We’ve all been waiting for this since the schedule was released in April. When the Packers help christen the Purple Palace on Sunday night, it will be the dawn of a new era for Vikings football. Everything will feel new and different in the purple palace. One thing will remain the same: the result.
The Pack has won five of the last six in Minneapolis. They won in the Dome. They won at the Bank. Now they’ll win at the new bank. I don’t have any illusions that it will be easy. This game, on paper, is the toughest on the 2016 schedule. But everything changed when Teddy destroyed his knee on that fateful August day.
Yes, the Packers were favored in this game before the injury. The line has moved a point the Packers’ way as Sam Bradford prepares to make his purple debut. His presence can be looked at a number of ways. Obviously, the Pack has no video to study and Norv Turner will likely provide new looks that were kept in the playbook last week. On the other hand, Bradford has had very little time to learn the offense and work with the receivers–you have to believe Dom Capers will create all kinds of pre-snap chaos to confuse Bradford and keep him off balance. Matthews, Perry, Peppers and Jones will be attacking all night in passing situations. And the dude doesn’t exactly ooze mobility.
As always though, priority number one is containing Adrian Peterson, who got off to a very slow start in week one. How much of that was rust from an inactive preseason and how much was a still porous offensive line remains to be seen. What we do know is that the Pack’s run defense passed its first test in Jacksonville, holding TJ Yeldon to less than two yards per carry. They were fortunate to not have to deal with Chris Ivory, who spent the weekend in the hospital. Obviously, Peterson provides a much stiffer test than Yeldon, but the jury is still out on the Vikes’ offense. They couldn’t find the end zone in Nashville.
Vikings fans will tell you their team has a top five defense. The stats don’t bear that out just yet. Yes, they’re probably a top ten defense and as long as Coach Zim is in charge, defense will be this team’s identity. Historically, the Packers have had no trouble scoring points on this defense. Rodgers’ career numbers are through the roof against the Vikes–he’s carved them up for years.
But we all know the Pack’s offense hasn’t really clicked since the end of the 2014 season. It took a while to get cooking last week, but once Mike McCarthy pushed the tempo and went to no huddle in the second quarter, Rodgers and company looked like their old selves. It still looked like the receivers had a tough time getting open last week. Rodgers faced very little pass rush, yet still had a hard time finding guys.
Jordy Nelson should look a little more like himself after shaking off the rust last week and I expect tight end Jared Cook to be featured a lot more this week. The Vikings’ front seven is solid, but the secondary is still a question mark. Yes, Harrison Smith is an all pro, but there are plenty of questions at cornerback, where Xavier Rhodes seems unlikely to play, leaving the Vikes with the young and unproven (Waynes and Alexander) and the old (Newman and Mannerly). The Packers receivers should win most of these matchups.
The Packers will likely be without Sam Shields, who suffered his fifth concussion last week. Last year, a concussion cost him three games so this is something that will be monitored very closely. As I tweeted out earlier in the week, the Packers should be able to get by without him against this run-first team which doesn’t have a ton of speed at WR. Next week’s matchup against Detroit will be a different story.
The Pack is also without rookie corner Josh Hawkins, who’s out with a hammy. That leaves the team with Damarius Randall (the top rated corner in week 1 according to Pro Football Focus), Quentin Rollins and LaDarius Gunter. Not much depth at a position that seemed to have plenty of it a couple of weeks ago. Look for Micah Hyde to assist as needed, and Morgan Burnett played a little corner in the dime last week.
The Vikes will likely be without Rhodes, and left tackle Matt Kalil and DL Sharif Floyd haven’t practiced all week–those are all significant losses for the purple if they’re on the sidelines. For the Pack, Shields is obviously a big loss, but besides him the team comes in healthy, missing subs and special teams guys like Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.
Speaking of special teams, I see it as a wash. The Vikes have more dangerous returners, but the Packers have a much more solid and consistent kicking game. The Pack needs to contain Patterson and Sherels, especially on a night when their offense is likely to be pedestrian.
Last week the Vikings feasted on turnovers, scoring twice on defense. They won’t be able to rely on gifts like that on Sunday night–the Packers are consistently near the top of the league at protecting the football. Rodgers’ interception rate is best in league history.
So we have the best QB in the league against the league’s most overpaid and underperforming one; a former #1 pick who’s on his third team in seven seasons. And one who has had three weeks to digest a new offense and play catch with his receivers. The Vikes hope Adrian Peterson will awaken and be the difference, though he’s run very little behind this offensive line. The Packers’ defense looks to be much improved, with former #1s Nick Perry and Datone Jones off to a very promising start.
It will have all the pageantry you’d expect from the first game in a new stadium, in prime time; an early season division game that won’t decide anything, but will set an early tone in the North. We all know the Vikes are the defending division champs. Sunday night, the Pack takes the first step in winning it back.
Packers 27 Vikings 17