Vikings can secure wild-card berth with win, Packers playing for first-round bye
The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings each have something to play for when the long-time NFC North rivals meet up at 4:25 p.m. ET this afternoon on FOX. For the Vikings (9-6) it’s win and they are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, while the Packers (11-4) can earn a coveted first-round bye with a second win over their divisional foe this month. If the Vikings fall to the Packers for a sixth straight time, they will need Chicago, Dallas and the New York Giants to all lose to extend their season by at least one more game.
When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Green Bay’s offense has been solid, but not as productive or explosive as last season. The Packers are 13th in total offense at 356.4 yards per game and seventh in scoring at nearly 27 points per contest. Even though his numbers aren’t as lofty as last season’s statistics, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has put together another award-worthy season. He is the league’s top-rated passer (106.2), is second in touchdowns passes (35), and needs just 70 more yards passing to reach the 4,000-yard mark. If that wasn’t enough, Rodgers is the team’s second-leading rusher (259 yards), as injuries and inconsistent production have been the team’s story out of the backfield in 2012. The Packers as a team have nine rushing touchdowns, which is four fewer than wide receiver James Jones has caught (13). Fellow wideouts Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings have made their contributions as well, but their overall impact has been limited by injuries, as they have combined for 74 receptions, 904 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s why the emergence of second-year all-purpose threat Randall Cobb has been so critical to the Packers’ success this season. Cobb by himself (80-954-8) has topped the combined production of Nelson and Jennings, and last week broke the franchise single-season record for all-purpose yards. He also sustained an ankle injury in last week’s win over Tennessee, but it’s not believed to be serious. However, should Cobb be limited against the Vikings, the Packers have shown all season that they have plenty of other weapons capable of stepping up when needed. Another reason for the Packers’ offensive success is that they don’t beat themselves. The Packers have turned the ball over 15 times, which is the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC. Rodgers has thrown just eight interceptions, an even more impressive number considering he’s been sacked 46 times so far, the second-most of any quarterback in the league.
Minnesota’s defense has done its part to help out the offense, as the Vikings are 16th in the league in total defense (346.3 ypg) and 11th in scoring (20.9 ppg). The Vikings are giving up 108 yards per game on the ground (13th) and less than 240 through the air (20th). Minnesota has been able to get to the opposing quarterback with some regularity, ranking eighth in the league with 39 sacks. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen leads this category with 10 quarterback takedowns, and the pressure has helped produce 21 turnovers, including 11 fumbles.
When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
Minnesota’s offense has largely been a one-man show this season, and oh what a show it’s been. The Vikings are led by running back Adrian Peterson, who’s not only the leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year, but also should receive serious MVP consideration. Peterson, who is just over a year removed from a devastating knee injury, is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,898 yards and is second with 11 rushing touchdowns. Not only is Peterson leading the league by more than 400 yards, he is averaging six yards per carry, and is only 102 yards away from becoming just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. On top of that, he is 208 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards, which he set back in 1984. Keep in mind that Peterson racked up 210 yards against Green Bay back in Week 13. Peterson is dealing with some abdominal soreness, but there’s no reason to not expect him to take his shot at one of the NFL’s most-revered records this afternoon. And if the Vikings have any hopes of beating the Packers, they will need all they can get from the man known as “All Day.” The Vikings are 23rd in the league in total offense at 329.4 yards per game, but more than half of that is courtesy of Peterson and the ground game. They are dead last in passing offense (168.3 ypg), as second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has struggled after getting off to a solid start to the season. Ponder has just 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and is the league’s 26h-rated passer (78.8). He has one 300-yard game all season and hasn’t surpassed 175 yards passing in each of his last five contests. Some of the lack of production from the passing game can be attributed to the loss of wide receiver Percy Harvin, who went on injured reserve in early November after suffering a ligament tear in his ankle. Ponder’s favorite target since Harvin’s injury has been tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is second only to Harvin in receptions and yards, and leads the team with nine touchdown catches. In addition to the passing game, turnovers also have somewhat stymied the Vikings’ offensive attack, as they are 17th in the league in scoring at 22.8 points per game. The Vikings have turned it over 23 times, including 11 lost fumbles.
Green Bay’s defense is 10th in the league in yards allowed at 329.6 per game, and seventh in scoring defense at 19.9 points per game. The Packers are ranked similarly when it comes to rushing (111.9 ypg, 14th) and passing (217.7 ypg, 12th) defense, but have been very productive in the sack department. The Packers have collected 46 sacks already, tying them for third-most in the league, led by linebacker Clay Matthews’ 12. The defense also has forced 23 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, six of them belonging to rookie cornerback Casey Heyward.
Minnesota needs this game more than Green Bay does, but that doesn’t mean the Packers don’t have anything to play for. The Vikings can wrap up a wild-card berth with a win in Green Bay, but they also can watch their playoff ticket get punched before this game even kicks off should Chicago, Dallas and the New York Giants all lose their games. Should this series of events occur, it’s possible the Vikings could choose to rest Adrian Peterson, but that’s not likely considering his pursuit of 2,000 yards and Eric Dickerson’s single-season record in front of the home crowd. The Packers’ already have won the NFC North crown, but a win would give them a first-round playoff bye, just the sort of thing a veteran team could greatly benefit from. The Packers have won their last five matchups with the Vikings, including a 23-14 victory at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2. Green Bay won despite surrendering 210 yards rushing to Peterson and not getting huge numbers (286-1-1) from Aaron Rodgers. The key to victory was limiting the Vikings’ passing game, which they did as Christian Ponder threw for just 119 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Packers are healthier for this game than they were back in Week 13, and nothing has really changed for the Vikings’ offense as their best wide receiver, Percy Harvin, is done for the season. All Minnesota needs to do is win this one, but Green Bay would like nothing more than to possibly keep their long-time division rival out of the playoffs, and earn them a much-needed bye in the process. The Vikings may be the home team and have the league’s best running back, but they don’t have the reigning MVP as their quarterback.
Packers 30, Vikings 23