Pack Will Pick a Peck of Ponder Passes and Send Vikes Packin'Posted:Dec 28th, 2012 3:24 am
It's such a big game that it demands a name. Vikings fans would like to refer to it as "Round One," hoping against hope that there will be a rematch at Lambeau the following weekend. Packer fans would prefer to call it "Swatting a Gnat," seeing it as a minor annoyance that must be dealt with before the postseason begins.
In reality, it's the biggest game in the rivalry since the old gun-slingin' texter was wearing purple. The Vikes' impressive road wins in St. Louis and Houston the past two weeks have given them control over their playoff destiny and Vikings fans couldn't be any giddier if Ragnar let them ride shotgun on a road trip to Bemidji.
From their perspective, they have the Packers right where they want them. In their precious teflon-coated play land where the grass is fake and the beer is as weak as Christian Ponder's arm. They've spent the week dreaming about the ultimate three hours: the Vikings spring the upset to set up the rematch and Adrian Peterson runs wild, leaving Eric Dickerson in his dust.
Time for a reality check: the Vikings do own one intangible in this matchup. This is a playoff game for them and they will be playing with their season on the line. The Packers know they have earned no worse than the #3 seed and need to match the urgency of the Vikes.
Both teams will have players back who missed the first matchup. For the Vikes, cornerback Chris Cook returns and strengthens the secondary, lessening the reliance on rookies. For the Pack, the return of Clay Matthews changes everything. If CJ Wilson can play Green Bay gets two key run stoppers back to make things a little more difficult for #28.
As I write this, I have no idea whether Randall Cobb will be active. The team plans to test his ankle and knee on Saturday, but you get the feeling Cobb may sit this one out. It does look like Jordy Nelson will return from his hamstring injury, giving Aaron Rodgers his favorite big play receiver back. Alex Green will also return, having passed the concussion protocols and returning to practice.
The key to this game will be the play of the Pack's offensive line. This will be the first Metrodome start for Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith. They will be challenged to remain disciplined and avoid pre-snap penalties. Then they need to keep Rodgers vertical. Jared Allen is always dangerous at home and Eversen Griffin has emerged as a playmaker of late. Defensive end Brian Robison's status is up in the air--he missed last week and has been limited in practice this week.
The Pack rushed for 152 yards in the first meeting and will look for similar success on Sunday. With Alex Green back, Mike McCarthy said he will go with the hot hand. The guess here is Green gets the bulk of the carries, but I see the Packers offense doing most of their damage through the air this time around.
It comes down to Rodgers' incredible track record in domes. That's where the Packers have the vital edge. He's put up 64 points in his last two games in Minneapolis and likes nothing more than moments like this to silence the fans (the ones not wearing green and gold, that is).
Ponder will have to make some plays through the air to win this game and I don't see it happening. The secondary is playing at an elite level right now: Sam Shields has been terrific since returning, giving the team three terrific cover guys. They will have no trouble with the Vikes' pedestrian receiving corps.
The disappointing part about taking care of business at Metrodome is the unfortunate side effect: a Bears win would put them in the playoffs as the #6 seed. Imagine how difficult it will be for Bears fans to chant, "Go Pack Go" while they watch the game. Papa Bear Halas will be spinning in his grave.
It probably won't be easy. Our hearts may be in our throats for a while. But the Packers will make it six straight wins over the Vikes and will sweep the division for a second straight season. Who knows, in this crazy, what will happen next season, it may even be a Mason Crosby field goal that wins it.
Packers 24 Vikings 20