NFC North is just one of the things on the line Sunday night at Lambeau Field
Since Green Bay couldn’t stop the Arizona juggernaut last Sunday in the desert, it must now conquer the Vikings for a second time in the season or end up consigned to a road trip during the first week of the postseason. It’s not the best situation for a team that was at one point 6-0 and presumably headed for big things. After an ugly loss to the Cardinals, Green Bay must rebound quickly or head into the playoffs with a decided lack of momentum.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is delighted to be playing in this NFC North title game, since the Vikes lost to Green Bay in November and looked to be headed to the wild card realm. But a big win over the sagging Giants and the Packers’ loss has put Minnesota in position to win the division and host a first-round playoff game. Of course, the Vikings can’t be too cocky, since they have had their struggles this year, and going to Lambeau for such a game is never easy. But things look better for Minnesota than they did earlier this season.
Minnesota at Green Bay
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Green Bay -3
Three Things to Watch
1. On the Line
By the end of last week’s loss in Arizona, the Packers were down to two original starting offensive linemen, thanks to injuries to LT David Bakhtiari (who didn’t suit up), right tackle Bryan Bulaga and center Corey Linsley. Perhaps that’s why the Cardinals sacked Green Bay quarterbacks nine times. If the line isn’t strong, Aaron Rodgers won’t have time to throw, and he could replicate last week’s 15-of-28 passing performance for 151 yards, not to mention being sacked eight times. Further, a depleted front wall could causes problems for the Green Bay running attack, which could lead to more problems in the passing game. In other words, having those starters available is huge.
2. Running Loose
When the Packers and Vikings locked up earlier this year, Adrian Peterson managed just 45 yards on 13 carries, and Green Bay prevailed. Coincidence? Hardly. The NFL’s leading rusher is tops in the league in 100-yard games, and his 104 yards last week were big in the win over New York, especially since QB Teddy Bridgewater was an uninspiring 15-of-25 for 168 yards. It is imperative for the Vikings that Peterson gets going early and can pile up the yards throughout the game.
3. All the Marbles – Again?
It is entirely possible that Sunday’s game could be the first of two straight for these two teams, both in Wisconsin. If the Packers win, and Seattle triumphs, the Seahawks and Vikings will have the same record, and Seattle holds the tiebreaker. That means it would have the higher seed of the two wild card teams and earn a trip to play NFC East champion Washington, while Minnesota gets a third meeting with the Pack, again at Lambeau. Even though it is tough to beat a team three times in the same season, Minnesota couldn’t possibly want to face Green Bay again.
These teams enter the game with much different psychological outlooks. The Packers are still stinging from last week’s big loss in Arizona, while Minnesota is on a high after thumping the Giants. If momentum counts, the Vikings are in great shape.
But talent plays a role, too, and Green Bay has one of the best QBs in the league in Aaron Rodgers, even if his line is struggling, and his receivers aren’t the best around. In big games at home, it’s hard to bet against him. The appropriate way to counter for Minnesota is to make this game all about Adrian Peterson, who has the ability to control the contest and lessen the amount of possessions Green Bay gets. Since this is the NFL, 2015 edition, it’s good to bet on the passer over the runner.
Prediction: Packers 23, Vikings 20
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.