The Green Bay Packers (No. 3) will battle the Minnesota Vikings (No. 6) for the third time this season, as the NFC North rivals square off in the Wild Card Round of the 2013 NFL playoffs. The game can be seen on NBC, with kickoff set for 8 p.m. ET at Lambeau Field.
The Packers and Vikings split the season series, with the Vikings winning 37-34 at home in Week 17 and the Packers winning 23-14 in Week 13.
The Vikings clinched a playoff spot with their win last week and ended the Packers 12-game winning streak in divisional games.
The only previous playoff meeting between these two teams came in the 2004 NFC Wild Card Round and the Vikings won 31-17 at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay is led by Aaron Rodgers, last season’s MVP. Minnesota’s offense features a candidate for MVP this season, in Adrian Peterson.
Rodgers once again led the league in passer rating (108.0) and completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
Wide receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have all missed time this season, but appear to be ready to play Saturday. Running back Alex Green (knee) was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, while James Starks (knee) was limited. If neither can go Saturday the Packers will depend on Ryan Grant and Dujuan Harris to lead the rushing attack.
There isn’t much more that can be said about Adrian Peterson’s season. He has been truly remarkable, especially against the Packers.
In two games against Green Bay, Peterson rushed for 409 yards, two touchdowns and added a receiving score. Meanwhile, Christian Ponder threw for just more than 350 yards in those two games. However, Ponder did get the job done last week, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions.
For the Packers to be most effective offensively they will need to establish the run, regardless of who the back is. For the Vikings the key will be whether Ponder, who’s dealing with an elbow injury, can perform like he did last week and limit the turnovers.
Green Bay’s defense will receive a boost this week with the return of veteran cornerback Charles Woodson. Woodson has missed much of this season with a broken collarbone.
Despite Woodson’s absence, the Packers’ secondary recorded 18 interceptions on the year, with rookie corner Casey Hayward leading the way with six. If the pass rush can be more effective in this game than it was last week, Green Bay’s defense should force Ponder to make at least one turnover.
Last week, Minnesota’s offense line held up well, allowing just one sack which came courtesy of Clay Matthews.
Green Bay’s offensive line, on the other hand, has had trouble keeping Rodgers on his feet. Rodgers was sacked a league-worse 51 times this season, including five times last week.
The Vikings’ pass rush has been effective throughout the season, led by Jared Allen who finished with 12 sacks. DE Brian Robison, who was second on the team with 8.5 sacks, has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury.
Chad Greenway finished with the third most tackles (148) in the league and is an important part of the defense.
In the secondary, the Vikings could be without two key players come Saturday. Safety Harrison Smith (knee) has been limited in practice, while Antoine Winfield (hand) has not participated in practice.
If it’s a tight game which comes down to field goals, the Vikings should have the advantage.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh, the NFC’s special teams player of the month in December, made 92.1 percent of his field goals this season. Walsh also went 10-for-10 from 50 or more yards this season, which set an NFL record.
The only knock on Walsh is his lack of playoff experience, something Green Bay’s Mason Crosby has plenty of.
Crosby has been with the Packers since 2007, but this season he’s struggled tremendously, making just 63.3 percent of his field goal attempts. Crosby has somewhat redeemed himself in the last two weeks, making all four of his attempts.
The Vikings surprised everyone by making the playoffs with a 10-6 record after finishing 3-13 last season. The Packers went 15-1 last season, but lost at home to the Giants in their first playoff game. Peterson will have yet another big game for the Vikings, but Ponder won’t contribute enough offensively. Aaron Rodgers will continue his strong play in the postseason as the Packers win a close one.
Packers 24, Vikings 20