Coming off one of their worst regular-season losses in recent memory, the Green Bay Packers look to get on track at home against the rival Minnesota Vikings. Fresh off getting trounced 38-10 at the hands of the Giants, Green Bay is in a standard trap game looking for their eighth win on the season. Even with the recent history between the Vikes and the Pack (GB 4-0 in last four games), Green Bay can't afford to lose this game if they want to lead the race for the playoffs.
Although entering Sunday's game as the severe underdog (+9.5), Minnesota remains one of the league's biggest surprises given their competitive 6-5 record. Lots of playoff implications in this game, and it shouldn't disappoint fans.
Even with a poor performance last week against New York, Rodgers remains the league leader in passer rating. His 105.6 remains above his historic 104.4 career average, and he's had to produce this year without a stable or effective offensive line.
Green Bay has been hampered by injuries, and it's apparent on their protective unit, as their own backups are undrafted rookies. Rodgers averaged almost 300 yards in their 2011 matchups, and combined for seven TDs.
Even though Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield is in line for another Pro Bowl appearance, the Pack receiving attack will gain another weapon with the return of wide receiver Greg Jennings.
With the return of one of the team leaders, Green Bay once again has one of the league's most talented receiver trios in Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. I see this group pushing closer to 200 yards and two TDs. Who knows, maybe tight end Jermichael Finley can get on track or wide receiver James Jones could surprise given his career revival.
For all their offensive successes, the Packers have yet to establish a running game in 2012. I don't see the Packers (especially without Cedric Benson, who recently opted for surgery) running over the NFC with the likes of Alex Green and James Starks in the backfield. I don't see either one getting past 50 on the ground; the Pack will only surpass 100 total yards if Rodgers has a 20-plus-yard scramble. Expect the league-average Viking defense to shine against the run and improve its season averages.
There is no secret to the Vikings' offense: The "ground-n-pound" mentality with running back Adrian Peterson continues to be successful. Peterson leads the league in rushing and could get close to 100 yards. Against most teams, I would expect Peterson to have a bigger game, but the Vikings will be behind early and be forced to use quarterback Christian Ponder early and more frequently.
The Packers have one of the worst performing secondaries in the league, but Ponder has been prone to turnovers and mistakes in his young career. With just a 13:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Ponder has a lot room to improve. If the Vikings want any chance of succeeding, their quarterback will have to play above his level, even without wide receiver Percy Harvin.
If Rodgers and co. have their way against the Packers, things could get ugly fast. Jared Allen may be a beast, but he doesn't play all 11 defensive positions for the Vikings. Once the dusts settle, I see the Packers winning 33-17 and maintaining their edge on the NFC Wild Card.