Two NFC North teams that are coming off their best performances of the season — and trying to keep up with division-leading Detroit — will meet up at Lambeau Field, as Green Bay is set to host Minnesota tonight on CBS/NFL Network. The Packers (2-2) return home from a 38–17 thrashing of the Bears, while the Vikings (2-2) roll in following a 41–28 home win over the Falcons that represented the franchise's fourth-best offensive performance of all time in terms of total yardage (558).
All signs would seem to point to a shootout, although the health of breakout Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (sprained ankle), who passed for 317 yards in his starting debut, remains a question as the game approaches. The Vikings remain optimistic that their newfound offensive catalyst will be ready to go in a hostile environment, but even if he's not, the Vikes showed against Atlanta that they can move the ball without franchise cornerstone Adrian Peterson.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network
Spread: Green Bay -9
Three Things to Watch
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1. Contrast in Styles
The Packers' 38-point explosion in Soldier Field masked an ongoing deficiency: their perplexing inability to run the football. Green Bay was outrushed by the Bears 235-56, and once again, lead back Eddie Lacy failed to crack the 50-yard barrier (he had a season-high 48 yards on 17 rushes). Fortunately, quarterback Aaron Rodgers played a ruthlessly efficient game, passing for 302 yards and four touchdowns, but the Pack needed the cooperation of the Bears through turnovers and penalties to win comfortably. Meanwhile, the Vikings showed uncommon balance against Atlanta in amassing 558 total yards, including 241 on the ground — their highest total without Adrian Peterson since 2011. With Teddy Bridgewater's health uncertain, look for the Vikings to try to pound the Packers' NFL-worst rushing defense (176 ypg) with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. Meanwhile, Rodgers will look for holes in a Vikings pass defense that is allowing 241 yards per game.
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2. Third Down Woes
Both teams have been plagued this season by an inability to stop their opponents on third down. The Vikings rank 31st in the NFL in third-down defense, surrendering first-down conversions half the time. "It's terrible," says Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. "We've got a lot of work to do. I'm extremely disappointed in that. We'll put a lot more time and effort into it than what we have." Zimmer can take some solace in that the Packers are actually worse on third down (52.6 percent). Whichever team can get its defense off the field should seize the advantage.
3. Home Sweet Home
The Packers have dominated the Vikings at Lambeau Field over the last two decades. Over that span, Green Bay is 15–4–1 at home against Minnesota, including a 3–0–1 record in the last four meetings in cheese country (the tie came when Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with an injury). The teams' playoff meeting in January 2012 was symptomatic of the Pack's home dominance; Green Bay beat the Vikings 24–10 in the Wild Card game to take the season series 2–1, and in the process, the Packers held Adrian Peterson under 100 yards rushing after allowing 210 and 199 to Peterson in the two regular-season meetings. The Vikings have some work to do to crack the Lambeau mystique in the rivalry, and that's asking a lot of a rookie quarterback.
The Packers don't mind being one-dimensional as long as they move the ball and score points as they did against the Bears. After all, that one dimension — the Aaron Rodgers-led passing game — remains as potent as ever. Despite their futility on the ground, the Packers finished every drive against the Bears with at least a field-goal attempt. The Vikings have been far too inconsistent offensively this season to expect them to win in a stadium where they've enjoyed little recent success. Barring another offensive explosion from rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Pack should be able to protect the tundra.