For the second straight week and third time this season the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off. The division rivals split their first two meetings, with each team winning at home, which makes for an intriguing playoff matchup.
The Vikings upended the Packers last week to clinch a playoff berth. While Adrian Peterson led the charge as usual, Christian Ponder put together one of his best games of the season to push Minnesota over the top. He must step up again.
On the Green Bay side, it all comes down to getting off to a better start. The Packers fell into a 13-0 hole early in the second quarter last week, and that put them behind the eight ball for the entire game. If they can avoid a similar letdown, they will be in good shape.
Here's a look at all the key information for Saturday's NFC Wild Card battle, followed by a game preview and some predictions.
When: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Live Stream: NFL Audio Pass
Spread: Packers -7.5 (via Vegas Insider)
One of the most interesting things about Wild Card Weekend is the general assumption that the Packers will advance, and the oddsmakers are clearly on board with a line of more than a touchdown. In order to cover, Green Bay would need an 11-point swing from last week.
Even though home-field advantage does give the Packers an edge, it's only slight. Peterson, who already has 409 rushing yards against Green Bay this season, should be able to find plenty of running room again. That will help keep it close.
Ultimately, this shapes up as a game that remains within striking distance for both teams throughout. A total of just 12 points separated the first two games, and the teams know each other extremely well. Expect a Vikings cover.
Over/Under: 46 (via Vegas Insider)
While the teams racked up an eye-popping 71 points last week, the Vikings should understand they don't want to get into another shootout like that this week. They survived it once, but the odds would be against them doing it again.
In the first meeting, the total was 37. A similar game can be expected on Saturday as the Vikings attempt to slow the pace of the game down by pounding Peterson early. They want to keep it close and give themselves a chance in the second half.
Also, the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field is going to live up to its nickname. Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s on Saturday, according to the Weather Channel. It all adds up to a game that lands in the under category.
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Vikings: CB Antoine Winfield (questionable, hand), DE Brian Robison (probable, shoulder), S Harrison Smith (probable, shoulder) and RB Adrian Peterson (probable, abdominal).
Packers: RB James Starks (doubtful, knee), RB Alex Green (questionable, concussion), S Charles Woodson (probable, collarbone), WR Randall Cobb (probable, ankle) and WR Jordy Nelson (probable, hamstring).
Vikings Player to Watch: Adrian Peterson
Who else? The dynamic playmaker has carried the Vikings on his back over the past few months, almost single-handedly leading them to the postseason. He has nine 100-yard games in his last 10, including the aforementioned dominance of Green Bay.
Last week, barely over one year since a devastating knee injury, Peterson logged 35 touches to lead the Minnesota offense to 37 points. He can expect a similar workload this time around as the Vikings attempt to control the clock.
The biggest question mark for the Packers is what they plan on doing differently to stop him from completely taking over the game. They aren't going to stop him, but they must pack the box and at least contain him to advance.
Packers Player to Watch: Randall Cobb
Although Cobb missed last week's game with an ankle injury, it seems like the Packers were just playing it safe because he's listed as probable and is fully expected to play. It gives Aaron Rodgers another weapon to utilize, making a strong receiving group even more scary.
Not only did Cobb lead the team in catches and receiving yards, but he also played a crucial role on special teams. He's the team's main kick and punt returner and can change the course of a game in the blink of an eye in that facet as well.
The Packers should feed him the ball as much as possible and just let him work his magic. If the game's played at a more reasonable pace than last week—and it should be—Cobb is the type of player who can break it open for Green Bay.
Key to Victory: Packers' passing game
Ultimately, I expect the Packers to earn a narrow victory thanks to their terrific passing attack. Not only do they have one of the league's best quarterbacks in Rodgers, but the talent around him is nothing short of amazing.
Thanks to some timely returns from injury, he has four reliable receivers to choose from in Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings. And while Jermichael Finley drops too many passes, he must be respected by the Vikings defense too.
The Vikings pass defense, which ranked 24th during the regular season and allowed 28 passing touchdowns, won't be able to get the key stops necessary to win. Look for the Packers to advance, setting up a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers.
Packers 24, Vikings 20