Vikings vs Packers: Pivotal Players in Sunday's NFC North Clash

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Outside linebacker Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates with  Johnny Jolly #97 after a tackle against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are playing for entirely different things on Sunday.

After losing Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone, the Packers have dropped three straight games. Once the NFC North's leader, Green Bay desperately needs a win this weekend to stay in the postseason hunt.

As for the Vikings, they're just trying to stop the humiliation from expanding any further. After making the playoffs last season, Minnesota is simply trying to not finish as the NFC's worst team this time around.

An added dose of pride gets sprinkled in whenever two division rivals square off, so this bout should still salvage some watchability without Rodgers precisely rocketing balls in the perfect spot. Since Rodgers can't impact this game, look for these players to try instead.


Minnesota Vikings

RB Adrian Peterson

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 7: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings out runs DeAngelo Hall #23 of the Washington Redskins on November 7, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettch
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

I'm not exactly breaking any ground by saying Adrian Peterson is important to the Vikings' success, but it's incredible to witness how the Vikings have deteriorated from playoff team to one of the league's worst due to Peterson's performance normalizing.

As a refresher, take a gander at Peterson's 2012 stats. Did your eyes pop out of your sockets?

Peterson ran for 2,097 yards on 6.0 yards per carry, and he lifted the entire team on his shoulders during the final month. Needing four wins to sneak into the playoffs, Peterson delivered 651 rushing yards and four touchdowns during that span.

The last win to clinch Minnesota's unlikely playoff berth? A 37-34 victory over the Packers in which Peterson ran for 199 yards and a touchdown. He's been exposed as a mortal this season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry with just three 100-yard performances.

It may just take another superhuman effort from Peterson for the Vikings to get back on the winning track. 


WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 15: Cordarrelle Patterson #84 of the Minnesota Vikings runs back a 105 yard kickoff return against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter on September 15, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty
David Banks/Getty Images

The last time these squads met, Cordarrelle Patterson opened the game with a 109-yard kickoff return. For a short and sweet time, the Vikings had the upper hand on their rivals before reality resurfaced.

Another one of those special teams scores would be nice.

Jumping ahead would mean much more with Scott Tolzien at quarterback. During each game in the After Rodgers era, the Packers have allowed 27 points and lost. For the New York Giants, a Jason Pierre-Paul interception provided them with a quick touchdown.

Christian Ponder will never get mistaken for Peyton Manning, so any help the defense or special teams could offer would be greatly appreciated. Returning a kickoff to the house is a tall task with kickers teeing off at the 35-yard line, but perhaps Patterson can at least change field position once or twice.

Aside from that one big run, Patterson has failed to fill Percy Harvin's shoes as the speedy, slippery playmaker in open space. It's not too late for him to start now.


Green Bay Packers


QB Scott Tolzien

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 17:  Scott Tolzien #16 of the Green Bay Packers pases the ball as Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants and  David Bakhtiari #69 of the Packers battle at MetLife Stadium on November 17, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Je
Elsa/Getty Images

You try playing quarterback for a town that has watched Rodgers and Brett Favre handle the position for the last 21 years.

Third-stringer Scott Tolzien moved the ball quite well in both his starts, but interceptions hampered his efforts. Added from the practice squad, Tolzien has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 619 yards, but the five interceptions have made him a goat instead of the hero.

Although Tolzien generated 339 passing yards against the Giants last week, it proved all for naught after he surrendered three picks. If he can just avoid the giveaways, Tolzien is perfectly equipped to lead the Packers to victory over the Vikings.

The Vikings have yielded 280.1 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th in the NFL. After a string of strong performances, the Giants rank No. 15 on that same list, even after giving up a large chunk of yards to Tolzien.


LB Clay Matthews

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 17:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants is sacked by Brad Jones #59 and Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers at MetLife Stadium on November 17, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the G
Elsa/Getty Images

Will Clay Matthews return to his old ways of domination now that he has received two weeks to get re-situated?

After missing a month due to an injured thumb, Matthews has collected six tackles and a sack in his two games back. Matthews is trying to find his groove at a time when Green Bay can use a monstrous performance from its defense.

Against Ponder and the Vikings, this is a game for Matthews and Co. to blitz often and make some plays to take some pressure away from Tolzien. 

Ranked No. 21, Green Bay's pass defense is exploitable. It would help their cause, however, if the defense climbs closer to the sack leaderboard with a healthy Matthews leading the way. The Vikings have only allowed their quarterbacks to suffer 23 sacks, so it's an interesting test for Matthews and the Packers' front seven.


Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 16

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 27: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on October 27, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesot
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

This is the game the Packers must win while holding the fort down in Rodgers' absence. Tolzien can move the ball past this futile secondary while Green Bay will lock down on Peterson all day with little threat of a passing game from Ponder. The Packers sneak away with their first win without Rodgers.