Vikings for 184 rushing yards in Week 3. Defensively, they still rank seventh in the league. Even in defeat, the Niners haven’t looked that bad. San Fransisco was a magical Aaron Rodgers drive away from defeating the Packers. They lost 28-21 against the division rival Seahawks. And this past Sunday, they lost 17-10 on the road to another divisional foe, the undefeated Cardinals. This one could be tricky regardless, and with the game still a month and a half away, the 49ers could be hitting their stride.
Minnesota hasn’t done themselves any favors throughout the first five weeks of the season. They had the opening two games of the year in their grasp but let them slip away. Now, sitting 2-3, they haven’t left themselves with any margin for error. To survive the five games following the bye week, they need to beat the Panthers. With all the questions surrounding the Vikings right now, a loss to Carolina could send them into a tailspin that they may never recover from.