Vikings vs. Packers: Highlighting Game-Changers in NFC Wild Card Showdown
There will be stars and storylines aplenty when a classic NFC North rivalry is renewed for the third time in six weeks, and the second time in six days, on Saturday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The No. 6-seeded NFC Wild Card Minnesota Vikings will travel east to take on the No. 3-seeded NFC North champion Green Bay Packers on the Frozen Tundra. The two teams split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home. In addition to the rich storylines, this matchup boasts tremendous star power. But MVP show-stopping candidates Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson aren't the only impact players set to take the field this weekend.
With kickoff fast approaching, let's highlight some game-changing threats to watch out for on Saturday night.
Jarius Wright, Minnesota Vikings, WR
Relatively unknown wide receiver Jarius Wright stepped up time and again when the Vikings needed him to last week against the Packers, recording three receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota's monumental win.
The rookie wideout out of Arkansas has become a huge weapon for Christian Ponder as of late, reeling in 22 balls for 310 yards and two touchdowns since being thrust into the lineup back in Week 10 against Detroit. Wright may not be Ponder's first option, but that makes him a serious threat, considering that it means he won't be the defense's No. 1 target either.
Minnesota's running game is prolific, but the passing game will have to be put on display at times in Green Bay if the Vikings are going to advance to the divisional round.
In order for the aerial assault to be most effective, Wright will need to step up along with his fellow wide receivers on Saturday.
Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers, LB
Matthews missed four games this season but still managed to record 13 sacks for the Packers. One of those four games in which Matthews was out was the first meeting between Green Bay and Minnesota on Dec. 2.
But in the second meeting on the road, just last week, Matthews played and recorded three tackles, including a sack of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.
Given Matthews' breakthrough in Week 17 and his super pass-rushing prowess at Lambeau Field (eight of his 13 sacks this season came in home games), football fans should expect No. 52 to burst through the line and force Ponder out of the pocket on numerous occasions Saturday night.
Matthews doesn't always have to get to Ponder and bring him down in order to be successful, though. By creating pressure on the second-year passer, Matthews will increase the likelihood of a takeaway and help neutralize Minnesota's offense.
Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings, K
Vikings rookie place kicker Blair Walsh has been nothing short of phenomenal this season for Minnesota's special teams, knocking through all 36 of his extra-point attempts, and 35-of-38 field-goal attempts in 2012.
This stat tweeted by ESPN Stats & Info speaks to the incredible season that Walsh has had:
Vikings rookie Blair Walsh is a perfect 10-10 on FG of 50+ yds this season. The 10 such FG are most in single-season NFL history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2013
Just days before his 23rd birthday, Walsh will attempt to conquer Lambeau Field, where he missed his only attempt against Green Bay in the first meeting. Struggles haven't come often for Walsh this season, but when they have, they've come on the road, where he is 19-of-22 on field-goal attempts, compared to 16-of-16 inside the dome at Mall of America Field.
Every situation is magnified in the postseason, and if Saturday night's wild-card clash comes down to a last-minute field goal, the Vikings could have a huge advantage with Walsh's strong leg on their side, or disadvantage with a rookie place kicker in his first playoff game.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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