In the only game this weekend that’s a rematch, NFC North foes square of in Lambeau Field as the Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings. The first time these teams met in Green Bay the Packers got the 23-14 win, and last week the Vikings returned the favor winning 37-34 in the Metrodome. Can the Vikings ride Adrian Peterson’s incredible season into the next round or will Aaron Rodgers pilot his team to victory on the frozen tundra?
What to Watch for
When the Packers are on offense: The Packers passing game is among the best in the game and Aaron Rodgers will have his full complement of receivers at his disposal in this one. Rodgers finished with 39 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while throwing for 4,295 yards and finishing as the highest rated passer in the league. He’s get more MVP consideration if it wasn’t for the Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson stories.
The Packers weapons on offense aren’t really in the backfield. They have used a bunch of running backs this season with the bulk of the carries last week going to DuJuan Harris who actually picked up 70 yards on the ground. Overall, Green Bay ranked 20th in the league in rushing yards per game and their leading rusher was Alex Green with under 464 yards on the year. Green will return to the backfield on Sunday after missing the final week with a concussion and is expected to be the primary ball carrier in the Packers “keep them honest” run game.
The strength of Green Bay’s attack is their passing game and all their receivers are expected to be back on the field for the first time in a long time. Greg Jennings missed a huge chunk of the season but has the tools to be a true #1 receiver. Jordy Nelson missed the last few games but returned against the Vikings last week and was able to finish the season with 745 yards and seven scores. Randall Cobb has emerged as a great multi-faceted threat coming out of the backfield as well as in the screen and return game. All three of those players are great, but the leader of the Packers in receiving touchdowns is James Jones who hauled in 14 touchdowns with his 784 yards this year in a breakout performance.
When the Vikings are on Defense: The Minnesota defense knows Aaron Rodgers all to well he’s thrown for 282.3 yards per game and 24 touchdowns against them in his 10 starts against them. The Vikings best plan is to get big time pressure on Rodgers up from front. Jared Allen finished this season with 12.0 sacks with Brian Robison added 8.5 from the other side. Chad Greenway led the team with 148 tackles and rookie safety Harrison Smith also emerged as a playmaker with three picks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 103 tackles.
The most important Viking defender in this game is probably Antoine Winfield, the Vikings best cornerback. He’s been limited in practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday. He’s promised to play with a protective cast on his broken right hand but was forced to leave the field last week due to the injury. If he’s forced to miss time or is too limited by his injury, expect Rodgers to take advantage instantly.
When the Vikings are on Offense: The Vikings offense is all about All Day. Adrian Peterson’s amazing comeback season has been the stuff of legend although AD made it reality this year as he rushed for 2,097 yards less than a year after ACL surgery. He’s rushed for 409 yards in the Vikings two games against the Pack on 55 carries. Expect him to get plenty of work as Minnesota relies on him as their best weapon on offense.
The rest of the Vikings offense is the weakness of the team. Christian Ponder struggled at times this season especially on the road. At home, he threw for 1,581 yards and had 11 touchdowns to go with six interceptions, but on the road he threw for 1,354 yards and only seven touchdowns with six interceptions. He’s also dealing with an elbow injury that has limited him all week and leaves him questionable for tonight’s game. If he does start as expected, it will be his first sub-40 degree start in his career, and he’s struggled especially at Lambeau completing under half of his pass attempts.
Minnesota’s best receiver Percy Harvin is out for the year, and the Vikings second leading pass-catcher is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota will need a receiver to step up to take some of the pressure off the run game. Last week it was Jerome Simpson that led the Vikings in targets, but Michael Jenkins and Jarius Wright were the receivers who caught touchdowns.
When the Packers are on Defense: The Packers will be better equipped to handle those receivers as they welcome back Charles Woodson to their defensive backfield after recovering from his injured collarbone. Woodson had an interception and forced fumble along with his 1.5 sacks before being injured on October 21 against the Rams.
The key for the Packers will be if their defense can slow down Peterson enough to force the ball into Ponder’s hands. They haven’t stopped him yet in their two meetings but did finish 17th against the run this year. One of the Packers best run-stopper is B.J. Raji who has been playing extremely well as of late and will need another big effort tonight. The Pack’s leading tackler is safety Morgan Burnett who finished the season with just three more than A.J. Hawk.
Straight-up: Even with Minnesota’s win last week, there are very few who believe the Vikings can actually win this game. While I think it’s definitely possible, it seems like a tall task to ask Adrian Peterson to single-handedly generate enough offense to take down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers two weeks in a row. On the road, the Vikings were just 3-5 with two of those wins coming in their last three games. The Packers should be able to overwhelm a banged up Vikings defense, and I don’t think the Vikings will ultimately have enough to strike back.
Against the Spread: This is where it gets tricky. The line was 8 and has now moved to 9.5 in many places, so the Packers would need a two-possession win to cover here. They’re 7-1 against the spread this year at home and 6-2 against the spread in their last eight. The Vikings have won their last four (straight up and against the spread) but had dropped four of five before that. It’s a lot of points to swallow, but I’ll go with Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs at home to cover, although I’d keep my lunch money safely away from this game.
Pick: Green Bay Packer 31-Minnesota Vikings 17