It’s come to this. The 2-8 Vikings limp into Lambeau Field–led by a quarterback who’s playing by default–and enter the game as just four point underdogs. Four. How the mighty have fallen.
The Packers return home playing a November game that is an absolute must win. It’s sounding more and more like we need to get comfortable with the idea of Scott Tolzien playing quarterback. I don’t see Aaron Rodgers suddenly healed in time to play on Thanksgiving Day (I’m not even certain they’ll suit him up ten days later against Atlanta).
If the Packers want to show any ‘wait till we get to the post-season swagger,’ it has to show itself on Sunday. Splitting the next two games would necessitate a 4-0 December just to get to 10-6. But if that isn’t good enough to win the North, the Pack will miss the playoffs. That record won’t get you a wildcard berth in the NFC this year.
Let’s face it, the Lions look poised to end their five game losing streak (and 15 out of 16) to the Pack. Even with Rodgers, this was going to be a tough game to win. The Lions have not been that great at home, losing to the Bengals and needing last second heroics to beat the Cowboys), but the Pack’s defense of late has given us no confidence that it will slow Megatron on the national stage this time around.
Back to the Vikings. This is a team that has ended the debate about whether 2012 was the real thing or the exception to the rule. They’ve been lousy three of the last four seasons and are in store for a massive retooling. That said, this is the one game left on their schedule that will have them focused. As Jared Allen said, if we’re not going anywhere we may as well try to make sure they aren’t either.
But the Vikings have plenty of issues they’re dealing with. The offensive line has regressed big time, and will likely be without center John Sullivan on Sunday. The biggest story on that side of the ball is Adrian Peterson’s sore groin, which has removed the burst from his lethal arsenal. On a day where the temperature will barely leak into the 20s, it’s hard to believe he will be a major factor.
That means the Packers need to prevent Ponder from making any big plays. Looks like the Pack will be short-handed at corner, with Shields not having practiced this week and Hyde resting a groin on Thursday (we already know Hayward is out). Greg Jennings will play with his sore achilles–it will be interesting to see how he handles his emotions. He hasn’t handled them well off the field–you can bet the fans will let him have it all day long. More importantly, the Pack needs to tackle like they did last Sunday. Their biggest weapon will likely be Cordarelle Patterson, both as a receiver and a return guy. Gotta wrap him up.
They also must get a better pass rush on Ponder than they got on Eli. That will lead to stupid decisions and interceptions. Tramon Williams needs to play like he did last Sunday and lead his banged up corners and win these matchups.
Offensively, I expect the Pack to soar. The Vikings were terrible at corner before injuries and now they’ll be trotting out Chris Cook and rookie Xavier Rhodes to start, with Marcus Sherels at the nickel. Look for McCarthy and Scott Tolzien to exploit these guys early, then look for Eddie Lacy and James Starks to get a lot of work as the Packers offense looks like it did about a month ago when the team was winning four straight.
It’s simple. This is a game the Packers need to dominate. This is a game that needs to provide some momentum for a giant division game four games later. Lose this one somehow and the playoffs start on Thursday.
Packers 31 Vikings 21