Game Preview: Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings vie for playoff position at Mall of America Field
This is it! This is the long-anticipated contest that will decide playoff fates up and down the NFC North and could send shockwaves through the rest of the NFC.
For the first time since 1996, the Green Bay Packers (11-4) and Minnesota Vikings (9-6) meet on a week in which they both have at least nine wins. Assuming the Chicago Bears (9-6) defeat the Detroit Lions (4-11) in the early game, they will be waiting on tenterhooks for the outcome of this contest, which has been flexed to the late-afternoon time slot. The Packers currently hold the No. 2 seed. If they win, they nail down a first-round playoff bye, and the Chicago Bears become the sixth seed. On the other hand, if they Vikings pull the upset, they secure the sixth seed and knock the Bears out of the playoffs.
The Packers have won a franchise-record 12 consecutive NFC North games, shattering their previous record of eight and tying the post-2002-realignment league record with the Indianapolis Colts (2004-06) and Baltimore Ravens (2010-12). With a win today, they would become the first team in league history to sweep its division two years in a row.
They have tied a franchise record by winning at least 10 games in each of the past fours seasons. Moreover, they have posted a winning record in the division for seven consecutive seasons, another franchise record; only the New England Patriots have matched that accomplishment. They have won 11 of their past 15 regular-season road games, including five straight in the division, and 28 of their past 33 regular-season games overall, the best record in the league.
Finally, they have won nine of their past ten games. Only the Denver Broncos have won more games in that span.
Can Crosby connect?
Placekicker Mason Crosby is listed as Probable with an illness. The cynic might wonder — if only in the private recesses of his mind — whether the Packers might have been better off with Crosby on the bench. Crosby has had one of the worst seasons of any kicker in recent memory. He has missed 12 of his 31 field goal attempts, including two from 30-39 yards, three from 40-49 yards, and seven from 50 yards or beyond. These statistics are all the more incredible given that as of today, the Packers will have played a total of five indoor games this season, most ever in franchise history.
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach, television commentator Jimmy Johnson, recently expressed incredulity that Crosby is still on the roster, stating that when he was coaching, he considered kickers more or less as interchangeable parts. For his part, head coach Mike McCarthy has steadfastly maintained that Crosby is not going anywhere.
Hopefully for McCarthy’s sake, his confidence is being rewarded, as Crosby does seem to have turned things around recently, making all four of his field goal attempts in the past two weeks, including two from beyond 40 yards. If an untimely miss by Crosby were to cost the Packers a first-round bye — or worse, a playoff game — McCarthy will come under some intense and deserved scrutiny.
Stopping All Day
Running back Adrian Peterson is undeniably one of the most outstanding athletes in the league. In fact, he’s so good, he’s seriously considering trying out for the 2016 Summer Olympics and challenging world-record holder Usain Bolt. In all likelihood, though, competing in the Olympics at his age is nothing more than a pipe dream.
What’s not wishful thinking, is that Peterson has a legitimate shot at NFL history this week. Peterson needs just 102 rushing yards today to become only the seventh player in league history to break 2,000 yards. He is also 208 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season record, a milestone Dickerson himself has frankly admitted he hopes Peterson does not reach.
If recent history is any indication, this is the perfect week for him to make his bid for glory. The last time these two teams met in Week 13, Peterson broke free for 210 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, an incredible 10 ypc average. He also added a reception for another 10 yards.
He will have a tougher go of it this, week, though. Linebacker Clay Matthews III, who is almost as good against the run as he is at pressuring the passer, is back in the lineup and has been dominant the past two weeks. Also, defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) was a full participant in practice Friday and is listed as Probable for the game. He should help shore up Green Bay’s run defense, which has given up an average of 111.9 yards per game (14th in the league).
Cobbling together an offense
Next only to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the best offensive player the Packers have is wide receiver Randall Cobb. Fans everywhere cringed when he left last week’s blowout against the Tennessee Titans with an ankle injury. He is listed as Questionable on the injury report. McCarthy hasn’t made it clear whether he’ll summon all hands on deck as the Packers look to secure that first-round bye, or if he’ll let Cobb sit.
His decision might be made easier by the fact that wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is Probable to go, but Nelson just isn’t the multidimensional threat that Cobb has proven himself to be. Greg Jennings hasn’t been a major factor in the game plan since returning from an abdominal injury. Perhaps this will be the week Green Bay showcases him as he prepares to hit free agency.
Running back Alex Smith (concussion) and tight end Tom Crabtree (hamstring) are also listed as Probable. It will be interesting to see if Smith and fellow back DuJuan Harris can get to the outside of Minnesota’s 4-3 defensive line. Crabtree is known as a punishing blocker and will help to open holes for the run game.
Incidentally, veteran center Jeff Saturday (neck/shoulder) is also listed as Probable, but it’s not clear if he will play one week after being benched in favor of backup Evan Dietrich-Smith. The line seemed to perform better with Dietrich-Smith in the lineup, so McCarthy may want to go with the formation that works.
Even though the Vikings arguably have more to play for in this game — a playoff berth and a shot at immortality for Adrian Peterson — it’s hard to pick against the Packers right now. No NFC team has been hotter in the second half of the season. Even though Green Bay hasn’t been particularly dominant in any one phase of the game, they seem to have found a winning combination. They’ve been unbeatable in the division lately, and Mike McCarthy has them playing well in December. The Packers have won nine consecutive season finales dating back to 2003, the longest current streak in the NFL.
But the real issue is that the Vikings don’t seem to have any weapons besides Peterson. If 210 rushing yards against a depleted defense wasn’t enough to get the job done, it’s hard to see the Vikings pulling out a win this time.
Final score: Packers 27, Vikings 17
About the author
@AtlFalconsfan0125 losing at home, with #1 seed on the line? The criticism of Atlanta losing playoff games is justified at the moment
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Lovie Smith's postgame address- "We needed this win. our true stars and leaders really showed up for us today. Without question, we needed everyone's contribution for the W today. The game ball was definitely earned by the one guy who's redzone scoring could not be stopped. Olindo Mare gets the game ball"
Rourke is occupied today. Not sure when he will be on.
@Euthanize This Bears Offense Already prolly getting his knob polished
Tell that asshole to get a move on!
dear Bears just cause your kicker can actually make his FGs doesn't mean you shouldn't TRY to score TDs
Jay Cutler just batted down his own pass. Because even Jay Cutler hates Jay Cutler.
@natradamus @Maized and Confused @Houndog I got a DUI when I still lived in WI and had to go to DUI school. The female State Patrol officer that taught the class asked :Have you ever driven home and not remembered it"? My response was "Hell, I can't even remember how many times I can't remember"! She was NOT amused.
@Maized and Confused yeah the only redeaming part of that movie was when Poison Ivy first crawled out of the rubble, that was by far the best Uma Thurman has ever looked
@Maized and Confused i might do a Batman spectacular and watch all of them, the Keaton ones, through the new ones, even Batman and Robin (ok maybe not that one but still)
@Houndog that's what i do every year, i might have a few friends over but nothing spectacular
@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. he only need 36 more- I think to get 2K
@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. *he already has the record darling*
@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. but he broke the single season record last week sweetheart
Not with Stafford targeting the opposite team all game.