There are a number of rivalry games that stand the test of time and no matter what era you’re in, the Green Bay Packers taking on the Minnesota Vikings is certainly one of those. The latest edition of this NFC North battle might be the most intriguing of the past several seasons, with both teams entering as potential division winners and Super Bowl contenders. Both are coming off Week 1 victories in which they won in vastly different fashions but understandably need to improve across the board if they’re to take home a victory on Sunday night.
For the Vikings, the chance to show off sparkling new U.S. Bank Stadium certainly adds a bit of juice to this always important rivalry game. Minnesota ended the Packers’ four-year streak as division champions last season and are looking to continue those winning ways under head coach Mike Zimmer as the Vikings move into their new digs. Things got off to a rough start to begin this year however, as the offense looked extremely suspect in the first game since losing starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a knee injury. Minnesota’s defense picked up the slack in the victory over Tennessee, but the team will need an all-around good effort if the Vikings want to come out on top in Week 2.
While the final score may not have indicated it, the Packers certainly took care of business last week against a rapidly rising Jaguars team and the heat and humidity of Jacksonville. Aaron Rodgers looks to be in MVP form to begin the season and the defense, led by a top-notch secondary, looks like it could be one of the better ones in the NFC. Perhaps most importantly for the Pack was the return of Jordy Nelson, which should open up an already potent passing attack even more.
The Vikings captured a win in last season’s final meeting but the Packers have won 10 of the last 13 (with one tie between the two). Amazingly, this is the first time since 1924 that Green Bay will have played the first two games of the regular season on the road. The Packers also have not lost back-to-back games to the division rival Vikings since 2009.
Green Bay at Minnesota
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Packers -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Home opener jitters
Minnesota closed out the preseason with back-to-back wins to open the lovely looking U.S. Bank Stadium so the Vikings already have an early feel for how game day will go at their new home. But the regular season is a different beast, and you can bet that all of the pregame festivities and excitement will play a small factor into how the Vikings come out and play early in the game before settling down. The key is obviously to harness all that energy at kickoff and channel things into a big lead but you have to watch out for players pressing too much in order to deliver a win for the home opener. On the flip side, a new stadium also should present a few hurdles for the visitors to overcome as they get used to the new place.
2. Vikings quarterback shuffle
All signs are pointing to Sam Bradford taking over the reins of the Vikings’ offense just two weeks after arriving in Minnesota via trade. How much of the offense he knows and understands is up for interpretation but you can count on the former No. 1 overall pick basically living in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s office ever since arriving in the Twin Cities. Shaun Hill was just ok in his first start replacing Teddy Bridgewater last week but didn’t exactly flash a high ceiling by throwing for just 236 yards despite favorable matchups. The team paid a high price to acquire Bradford and Sunday night seems like the perfect time to throw him out there.
3. Packers’ front seven
The Packers have a far better offense than the Vikings heading into this game but their defense faces a very interesting test that will be different from their opening week win over the Jaguars. It will be interesting to see how much defensive coordinator Dom Capers copies from Tennessee’s game plan to load the box in order to stop Adrian Peterson. The veteran tailback was limited to just 31 yards on 19 attempts in Week 1 and has had a hard time cracking the Pack’s defense since returning from his ACL injury. Green Bay’s front seven isn’t as highly regarded as its secondary but it’s a really good group and will need to shine again this week in order to come up with a win.
Not surprisingly, Minnesota has not come out and said that Sam Bradword will get the start at quarterback, but just about every indication has pointed to that happening on Sunday night. How well he plays will likely dictate the game. If the offense can move the chains on a consistent basis and Bradford can find Stefon Diggs for some big plays to loosen up Green Bay’s defense, it could be a great home opener for the men in purple.
If Bradford is shaky and turns the ball over though, it will be a lot to overcome against a team that might just be the best in the NFL right now. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers playing lights out, a secondary built to slow down just about anybody and a set of skill position players on offense and special teams that are going to find the end zone quickly. They’re good and they’re looking to bring the NFC North title back to where it resided before last season.
It may take a special teams score to break things open but in the end Green Bay should come out with a victory to spoil the debut of Minnesota’s pristine new stadium.
Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 17
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.