The NFL playoffs begin this weekend, and Saturday night will feature an epic battle between two NFC North foes—the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.
These opponents split the regular-season series, and will now use this upcoming wild-card matchup to determine the winner of the rubber match.
It’s going to a be a wild ride, so buckle your seat belt and keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this showdown, including where to watch it, who is injured, players to keep an eye on, a prediction of the outcome and much more.
When: Saturday, January 5 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
Live Stream: NBCSports.com
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Betting Line: Green Bay -8, Over/Under 46 (via ScoresandOdds.com)
Key Injuries (via ESPN)
S Harrison Smith, QST, Shoulder
CB Antoine Winfield, QST, Hand
WR Jerome Simpson, Head
WR Jordy Nelson, PRB, Hamstring
S Charles Woodson, Playing, Shoulder
RB James Starks, QST, Knee
WR Randall Cobb, QST, Ankle
Vikings Player to Watch: Adrian Peterson
AP wound up nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record, but that should only further motivate him against this NFC North rival on Saturday.
It was these very Packers that didn’t allow him the nine yards needed to break the record. It was this team that tried its hardest to eliminate the Vikings, but failed, in Week 17.
Now the Purple People Eaters will get a third crack at the Pack, and Peterson will spearhead the charge. If you think he was running hard in the season finale, you have yet to see All Day in the playoffs.
Just take a peak at his highlight video from the 2009 campaign, and realize that this year’s version of Peterson is much stronger, more violent and effective.
Packers Player to Watch: Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers had a “down year” by some accounts, but the elite QB still finished 2012 by completing 371 of 552 pass attempts for 4,295 yards, 39 TDs and just eight interceptions.
Those are sterling numbers and the only thing to complain about is that the number of quality passers around the league increased. Regardless, Rodgers is still in the upper echelon of signal-callers and will be a nightmare for this Minny secondary to deal with.
Expect the Green Bay QB to spread the ball around, make pinpoint passes and constantly air it out against a shaky, banged-up corps of defensive backs.
Key Matchup: Packers O-line vs. Vikings D-line
The outcome of this one is going to be decided in the trenches.
Because Minnesota brought down Rodgers for five sacks last week, we expect Green Bay’s coaching staff to work on adjustments and tweaks to the line to better protect the quarterback.
However, the Packers may not have the personnel to stop a pass rush that features Jared Allen and a number of other underrated players.
One way they can throw the Vikes off is by pounding the ball on the ground consistently, as center Evan Dietrich-Smith and guard Josh Sitton are absolute maulers that love to run block.
It’ll be interesting to see the strategies both sides employ for their linemen.
Prediction: Vikings 30 – Packers 27
Which team will win?
This is going to be a knockdown-dragout battle between two of the biggest rivals in the NFL, and we’re not sure anyone will be able to predict who is left standing when the dust settles.
However, because the Vikings have the momentum and are coming off an emotional victory, we are backing them to ride that wave into a second straight win.
Not many expect to see Minnesota in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, but it’s a distinct possibility come Saturday night.