The Vikings (10-6) charged into the playoffs on the back of Adrian Peterson's 2,097 near-record rushing yards. At times, it seemed like he was alone, as Christian Ponder and the rest of the offense gave him so little help. The defense has stepped up in a big way in recent weeks, shutting down high-power offenses like those of Houston, Chicago and Green Bay (the first time they played),
The Packers (11-5), at times this season, didn't seem like the team that so many people predicted would be headed to the Super Bowl. Offensive-line woes and injuries on both sides of the ball led to uneven play. In the end, it was Aaron Rodgers' MVP-like second half of the season that propelled Green Bay into the postseason.
So, who wins this rubber match?
Key Storyline No. 1: Can Christian Ponder Survive the Elements?
Ponder has never started a football game in under-40-degree weather.
He grew up in Texas, went to college at Florida State and now plays in a dome. Oh, on top of that, he has a serious injury that could easily be aggravated by a couple of hits in frigid temperatures.
Lambeau is a notoriously hostile environment as temperatures drop, the wind picks up and the Packer faithful gets louder and louder. It's going to be around 25 degrees tonight in Green Bay, and Ponder may not be ready to play as well as he did last week at home.
Key Storyline No. 2: Will the Packers Be Able to Contain Peterson?
Peterson has rushed for 409 yards in two meetings against the Packers. With Ponder's health issues and colder temps expected, everyone knows that the Vikings will dance with the guy who brought 'em and attempt to get Peterson another 200-yard day.
The Packers are not going to stop Peterson, but if they can contain him—hold him around 125 or 150 yards—this game is in the bag.
Keys for the Minnesota Vikings
The biggest battle of this game isn't going to be along the trenches; the Vikings win there easily. Instead, the defining matchup is going to be Peterson and his blockers at the second level. The Vikings need to get their guards and their fantastic center, John Sullivan, moving up to the linebackers, enabling Peterson to go one-on-one with defensive backs. If the Packers linebackers can jam or shed those blocks, Peterson could have tough sledding.
Defensively, Antoine Winfield is going to be a huge boost to their run support, but it will be intriguing how he will be in pass coverage with a hard cast. It's too much to ask for a pick, but if the Vikings can hurry Rodgers, Winfield should be able to deflect a lot of passes and improve coverage immensely from last week's game.
Keys for the Green Bay Packers
Packers-Vikings playing on a short week. But McCarthy said that because its a repeat of last week's matchup, helps with the preparation.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) January 1, 2013
The Packers need to be able to protect Rodgers. It's almost a random occurrence when they decide to block for him, because they have some talented pass protectors, but they don't always seem prepared for what defensive lines throw at them.
With any modicum of protection, Rodgers becomes a dual-threat who will pressure the Vikings defense to stay closer to the line of scrimmage. That's when Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson do their best work. It's passing to set up the pass, and it's worked for the Packers this season.
On defense, the flow to the ball needs to be better. As fantastic as Peterson has been, the Packers gave him a lot of yards in their last two meetings because of poor angles.
It isn't scheme that is the biggest problem, it's execution. It needs to be better.
Bold Prediction: The Packers Get 6 Sacks
While we talk, a lot, about Rodgers' protection, we tend to forget that the Packers love to get after opposing quarterbacks as well. Ponder played as well as he has ever played last week, and this week should be the polar opposite.
Expect a rattled Ponder to make some mistakes and spend a bunch of time on his backside.
Secret Weapon: Morgan Burnett (S Packers)
We've talked about flow to the ball, and Burnett has to be a big part of that. In their first meetup, Burnett played well (as well as anyone on the Packers did in rush defense). However, in last week's game, he was part of the problem again.
With a good day by Burnett, the Packers defense should be able to stop some of the bleeding Peterson caused last week.
Player-of-the-Game Prediction: Aaron Rodgers
If Peterson didn't exist, Rodgers would be a legitimate MVP candidate alongside Peyton Manning this season. That said, the postseason is a whole new ballgame, and Rodgers will look to continue his impressive play with a little help from Lambeau magic.
Vikings-Packers has revenge spanking written all over it, tattooed so obviously with Aaron Rodgers' face, who should go nuts— Thomas Emerick (@ThomasEmerick) January 4, 2013
Final Score Prediction: Packers 28, Vikings 16
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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