Minnesota forced its way into the playoffs last week with a home victory against the Pack. However, Green Bay won the division. Like their other games, Saturday will feature Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson running wild on the Packers defense, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will complete a ridiculously high percentage of his passes and ultimately, the home team will win by the final score of 34-16.
While Adrian Peterson had a brilliant Week 17 against this same defense, his 199 yards last week weren’t the difference maker. Young quarterback Christian Ponder finally had a good game, as he completed 16-of-28 for 234 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Despite averaging 106.2 yards in his career at Lambeau Field, Peterson has won just one game with the Vikings on the Packers' home field. While the Packers have let Peterson compile gaudy numbers in the past, they have always seemed to come out on top.
While those are ludicrous averages against an opponent, I don't believe the Vikings will have the time to dedicate to heavy running; they would run out of time.
Green Bay recently has shut down the Vikings and the rest of their divisional rivals; last week’s loss was just their first in the last two seasons against NFC North opponents.
While Ponder had a great game this past Sunday, I expect him to replicate numbers closer to those he accumulated in their December 2nd loss. Ponder completed under half of his attempts and threw two interceptions in that 23-14 loss at Lambeau. In his career against the Green and Gold, he has thrown for just three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Green Bay’s Rodgers has been the polar opposite of Ponder; he’s again in MVP discussion after this past season and has 16 touchdowns to one interception in his last five games against Minnesota.
Though he’s expected to get little help from the run game (no back gained over 500 yards this season), Rodgers looked confident in throwing to returning wide receiver Greg Jennings. Though he finished the season ranked fifth on his own team in receptions (36) because of injury, Jennings had a solid game last week recording eight receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Rodgers finished the season with 4,295 passing yards and a 39:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also added 259 yards rushing and increased his total touchdown mark by two.
Minnesota's lockdown cornerback Antoine Winfield is questionable for this game, but I doubt he would make a huge difference against this loaded Packers receiving core. Rodgers has thrown the ball with surgical-like accuracy, once again leading the league in quarterback rating at 108.
Adding gasoline to the fire will be the return of defensive back Charles Woodson, who will finally suit up for the first time since Week 7. Woodson and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (who returned last week) should greatly improve the Packers pass defense. Matthews especially will aid this unit as he generated 13 of the team's 47 total sacks this year.
These two late-season additions will help the home team; Green Bay’s defense has already improved these past few weeks (tighter and more cohesive), and it stands only to get better.
Defensive stars aren’t the only returning players for the squad that won nine of its past 11 games. Leading receiver Randall Cobb has returned to practice from an ankle injury, while starting receiver Jordy Nelson practiced this week after reaggravating his knee in Sunday’s loss. Combined with other receivers Jennings and James Jones (they go five-deep if you include tight end Jermichael Finley), the Packers offense should be firing on all cylinders against the porous Vikings secondary.
The one ailing area in Green Bay’s team would be their offensive line, where the Packers have struggled to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga since his Week 9 injury against the Cardinals. Rodgers was sacked 51 times in 2012, as he was brought down more than any other quarterback. Fortunately for the Vikings, they have a clear advantage with their elite pass rush.
Expect the Packers to respect Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen; the former USC Trojan recorded three sacks in his team’s victory last week. Despite recording 12 sacks (a down year), DE Jared Allen had a quarter of his season total against this rivals. Green Bay tackles Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay should be ready for a dogfight on Saturday; things could get dirty.
I’m not expecting Saturday to be close; although the Vikings defeated their nemesis this past week, the Packers are too hot and have home-field advantage. Expect Adrian Peterson to have a huge game, but also expect the Green Bay secondary to pick apart Ponder and create multiple turnovers. Historically, even if they can’t protect him, Rodgers has put up huge numbers against the Vikings secondary. The Packers beat the spread and win 34-16.