On paper, this one shouldn't be close. But in this rivalry, it's usually close, regardless of the records or state of the teams involved. This is meeting number 100 in this great rivalry and the Packers hold a slim 50-48-1 edge.
The teams couldn't possibly be moving in more divergent directions. Since the meeting at Lambeau, the Vikings lost at New England (thanks to a second half defensive collapse), made an improbable comeback at home to beat the terrible Cardinals and completely fell flat in a loss at Soldier Field. Oh, and along the way they cut Randy Moss and had a near insurrection in the locker room against the coach, whose job is dangling by a thread.
Meanwhile the Pack registered maybe the signature win of the Mike McCarthy era, a 9-0 shutout at the Jets and completely dismantled a Cowboys team that proceeded to blow out the Giants in New York. Add in the fact that they've had two weeks to heal and scheme for the Vikings and they're feeling pretty good as they attempt to keep pace with the feisty Bears.
Are there reasons to worry? Sure:
1. The obvious one. Yes, he's ranked 31st in Passer Rating in the league. He has 21 turnovers. He's beat up, is not confident in his line nor his receivers and may hear from the Commissioner in the next week. But he lives for moments like these: when everyone's doubting him and it looks bleak. You always have to be worried about #4, because he can resurrect some old tricks at any moment.
2. The 'backs against the wall' theory: You know the drill. Season's on the line. Need to win out to have a chance. This team is made up of veterans, double digit Pro Bowlers, many of whom have been told, in no uncertain terms, that this will be their last year with the Vikings. Do they band together and play like it's their last game? Or is the locker room so fractured that the first turnover will result in the "resignation" that beat writer Judd Zulgad noticed on many of their faces at Soldier Field?
3. #28. The Packers could not stop the Vikings' running game in the first meeting at Lambeau and Peterson has had some huge games against the Pack at the Dome. He got nothing going at Soldier Field last week and you have to think extra attention has been paid to the running game in practice this week. At Lambeau, the Packers played with just one healthy D lineman, B.J. Raji. Cullen Jenkins was injured in the pre-game, after the roster was submitted, and Ryan Pickett went out early with an ankle injury. That contributed mightily to the 196 rushing yards the Vikings accumulated. If Peterson cracks the century mark, the Purple will have a chance.
Ah, but there are more reasons to relax:
1. The offense seems to be finding its groove. Despite the loss of the tight ends and Donald Driver, the Packers moved the ball with ease against the Cowboys (for some reason, Eli and the Giants had a tough time). The two weeks to game plan for Rodgers and the offense should provide some new wrinkles and I expect precision against a porous Vikings secondary. Their pass rush awoke against Derek Anderson and the Cardinals in their last game, but that was Derek Anderson and the Cardinals.
2. The Packers defense is quickly becoming the identity of this team. They enter the game #1 in the NFL in points allowed, averaging 15.9 per game and have given up 7 points total in the past two games. With the D-line expected to return intact, the strong inside linebacker play by Hawk and Bishop, the rare pass rushing ability of Matthews and the coverage by Woodson, Williams and the secondary, this unit is making plays. They're getting off the field on third down and they're creating turnovers. Did I mention that Favre has turned the ball over 21 times in nine games?
3. Mike McCarthy knows how to coach his team on bye week. He's a perfect 4-0 against the spread in games coming out of the bye, the only coach with a perfect record in at least four games. The Packers are favored by three points. You do the math.
4. Turnovers: The Pack leads the league, scorin 80 points off turnovers and have forced the fifth most in the league. Meanwhile the Vikings have turned it over 23 times, fourth worst in the league. Vikings' weakness, meet Packers' strength.
5. Crowd Factor: Bryan Bulaga has been schooled over the past two weeks about how noisy the Dome can be. They pump in artificial noice and ride around on motorcycles. This is the one game the fans wait for to boo their championship-laden neighbors to the east. But they are also bandwagon jumpers and many of them are poised to jump off and let the coach have it. If the Packers score first and get a 7-10 point lead, the fans will turn on this team and "Fire Childress" will echo through Dome, possibly to be drowned out by "Please Keep Childress" chants from Packer fans. I expect 15-20,000 Cheeseheads minimum in the Dome on Sunday.
6. The three teams the Vikings have beaten this season, all at home, have a combined record of 7-20. They're stepping up in class on Sunday.
It feels like this game goes one of two ways: Either the Packers win a laugher, or it's a one possession game. I get the sneaky suspicion it will be the latter, but turnovers tilt it the Packers' way.
Make it Pack 24 Vikings 17.
Listen to "Packer Preview" Sunday at 8am at kfan.com Wayne Larrivee will join me at around 8:30.
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