The Green Bay Packers did not get the bye week that they wanted to have in the 2012 postseason, but at least the Packers will be able to host a NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field.
The 11-5 and No. 3 seeded Packers will be taking on the 10-6 and No. 6 seeded Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night at the frozen tundra.
The Packers and Vikings split their 2012 season series at one game apiece, which included the 37-34 victory by the Vikings at the Humpty Dome in Minneapolis last Sunday.
That victory basically forced this game, as otherwise the Packers would have held on to the No. 2 seed and would be resting their walking wounded for a week. The Packers would have hosted a NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field next weekend (after a bye this week), if they had held onto the No. 2 seed.
But it is what it is now, and the Packers have to take care of business on Saturday night versus the Vikings. If the Packers win, they will head to San Fransisco to take on the 49ers on January 12th in a Divisional Playoff game.
The Packers have a number a keys to victory on Saturday night against the Vikings, and I'm listing five of them.
Aaron Rodgers is coming off a game last week against the Vikings where he threw four touchdowns, without a pick, for 365 yards. Rodgers also had a 131.8 quarterback rating in that game.
In addition to that, Rodgers had another fabulous season to back up his NFL MVP season in 2011 as he threw 39 touchdown passes, compared to just eight interceptions for 4,295 yards. Like last year, Rodgers also led the NFL in quarterback ratings with a 108.0 mark.
Rodgers matches up very well against Minnesota. Rodgers is 4-1 against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, plus has unbelievable stats versus the Vikes.
In his career, Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdown passes, versus just four picks, for 2,840 yards. That all adds up to a 116.8 career quarterback rating.
Expect more of the same on Saturday night.
Charles Woodson has missed nine games since he broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams on October 21st. The Green Bay medical staff has been very careful and conservative about putting Woodson back on the field until they are sure he is absolutely ready.
That time has finally come as Woodson has been cleared to play Saturday night against the Vikings.
Again, this collarbone injury is the second break Woodson has had in less than two years. The first collarbone break came late in the first half of Super Bowl XLV. It's much better to be safe now than be sorry later for rushing Woodson back.
Woodson should make the secondary much stronger. It appears that Woodson will take over the strong safety role that M.D. Jennings has had recently. It looks like rookie Casey Hayward will stay at the slot in the nickel scheme. Woodson used to have that role in the nickel, but Hayward has performed so well (six interceptions), that it appears Woodson will stay at strong safety, which is his position in the base defense as well.
Woodson also has a history against quarterback Christian Ponder of the Vikings. Woodson picked off Ponder twice last season in the game at Minneapolis. It's never a bad thing when you can add a player to your secondary with 55 career interceptions and 11 interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Woodson is also a better run defender as opposed to Jennings, and that is an important factor when Adrian Peterson is the running back you are facing.
The offensive line of the Packers has to come up big in two areas on Saturday night versus the Vikings.
First, they need to give Aaron Rodgers time to look down the field and check his reads. If that happens, Rodgers will light the Vikings up. History tells us that. Rodgers threw four touchdown passes against the Vikings just last week for 365 yards.
For his career, Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdown passes, versus just four picks, for 2,840 yards against the Vikes. Rodgers has a career 116.8 quarterback rating against Minnesota as well.
However, he was also sacked five times last week. Just imagine how Rodgers would have performed with better protection. One of those sacks also forced a fumble by Rodgers, which was recovered by the Vikings.
That was a key turnover in the 37-34 loss to the Vikings.
Right tackle Don Barclay had some issues in his pass protection against both Brian Robinson and Everson Griffen. Each had a sack against Barclay.
Griffen played both inside and outside rushing the passer and had three sacks overall.
Left tackle Marshall Newhouse did an adequate job against Jared Allen, who did have one sack.
Obviously, the line has to give Rodgers time to pass, but they must also continue to create rushing lanes in the run game too.
Last week, DuJuan Harris rushed 14 times for 70 yards (a 5.0 yard average) while in the first game the two teams played, the Packers rushed for 152 yards.
Since Evan Dietrich-Smith has taken over at center for Jeff Saturday in Week 16, the transition seems to have gone very smoothly, plus the run blocking has improved.
Bottom line, the Packers need to be balanced with their offensive attack on Saturday night, and the rate of success will depend upon how well the offensive line plays.
Adrian Peterson has pretty much had his way against the Packers in 2012. In two games, Peterson has rushed for 409 yards, rushed for two touchdowns and scored another touchdown via a pass reception.
The Packers need to really focus on Peterson on Saturday night and become physical at the point of the attack when trying to tackle Peterson. Too many times, the Packers had Peterson seemingly stopped only to see "All Day" bounce out and go off on a long run.
There were too many arm tackle attempts when trying to bring down Peterson instead of squaring up and being physical. The Packers seemed to be in the right gaps on some of the long runs by Peterson, but the potential tacklers did not use the proper technique in stopping him.
The Packers should be helped by the addition of Charles Woodson to the Green Bay defense, as he is a better run defender than M.D. Jennings.
The Packers don't need to have the same type of day like they had against Barry Sanders in the 1994 Wild Card Playoff Game at Lambeau Field, when the Packers held Sanders to a career-low minus-1 yard, but they need to stop "All Day" from having a big day.
The Packers did hold Peterson to just 51 yards rushing last season at Lambeau, so Green Bay does have a recent history of success against Peterson.
Bottom line, even though quarterback Christian Ponder had some success last week versus the Packers via the pass, the Vikings are still a run-first team (ranked 31st in passing offense in the NFL), and stopping/controlling Peterson will go a long way in getting a victory.
It wasn't that long ago, when the Packers had a perfect 13-0 mark in the postseason in Wisconsin. That included two victories in Milwaukee as well as 11 at Lambeau Field.
The Packers won three NFL Championship games (1961, 1965 & 1967) at Lambeau Field, plus the 1996 NFC Championship game there as well.
The Packers have played five more postseason games at Lambeau since that game, and have lost three more times, including once to the Minnesota Vikings, their opponent on Saturday night.
That game was in the 2004 postseason, when the Vikings beat the Packer 31-17—which included the infamous Randy Moss "mooning" incident after he caught his second touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Brett Favre did not have one of his better playoff games either, as he threw four interceptions.
Lambeau Field needs get back its aura of invincibility in the postseason like it had in the Mike Holmgren-era, when the Packers were a perfect 5-0 and won by an average margin of 14.6 points.
That needs to happen again on Saturday night.
The last time the Vikings played a night game at Lambeau Field was last season, and the crowd was electric.
The Packers felt that energy and ended up whipping the Vikings 45-7. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns, the defense of the Packers held Adrian Peterson to 51 yards rushing and Clay Matthews sacked Christian Ponder twice.
I don't expect the same score on Saturday night, but I do expect the same energy.