Step right up, Vikings. It’s your turn. For the third straight season the Packers will face a divisional foe with the North up for grabs. First the Bears, last year the Lions and now the Purple. The Pack are two for two and are favored to complete the trifecta Sunday night at Lambeau.
But how can we possibly know which Packer team will show up? They return to the frozen tundra, tail between their legs, after their most lopsided loss of the McCarthy-Rodgers era. You’d expect them to come in focused, embarrassed and angry.
The vengeful Vikings will also take the field with plenty of emotion. Their 17-point loss to the Pack still stings: in a showcase game they played like pretenders. But they’ve rebounded of late, tangling with Arizona till the final play and taking care of business at home the past two weeks in convincing fashion. Mike Zimmer has yet to beat the Packers in three tries. That gnaws at him and the players know it.
Chad Greenway said earlier this week there’s an intimidation factor when it comes to playing the Packers. His team is 4-15-1 against them since he joined the team and 1-10-1 in the last 12. Zimmer must cringe when he hears that. He’s trying to build a culture where his team is on the other side of the intimidation factor. He’s on his way to accomplishing that. But he’s not there yet.
What a strange season. The Packers swept through the division on the road, but face the prospect of getting shut out by all three at home, if they fall to the Vikes. It would be just the fourth time that’s ever happened, the last in 1991 (the last season BB–before Brett).
As I write this on Wednesday morning, I don’t know the status of the three Packers whose availability will go a long way in determining my confidence level in this game. In order, the Pack could use left tackle David Bakhtiari, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and corner Sam Shields back. Shields’ return is less vital in my opinion because the Vikings’ passing attack remains pedestrian. Yes, Teddy has played very well the last three games, but they remain a run first team that will win or lose depending on how well the Pack handles Adrian Peterson and the rushing attack.
Getting the tackles back is paramount, in light of the beating Aaron Rodgers took last Sunday. The Cardinals came into the game with one of the league’s top defenses, but pass rush was not their strength, which is why they plucked veteran Dwight Freeney off the street a couple of months ago. His throwback performance against the Pack earned him player of the week honors.
The Vikings come in with a better pass rush and if Don Barclay is asked to play left tackle and (likely) JC Tretter is asked to fill in on the right side, the Pack could be in for a world of hurt.
Clearly, the recipe to continue the dominance over the Vikings is to run the ball. Eddie Lacy has rushed for at least 100 yards every time he’s played the Vikings. But we all know what kind of season it’s been for Lacy. Expect him to rise up and deliver another strong performance in a big spot. It will be interesting to see if James Starks is given a chance to redeem himself, after four fumbles in December. I imagine we’ll see Minneapolis native John Crockett get some run to spell Lacy, with Starks only used if needed.
The defense did a terrific job on Peterson in the first matchup and you know he’ll be itching for another crack at the Pack, especially with the NFL rushing title on the line. Needless to say, containing AD is assignment number one whenever you line up against the Purple.
Lots of ramifications coming out of this game, obviously. The winner is the NFC North champ and the #3 seed. Should Seattle lose at Arizona (and I assume they will, since the Cards have more on the line than the ‘Hawks), they will fall to the #6 seed and will meet the winner of this game. The loser heads to Washington. Count me among those that would much prefer to win the division and host a wildcard game, even against the hated Seahawks.
The 2016 schedule is also impacted heavily by this game. Win and the Pack gets Arizona at home and Carolina on the road next season. Lose and they host Seattle and head to Atlanta–quite a difference, at least the way things stand right now.
So I’m preparing for a 40-minute sense of deja vu on Thursday, when I head to Buffalo Wild Wings, Champlin to join KFAN’s Paul Allen for his “Friday Football Feast.” Just like leading up to the first meeting, Vikings fans will be booing and jawing at me about a changing of the guard in the North. And as usual, I’ll scoff at their rants and remind them that their team can’t seem to handle the Pack. Just ask their veteran linebacker: they’re intimidated.
Under the bright lights on Sunday night, with temperatures in the upper teens, will the Vikings grab their chance and finally delight their fans? That’s not how they roll.
Packers 24 Vikings 21