Rodgers vs.Vikings D Is Worth the Price of Admission

OK, here we go. The Packers are in town for the first of two visits to US Bank Stadium this season, facing a Vikings team that's talented, but not quite ready for prime time (as we witnessed on Monday night, despite the narrow victory).

Injuries are always the great equalizer in the NFL and for the Vikes, the loss of Cook and Bradford knocks them out of the category "borderline playoff team." So far, Case Keenum has handled the quarterback job fairly well, doing nothing spectacular but avoiding killer mistakes. The combo of Murray and McKinnon is average and for the Pack's defense, a welcome respite from the recent task of stopping Zeke.

The offensive line has been better than expected, so it will be interesting to see how the Packers do in getting heat on Keenum. With the injuries to the secondary, a strong pass rush will be vital on Sunday. I would expect Dom Capers to show Keenum plenty of exotic blitz looks, to mask the problems on the back end. As I write this, neither Morgan Burnett nor Kevin King have practiced this week, so their availability is definitely in question. I give King a better chance; he's in the concussion protocol, but was on the sidelines watching on Thursday. Let's see if he's in uniform on Friday. If Burnett can't go, we'll get our first good look at Josh Jones, who has shown glimpses of greatness in his limited snaps.

Of course the real question marks are at cornerback and dealing with Diggs and Thielen. Diggs has a sore groin and hasn't practiced this week, but it sounds like he'll be in uniform on Sunday. If King's out, House and Randall will likely be called on to handle that emerging duo. The coaches seem to be regaining some trust in Rollins, so we'll see if he gets the nickel snaps, or whether Hawkins is out there. The pass defense was subpar against the Cowboys, but part of that was due to Dak's ability to extend plays. Keenum won't hold on to the ball nearly as long, which should benefit the Pack's corners.

The strength vs. strength matchup clashes when the Packers have the ball. For me, the key this weekend is David Bakhtiari's availability. If he returns (after missing the last four games) and the five OL starters are on the field together for the first time this season, Rodgers and company should be able to win this matchup. This is the third tough road test this season, so the offense is already battle-tested. The emergence of Aaron Jones last week will force the Vikes' defense to respect the running game and that should allow Rodgers to operate as efficiently and effectively as he has all season.

Unlike the offense, the Vikings' defense comes in healthy and those pass rushers are itching for their opportunity to slow the national Rodgers love-fest. Even if Bakhtiari and Bulaga are both out there, they'll have their hands full with Griffin, Hunter and Robison. Lookfor Rodgers and Cobb to be the go-to matchup--the Vikings are vulnerable in the middle of the field. The tight ends figure to be productive as well.

I went in to last week's game looking at the two tough road tests and hoping for no worse than a split. Now, of course, I want the sweep. The Pack catch the Vikes on a short week and with a backup QB--that's why they're three point favorites on the road. The place will be rocking and the Vikings come in as the more desperate team: a second division loss at home would derail their chances at competing in the North.

The Packers are hot, confident and ready to make it 6-2 over the last eight visits to Minneapolis. See ya again in February.

Packers 24 Vikings 17

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