Back in Week 2, Minnesota defeated Green Bay 17-14 in the first game played in brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium. That victory was part of the Vikings’ impressive 5-0 start and gave them an early two-game lead over the Packers.
Fast-forward to Week 16 and it’s Green Bay (8-6) that is peaking at the right time, while Minnesota (7-7) has won just two of its past nine games. In fact, the Packers’ current four-game winning streak has not only put them in position to get one of the wild card spots, they also still have a shot at catching Detroit (9-5) for the NFC North title.
Meanwhile the Vikings have gone from having the best record in the NFC to the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention. Green Bay has all of the momentum, but can ill afford a loss with Tampa Bay currently holding the tiebreaker for the second wild card spot. Also the Packers need a victory to give them a chance of winning the NFC North, otherwise a Green Bay loss and Detroit win in Dallas will clinch the division for the Lions and render their Week 17 rendezvous meaningless in that regard.
There’s nothing better than a meaningful game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field between two longtime divisional rivals on Christmas Eve, right?
Minnesota at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sat., Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Green Bay -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Aaron Rodgers’ Mobility
After a slow start (at least by his standards), Rodgers is once again among the league leaders in several passing categories. He’s tied for second with 32 touchdown passes, fifth in passer rating (100.3), and he hasn’t thrown an interception in five straight games. However, it has been anything but a typical season for the two-time league MVP. Not only did Green Bay endure a four-game losing streak that had the Packers sitting at 4-6 entering Week 12, but he’s dealt with hamstring and calf injuries that have at times either forced him out of a game or put his playing status somewhat in question.
Rodgers’ mobility is as important to his success as his strong arm, as he’s not only capable of picking up yards with his legs, they also allow him to extend plays when protection breaks down and make something out of nothing. In the first game, Minnesota’s defense battered Rodgers, sacking him five times and forcing him into two turnovers. The Vikings are third in the NFL in passing defense and have registered 35 sacks. If the hamstring/calf issues continue to hamper Rodgers, it could be a grind for the Packers’ offense, unless Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael can repeat their performance from last week when they combined for 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries against the Bears.
2. Can the Vikings Unwrap Their Offense?
Adrian Peterson played last week for the first time since going down with a torn meniscus in his right knee in Week 2 against Green Bay. Unfortunately, Peterson wasn’t effective, picking up just 22 rushing yards on six carries and losing a fumble in the 34-6 home loss to Indianapolis. After missing practice earlier this week with groin and knee injuries, the Vikings have ruled Peterson out for this game, and it’s possible he won’t play in Week 17 either.
Not having its MVP in the lineup is nothing new for this Minnesota offense, but it also shows in the statistics. The Vikings are 30th in the NFL in total offense (301.5 ypg) and dead last in rushing (70.6 ypg). As a team, they are gaining just three yards per carry with Jerick McKinnon leading the way with 400 rushing yards. The lack of a ground game has put more pressure on Sam Bradford, who has 14 touchdown passes. The lack of offense has definitely caught up to Minnesota, which is averaging 16.1 points per game since its Week 6 bye. Not surprising, the Vikings are 2-7 during that stretch. With Green Bay’s offense averaging about 28 points per game over its last nine games, Bradford and company are going to have to figure out a way to put points on the board when they have the ball or for all practical purposes, their season will come to an end on Saturday.
3. Getting Defensive
With Peterson going down in Week 2 and the passing game struggling to find its footing, Minnesota has leaned heavily on its defense this season. And for the most part, that side of the ball has done its job, as the Vikings rank third in both total and passing defense and sixth in scoring. The defense also has scored three touchdowns with special teams chipping in three more scores. However, injuries have become a factor, as two defensive linemen are on injured reserve and safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Trae Waynes have both missed the past two games and are no guarantees to play in this one either.
Whether it’s the combined impact of these injuries or the long grind of the season taking its toll, Minnesota’s defense had its worst showing last week as the Colts came into U.S. Bank Stadium and routed the Vikings 34-6. Indianapolis’ points, total yards (411) and rushing yards (161) were the most Minnesota has given up this season. In addition, the defense didn’t produce a single takeaway and has just two in the last four games combined after coming up with 20 in the first 10. The Vikings rode their defense to a win over Green Bay in Week 2, but the Packers offense they faced back in September isn’t the same one that’s averaged nearly 30 points and 370 yards per game during their current four-game winning streak.
For Green Bay, defense has been an issue all season, particularly against the pass. But Minnesota isn’t a team that’s done a lot of damage throwing the football and has struggled to run it with any consistency — a bad combination. With the offense clicking and being at home, the Packers’ defense just needs to hold serve and not be the cure-all to what’s been ailing the Vikings’ offense.
It’s only fitting that these two teams meet at Lambeau Field in December with so much on the line. For all intents and purposes, it’s a must-win situation for both, but especially for Minnesota, who is eliminated from playoff contention with a loss. Green Bay has all the momentum and is very much a threat to wrest the NFC North away from Detroit, but first the Packers must take care of business at home.
Aaron Rodgers may be hampered by his hamstring/calf injuries, but it’s yet to really materialize on the field. The Vikings have had trouble generating offense all season and that doesn't figure to change, even against a fairly generous Green Bay defense. Although it will be cold, neither precipitation nor the wind should be a factor on Saturday. Rodgers, however, will be and with an assist from a rejuvenated running game, the Packers do their part to set up a potential winner-take-all matchup with Detroit on New Year’s Day.