Packers, Vikings collide in Green Bay on Sunday for a critical NFC North matchup
Lambeau Field will provide the backdrop for the 118th all-time meeting between bitter division rivals on Sunday, as the Green Bay Packers play host to the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers lead the all-time series 60-54-3. However, Green Bay has not beaten Minnesota since 2016. The two teams played to a 29-29 tie last year in Green Bay, while the Vikings edged out the Packers by a score of 24-17 in Minnesota last season. Both teams look to remain unbeaten and gain an early-season stronghold in the NFC North with a win on Sunday.
The well-rested Packers are 1-0 entering Sunday's home opener against the Vikings, following a 10-3 road win against the defending NFC North champion Bears to open the NFL's 100th season on "Thursday Night Football." While Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense left plenty to be desired against the vaunted Bears defense, the Packers showed up to Soldier Field with a stifling defense of their own, leading the way to a successful debut for Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. The Green Bay defense managed to hold Chicago to a lone field goal, while routinely making life miserable for Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. LaFleur will need a similar effort from his defense in Week 2, along with an improved effort from the offense for the Packers to fend off their second division rival in as many weeks.
Mike Zimmer's Vikings also make their way into this game sitting pretty at 1-0 after making easy work of Atlanta in Week 1. A potent Minnesota ground game joined forces with an opportunistic defense to help the Vikings jump out to a 28-0 lead, and they never looked back on their way to an impressive 28-12 victory against the Falcons. Dalvin Cook's standout performance paved the way for the new-look Viking offense, while safety Anthony Harris had three takeaways and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. So in a bit of a role reversal, one of the focuses for this contest will be how the Vikings' revamped offense fares on the road against the Packers' retooled defense.
Minnesota at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Green Bay -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Minnesota run game vs. the Green Bay run defense
Minnesota unveiled its new zone-blocking scheme in Week 1 en route to 172 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons. Dalvin Cook ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie Alexander Mattison also was impressive with 49 yards on just nine carries. Minnesota's revamped offensive line was solid for the most part as well, routinely paving the way for positive gains, even when the Falcons loaded the box. After ranking 30th in the NFL in rushing last season, it had to be refreshing for Vikings fans to see. The question is — will Minnesota continue to find success on the ground against a Green Bay run defense that had plenty of success of its own in Week 1?
While the early returns are promising for the future of the Vikings' ground attack, one game doesn't exactly provide a great barometer. It's probably safe to say that some level of that success came at the expense of a porous Atlanta run defense as well.
The Green Bay run defense should provide the Minnesota rushing attack with a stiffer challenge after giving up just 46 yards on the ground to the Bears in Week 1. But again, that was just one game. So, it will be interesting to see which side builds off of last week's performance. It's just one game, but this early strength vs. strength matchup could go a long way in deciding the outcome on Sunday.
2. Can Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense spring to life in Week 2?
The Packers weren't exactly hitting on all cylinders in Week 1, leaving most of the heavy lifting to the defense to get the job done against Chicago. Green Bay averaged an embarrassing 2.1 yards per carry and Rodgers wasn't his usual spectacular self either. He completed just 18 of 30 pass attempts for 203 yards and a touchdown while being sacked five times. Of course, an unbelievably talented Bears defense also had a lot to say about the lackluster performance.
The problem is — Rodgers and company will once again be paired against an extremely talented defense in Week 2. The Vikings gave Matt Ryan and the normally high-powered Atlanta offense more than they could handle last week. And Minnesota returns 10 starters to a defense that held Rodgers largely in check in both matchups last season. The Vikings limited Rodgers to just one touchdown pass in each of last year's meetings while sacking him four times in each game. They also held Green Bay to less than 100 rushing yards in both games.
Rodgers is a phenomenal quarterback, and you'd be ill-advised to bet against him in any matchup. However, it could be tough sledding once again for the Green Bay offense on Sunday. The Packers will definitely need to get more from their run game to have success against the Vikings.
3. Minnesota passing game
We are sure to see more of Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota passing game on Sunday. How could we not? Cousins barely had to break a sweat in Week 1, attempting just 10 passes -- completing eight of them for 98 yards and a touchdown — in the win over the Falcons. It was a huge departure from the pass-heavy approach the Vikings employed last season. The new offense utilizes a run-first approach to help set up the play-action pass. And after jumping out to a big lead against Atlanta, it simply wasn't necessary for Cousins to air it out much.
That could give Cousins a leg up in this game, considering the Packers have very little to go by to prepare. And he may need all the help he can get after seeing the way Green Bay terrorized Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in Week 1. Cousins did light up the Packers through the air in both matchups last season. However, Green Bay has added some new pieces to what looks like a much-improved 2019 defense. It's also worth noting that Cousins was pressured five times and sacked once in 11 dropbacks last week. That doesn't bode particularly well with a Minnesota offensive line that still has questions when it comes to pass protection.
You can never count out Aaron Rodgers against any opponent. And with the way Green Bay's defense performed in Week 1, it's hard not to like the Packers' chances to come away with a win on Sunday in front of the home crowd at Lambeau Field.
That said, the Minnesota defense is as good as any in the league, and Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than the one the Packers faced in Week 1. But what really swings this matchup in favor of the Vikings is Dalvin Cook. Minnesota is 6-0 when Cook gets 15 or more touches in a game. And one way or another, the Vikings are going to get the football into Cook's hands early and often on Sunday. That will be the difference.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Packers 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(Top photo courtesy of vikings.com)