San Francisco Here We ComePosted:Jan 4th, 2013 4:21 pm
It's been an unprecedented week for those of us who live in the belly of the Border Battle. The Vikings fired the opening salvo early Sunday evening and after six days of rest, recuperation and preparation, the two teams are ready to play for their playoff lives on Saturday night. The trash talking has been constant and mostly good spirited among the fans here in the Twin Cities.
It's time to zero in on the wildcard matchup and what will be different this time around. Let's start with personnel: the Vikings will have the same 45 active: the injuries to watch are Antoine Winfield's hand and Christian Ponder's elbow. Winfield will start and we'll watch and see how he handles it as the game goes on. Everything changed when he exited last Sunday. Rodgers was surgeon-like and found little resistance as he carved them up. Ponder will also start--but will he finish? If he gets hit on that elbow again, we may have a Joe Webb sighting.
What's different for the Pack? They get Randall Cobb, Alex Green and Charles Woodson back. Cobb's presence is impossible to overstate. Whether or not he handles returns, having him back at the slot and in the backfield makes the offense so much more dynamic. It looks like all four of the Pack's top four WRs will be active and ready: something we haven't seen since the opener. Green should be back in the mix in the backfield, sharing time with DuJuan Harris. He was very solid in the teams' first meeting at Lambeau.
As for Woodson, his presence presents the biggest question mark leading into this game. With Hayward's play in the slot making him impossible to take off the field, Woodson appears set to line up mainly at safety. How many plays can he handle? He hasn't tackled anyone in ten weeks. If anyone can step back in after that kind of layoff and make some plays, it's Woodson. But it seems far-fetched to believe he will be a difference-maker. Expect Capers to move him around and show Ponder some looks he hasn't seen in the first two matchups.
Let's face it. We know the Packers can score 24-30 points in their sleep. The home crowd will make it easier to run no huddle and Rodgers has been waiting 12 months to avenge last year's playoff shocker (a game where turnovers and drops by the offense were as much to blame as anything).
This game will come down to how the defense adjusts to what Adrian Peterson has done to them in the past five weeks. AP has been getting most of his yardage after initial contact. The back seven has to understand that you have to hit him low and prevent him from bouncing things outside. The truth is, he's had a historic season and will likely continue to get his yards. What has to change this week is the performance of #7.
Ponder pitched a near perfect game last Sunday and some of that had to do with Dom Capers' decision to blitz less than in the first meeting. The kid is pretty mobile and seems most comfortable when he rolls right and looks for his tight end. I think he's in for a much rougher go this time around. I expect his passer rating to be roughly half of the 120 he posted last Sunday.
This time around the Packers own all the intangibles. The Vikings celebrated Sunday night after earning a playoff spot. It's awfully tough to come back six days later and try to match that emotion and do it against the same team you just beat. The Packers wanted to win last week--no question. But they take the field Saturday night, knowing this is the playoffs--the season's on the line. You will see a more urgent performance from the opening kickoff.
The Pack needs to get off to a much quicker start, take a lead and tempt the Vikings to throw more than they want to. As I said leading up to the Bears game, I think the defense rises and makes a statement in this one. AP will get his, but Ponder won't. Feels like a double digit, statement-to-the-rest-of-the-NFC-field kind of score:
Packers 31 Vikings 13